Hot Tweets: Discussing Francis Ngannou vs. Ciryl Gane, Ngannou’s future, and Jon Jones’ rooting interests

    Tonight, UFC 270 goes down at the Honda Center in Anaheim, CA. The main event features teammates (or not?) turned rivals as heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou looks to unify belts against interim champion Ciryl Gane. With the title of “Baddest Man on the Planet” up for grabs, Ngannou vs. Gane is drawing all the headlines, but the co-main event is no slouch, featuring a trilogy bout for the flyweight title between Brandon Moreno and Deiveson Figueiredo.

    So let’s talk about those fights and maybe a few other UFC 270 angles to boot.

    Though the “friends turned enemies” storyline has dominated the build-up, the reality is that is among the least interesting aspects of this bout (especially considering neither man considers it to be true). For me, the most fascinating aspect of this fight is the most basic part of it: It’s the two best heavyweights in the world fighting for the title, in a stylistically compelling matchup.

    Let’s start with Gane. “Bon Gamin” is an accomplished Muay Thai fighter who has shown a talent for all aspects of MMA, and is a supreme athlete on top of that. The go-to line to describe him lately is a heavyweight who moves like a middleweight, and as trite as that is, it’s also true. For Gane, the game should be simple: Use movement to avoid the big shots and frustrate Ngannou, then win with leg kicks and counters when Ngannou rushes in. He’s the more technical striker — let that carry the day.

    For Ngannou, I believe he has two paths available. The first is his primary path forward in any fight: Land the big shot. Ngannou is the hardest hitter in MMA history, and if he lands clean, that’s the ball game. Ngannou needs to accept that he won’t be able to win this early, be patient and work behind a jab, and then catch Gane slipping with a big shot. Alternatively though, I think Ngannou actually might be well-served to work takedowns. Gane is not expecting Ngannou to wrestle, and though Gane has shown some skills on the mat, he’s substantially less dangerous there. If Ngannou can get on top, it’s highly likely he can smash Gane to pieces. It would certainly be an easier way to land his big shots.

    Ngannou’s demeanor in the build-up to this fight has been intriguing. I think there’s a reasonable case to be made that the things he’s said and the way he has said them is largely the result of the various outside factors at play: The semi-disingenuous way the UFC has tried to promote this fight, the disrespect the UFC showed by give Gane a title in the first place, his ongoing contract negotiation with the UFC, all of it. That’s a lot of extracurriculars, and it can start to eat at anyone, even the Baddest Man on the Planet. But for me, I have the distinct feeling that Ngannou isn’t cocky or salty or anything like that — I think he knows he’s about to get his ass kicked.

    Francis Ngannou is not a man used to having his ass kicked. I’m willing to bet that since the age of 15, he probably hasn’t been beat up more than a handful of times. And after finally climbing the mountain and winning the UFC heavyweight title, the expectation is that he won’t be beat up for a long while yet, except here comes Ciryl Gane. The two trained together, and as much as you can say that training isn’t fighting (which is true), the reality is that both men probably have a sense of what will go down in a real fight. Gane is simply a younger, faster, and better fighter than Ngannou. Yes, Ngannou has the power, and with that anything can happen, but I think Gane is going to outclass Ngannou and I think Ngannou knows it and I think he’s having a hard time dealing with it. That’s why he’s said and done the things he’s done. It’s like with Ronda Rousey and Holly Holm fought. Ngannou is posturing, and come tonight, he’s not only going to be beaten, he may well be embarrassed.

    A loss, I think pretty obviously.

    If Ngannou loses tonight, he will have fought out his UFC contract and be a free agent. Even off a loss, Ngannou is a known commodity and captivating attraction. Even if Gane tools him up tonight, there is still probably enough intrigue to make a Tyson Fury or Anthony Joshua fight. That alone would make him more money than anything the UFC is going to pay him. After his stint in boxing, then he can re-sign with the UFC or negotiate with Bellator, who I’m guessing would be more than happy to sign him for 70% of what the UFC will pay while also affording him a boxing option.

    A win though? That’s a tough one. By winning, Ngannou will then essentially lock himself into his current UFC contract, via the champion’s clause. We don’t know exactly what the language of that is (each contract can be different), but the broader point is that Ngannou will be stuck under UFC contract until he either loses the title or some set amount of time elapses (probably a number of years). That nature of the clause really ties his hands, and with the UFC seemingly showing no interest in crossover fights for anyone other than Conor McGregor, Ngannou is properly over a barrel here. He’ll make what he makes until he loses.

    But though a loss is the better of the two options in many regards, it’s not the best of all options. The most lucrative path forward for Ngannou looks like this: Ngannou beats Ciryl Gane tonight, then Ngannou faces Jon Jones in the summer and beats Jones. Now the UFC and Joe Rogan are calling him the greatest of all-time and he books a rematch against Stipe Miocic for the fall. The bell sounds and Ngannou immediately drops to the mat and taps. Stipe wins the title, Ngannou is free, and he boxes Tyson Fury in December, making all the money and laughing at the UFC’s draconian contract structure.

    I mean, Ngannou for sure. Georgia would need to win 14 of 15 games next year. That’s obviously much more difficult than just winning one fight, especially when you hit like Francis. Also, I’m like, 83 percent sure that Alabama is going to go scorched Earth on everyone next year.

    I’m going to assume Francis Ngannou. Ngannou-Jones is the fight everyone wants and is most compelling. It’s like the never-was Jones vs. Rumble Johnson fight, only dialed up to 11. It’s the fight that will make the most money, the one that has the clearest path to victory, and the one that’s best for his legacy. That being said, even though I think Gane will also be a very tough out for Jones, I’m not sure I’d be itching to fight “The Predator” either. I’ve been saying it for some time now, but Jones was so concerned with getting his by Thiago Santos, that he damn near lost to a man without working knees. If Santos’ power was a worry, Ngannou’s power is a friggin’ problem.

    I think it depends entirely on the quality of the win. If Figueiredo wins a close contest, he and Moreno would officially be tied up at 1-1-1, with Moreno having the only clear win of the bunch. In that scenario, I wouldn’t be at all shocked if they ran it back one more time. On the other side of it, if Figgy Smalls blasts Moreno, I think the powers that be are far more likely to treat the first fight as a win for Figueiredo and it’s back to the contender pile for Moreno.

    That being said, I think it’s all a moot point anyway because Moreno is probably going to win. After the first fight, Moreno realized he didn’t need to be afraid of Figueiredo’s power, and in the second fight, he rinsed him. I suspect the same thing will happen this evening.

    I’m going to say 500,000 pay-per-view buys. Stipe Miocic consistently pulled in 350,000 buys as champion and, all due respect, but Stipe is not promotional gold. Even without the UFC’s best effort behind this one (more on that in a moment), I think the ancillary storylines, the long layoff between pay-per-views, and Ngannou alone will get this one up to the half-mil mark.

    The conspiracy theorist in me wants to say that the UFC intentionally short-changed this card so that it wouldn’t do that well on pay-per-view, thus limiting Ngannou’s negotiation power and tempering Tyson Fury’s interest in boxing him. There’s a compelling case for it. However, Occam’s razor would tell us that this card — how to put this nicely — lacks fighters of note because this is largely what UFC cards are these days. They hold 45 events a year and they (for some unknown reason) put between 10 and 15 fights on each card. There just aren’t that many notable fighters to go around. This fight has an unassailable main event, and the UFC is going to lean on that to carry it.

    Ilia Topuria vs. Movsar Evloev, unquestionably. Two undefeated featherweights, both of whom are likely going to be staples of the top-10 for years to come, going at it in a fascinating clash of styles? Even with the main event, that may have been my most anticipated fight of the card. Evloev being forced out sucked, but now that Topuria has also shorted the gate, at least they can rebook this fight in the future and no there’s a little extra heat between the two.

    I and I alone (at least among the media) predicted what may well be the greatest upset in MMA history (for my money it is, though obviously I am biased). Of course I’m going to do so. Hell, I’m gonna put that sh*t on my resume.

    As far as failed locks, I don’t have to look all that far because it’s also on the short list of greatest upsets ever. I never in my life saw Michael Bisping upsetting Luke Rockhold to win the title. He was stepping in on short notice against a guy who was younger, stronger, faster, and all around better than him, and who just 19 months earlier accomplished the rare feat of both knocking out and submitting Bisping in the same fight. Hell, just a few weeks prior, I wrote an entire article about how Bisping would be the best fighter in history not to compete for a major title, and then he goes and makes me look like the world’s biggest prat. I’m not at all irked by it, but it still surprises me to this day, even with all we now know about Rockhold.

    Just shows to go you, even a blind squirrel finds a nut occasionally.

    Thanks for reading and thank you for everyone who sent in Tweets! Do you have any burning questions about things at least somewhat related to combat sports? Then you’re in luck, because you can send your Hot Tweets to me, @JedKMeshew, and I will answer them! Doesn’t matter if they’re topical or insane. Send them to me and I’ll answer the ones I like the most. Let’s have fun.

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