Ciryl Gane has no regrets over the gamble he took against Francis Ngannou.
During a grappling exchange in the final round of their fight at UFC 270, Gane attempted a heel hook on the heavyweight champion that Ngannou was able to escape before regaining top position. It was a key moment in a competitive fight that Ngannou won via unanimous decision to retain his title.
During the Wednesday edition of The MMA Hour, Gane, who brought an interim belt into the fight, explained that he was motivated to finish Ngannou due to how close the fight had been up to that point, and because he felt he had to make a statement against the champion.
“The mission, because I was the contender, so when you want to be the champion you must defeat the champion,” Gane said. “When it’s too tight like that, it’s not a good plan. So that’s why with my coach, we just need to finish the fight before the end. That’s why I did this takedown, I did very well, and after I did this choice to go to the ankle, unfortunately I did some mistakes in my technique.”
Because Ngannou’s wrestling was key to neutralizing any dangerous striking, Gane’s failure to complete the risky leg lock was met with public criticism. However, the French fighter insists he is proficient in the technique – his second UFC win, a submission of Don’Tale Mayes, came by way of heel hook – and that he didn’t hesitate to utilize it in such a high-stakes fight.
“No, because I was really sure,” Gane said. “You see, this technique for me, I can do that on everybody that I have in my gym. High-level wrestling, high-level BJJ, and I can do it. I’m really comfortable on this technique, so that’s why I decided to do that, because I know the position was really good for me to go on this technique. I was really good. I was sure to finish the fight, in my mind.
“That’s why no regrets. Just I was a little bit tired, so that’s why I don’t do exactly the good thing, but [makes ‘so close’ gesture with fingers] no, that’s OK.”
Gane recently re-watched the bout, and he can see clearly where he went wrong. He entered his bout with Ngannou with a flawless 10-0 pro record, and his tactical striking style had mystified several top contenders, including Derrick Lewis, Alexander Volkov, and Jairzinho Rozenstruik.
If there’s one thing Gane would change, he wishes that he’d stuck to his own style more rather than react to Ngannou’s strategy.
“The point is I was lucid, so I remember the whole of the action of the fight,” he said. “I was lucid. But I did some mistakes and I recognize the mistakes. Like, I give my legs too easy to Francis. With the foot on the head, he catch me like that, and after that he understand that this is a good plan for him. So no, unfortunately, I think after the fight I was OK.
“If I really wanted to win this fight, the good plan was just to do the ‘Bon Gamin.’ Like Bon Gamin do everything, like touch and never be touched. No legs, nothing like that. Not to go hard, and if I did that I think I would have the belt in my home, but that’s OK.”
Gane added that he wished referee Herb Dean had called to reset the action on the feet during a stretch in Round 5 where he felt that Ngannou was not generating any offense from top position. On the feet is where he had most of his success, and he took Round 1 and 2 on two of the judges’ scorecards (all three judges scored Rounds 3-5 in Ngannou’s favor).
Even though Gane believes his skills were more than a match for Ngannou’s, he tips his cap his former teammate for doing what it took to win.
“That’s why congratulations to Francis because I think I was better on my striking, I was better on the ground game too,” Gane said. “If you see, he catch me and he keep me like that, it was not possible for him to do some ground-and-pound or to do some submissions because my technique is good.
“Yes, it was about the power and the plan. He used the power for the wrestling, unfortunately, it’s about two seconds when he catches me just behind my ribs, after that it’s more complicated to get out with the power of Francis, that’s why I go down. After that, he leave his body on me, he don’t do too much, and that’s why this is respect for him and his team, because he don’t do too much, but he won the fight.”