As noted in last weekend’s issue of The Breakdown for Curtis Blaydes’ high-stakes matchup against Derrick Lewis — predicting the outcome of a high level heavyweight mixed martial arts contest can be over-complicated.
Blaydes is to the consensus, the more athletic and technical of the two when compared with UFC Vegas 19 opponent, Lewis. On the power side of the equation — Lewis undoubtedly rivals the likes of Francis Ngannou and Jairzinho Rozenstruik in the heavyweight ranks.
Despite losing the opening round, Lewis, whom I believed would struggle dearly with the wrestling presence of Blaydes, launched what turned out to be the ultimate equaliser to their respective skillsets. One-shot was all it really took for Lewis to spell an end to Blaydes’ night and title aspirations for the time being — curtesy of a massive right uppercut, sending him to the canvas.
The consequences of making mistakes at heavyweight are always monstrous, and usually leave you twitching on the canvas, however, it’s this power that I find so interesting ahead of Jairzinho Rozenstruik’s pivotal outing against the untested, Ciryl Gane.
On paper, it’s a similar kind of matchup to Bladyes vs. Lewis. Gane, a true outlier at heavyweight with his movement, athleticism and footwork — and hugely technical on his feet with his setups and quickness to cover distance. Rozenstruik, a one-punch knockout artist in every sense of the description — capable of putting the lights of contenders stacked from one to fifteen out on any given Saturday night. It’s this often power vs. technique battle that makes heavyweight mixed martial arts at this level so perilous.
Both men enter the Octagon tomorrow night off the back of prior UFC Apex facility outings, where both once more share a similarity — this time with opponent. Drawing former UFC heavyweight champion, Junior dos Santos, Rozenstruik stopped the Brazilian almost four minutes deep into the second round, while Gane got the former titleholder out of there with just less than three minutes elapsed in the second frame.
The stoppage for Rozenstruik kept his 100% finish rate under the UFC’s banner intact, while Gane scored his first promotional knockout — adding to a prior decision win and two submission successes.
What’s caused some concern for me ahead of this clash is an age-old tradition I’d wish the UFC would just do away with. While I’m in no way doubting Gane’s ability, when we compare the road both have taken to make it to this weekend’s headliner, Rozenstruik has two division mainstays already bedded onto his organizational résumé.
While dropping a twenty second knockout defeat to Ngannou back at UFC 249 in May last year, Rozenstruik endured some notable punishment and worry on his way to a buzzer-beating, result-saving knockout win over the decorated, Alistair Overeem at UFC Fight Night D.C. in December of 2019. Some invaluable experience gained.
Gane has got a significant following, which was once cult status, however, the tradition of pushing a fighter often beyond their post too early in their promotional tenure is something the UFC should abandon altogether. And while I’m not suggesting we take a similar approach to how records are sometimes developed in boxing, I would’ve liked to see Gane enjoy a steady ascension up the pile, and tackle the Overeems, the Aburakhimovs — although not for the want of trying, the Ivanovs, and the Sakais of the heavyweight ranks first.
The potential precarious nature of matching with someone of Rozenstruik’s knockout ability in just your eighth professional matchup is something worth weighing-up certainly, however, Gane appears to be spearheading a new wave of heavyweight talent.
As mentioned previously, Gane is certainly an outlier at heavyweight with his movement for someone of his size, and in particular, his footwork — whether that be a front leg heavy stance or a squared up frame when he’s got you pinned. When you’re back is placed on the fence, that’s where the Frenchman will start to really show his dynamic striking — in the form of elbows, and flying knee attempts.
What really impressed me in his finish over dos Santos was his composure. Stunning the veteran once more at the fence — a place where he seems to really have his way with opponents, Gane timed a wicked elbow, knocking dos Santos to the canvas before finishing with a couple of ground strikes. The utilisation of this movement in a cautious and calculated manner is of paramount importance when tackling a puncher as big as Rozenstruik who can connect with devastating effect on his back foot as well — given his countering ability from his left hand.
No doubt, Rozenstruik’s left hand is a massive fight ender when it lands largely, however, Gane’s overall technique advantage and dynamism — particularly with his whipping front kicks and gut-wrenching round kicks off his rear left leg, not to mention his various calf kick attacks — leaves me leaning toward him in this one. And the possible scenario in which a submission may present itself to the 7-0 contender gives him more routes to victory.
Prediction: Ciryl Gane via third round stoppage.
Senior writer for FightBook MMA. An aspiring mixed martial arts reporter based in Ireland. Producer of news articles, interviews, opinion features, and exclusive features such as, ‘The Fallout’, ‘The Breakdown, and, ‘This Week In MMA’.
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