Ngannou, Gane battle for Heavyweight title following Figueiredo-Moreno rematch

Frank Saldaña, Staff Reporter

The UFC held its first pay-per-view event of 2022 this past Saturday at UFC 270. The event took place at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California in front of a sold-out crowd. Two title fights headlined UFC 270, the first of which saw UFC Flyweight champion Brandon Moreno against Deiveson Figueiredo, followed by Heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou against interim champion Ciryl Gane. 

The fight between Moreno and Figueiredo marked a trilogy between the two flyweights. They first fought to a draw back in December 2020 at UFC 256 when Figueiredo was the reigning champion. Moreno won the rematch at UFC 263, becoming the first Mexican-born champion in UFC history. 

Considering the rivalry between the two fighters, the UFC decided to book them for a third match at UFC 270, during which Moreno sought his first title defense. The preparation for this fight saw Figueiredo move his training camp to Arizona to train with former Flyweight and Bantamweight champion Henry Cejudo. 

Going into the third fight, many fans and pundits alike gave the edge to Moreno, who is known for his jiujitsu, boxing and cardio. Figueiredo has devastating knockout power, an attribute rarely seen in the lighter weight classes, but has had issues with making weight in the past.

Moreno landed more overall strikes in the fight, but Figuieredo scored crucial knockdowns in rounds three and five to secure a unanimous decision win on the judges’ scorecards and regain the Flyweight title. Across their three fights, the two flyweights are now 1-1-1, meaning that a fourth fight between the two is likely next for both fighters.

The main event featured UFC Heavyweight champion Ngannou squaring off against former teammate and training partner Gane in a title unification bout. Ngannou won the belt via second-round knockout last March in a rematch against then-champion Stipe Miocic. 

Gane has had an incredibly fast-rising career in MMA following stints in kickboxing and Muay Thai. After winning his first six fights in the UFC, Gane was booked in an interim title fight against Derrick Lewis last August, which he won via TKO in a dominant performance. After winning the interim championship, the UFC announced that Gane would fight Ngannou in a title unification.

Ngannou found his early success in the UFC relying almost exclusively on his incredible knockout power. Conversely, Gane is a crafty kickboxer who demonstrates unprecedented speed and distance management for the heavyweight division. 

To the surprise of many, Gane was the betting favorite going into Saturday’s fight. However, Ngannou wrestled his way to a unanimous decision victory after losing the first two rounds on the feet to Gane, who displayed better movement and speed early in the fight.

Coming into this fight, Ngannou had everything to lose. Since winning the championship last March, Ngannou and his management have been in a constant dispute with the UFC over his contract and fighter pay. Disagreements have arisen over the UFC’s unwillingness to let Ngannou box outside of the promotion, a goal that Ngannou has had since before joining the UFC. Ngannou also has expressed dissatisfaction with his fight purse, especially now that he is a champion. 

In an interview with ESPN journalist Brett Okamoto, Ngannou reiterated his unwillingness to fight again under his current contract — the fight against Gane was the last fight on his eight-fight contract. Additionally, Ngannou, who fought with compression pads on each knee, said afterward that he entered the fight with a torn MCL, hindering his ability to strike as effectively.

The UFC’s use of holding an interim championship fight last summer was also a source of tension. Traditionally, interim title fights are only held when the current champion is out of competition for a prolonged period of time, usually due to injury. In the case of Ngannou and Gane, Ngannou had only been champion for a few months when the UFC decided to create the interim match between Gane and Lewis, and he had not suffered any injury. 

The UFC’s booking of an interim fight was a move essentially designed to force Ngannou to fight Gane next, in order to “unify” the belts. 

Following the victory, UFC president Dana White skipped out on placing the belt on Ngannou — White almost always wraps the belt on the champion when they win — and also missed the post-fight press conference, suggesting that the conflict between the two parties is still going strong. 

Despite an impressive victory against a then-undefeated Gane, there is a significant chance that Ngannou will never fight in the UFC again. Only time will tell if he and the UFC will be able to come to a compromise regarding his future contract.