Francis Ngannou on Saturday night retained his UFC heavyweight title with a surprising display of superior grappling in a unanimous-decision victory over previously unbeaten Ciryl Gane at UFC 270.
Deiveson Figueiredo also beat Brandon Moreno by unanimous decision, concluding a thrilling fight trilogy by reclaiming the flyweight championship belt he lost to Moreno seven months ago.
Ngannou (17-3) defended his heavyweight belt for the first time with impressive perseverance against Gane (10-1), his fellow French citizen.
Photo: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY
The champ also did it on an injured knee, saying afterward that several doctors advised him to pull out of the bout three weeks ago.
“I’m very happy to move on through injury and all the drama, all the talk around this fight,” Ngannou said. “I’m very happy to finally get over this in the best way... That was the point I came here tonight to make, to prove that I’m the champ.”
Both heavyweights possess incredible power and uncommonly fluid athleticism for big men, but the champion took control of a cagey fight in the third round with the first of several takedowns.
Ngannou turned a matchup between fearsome strikers into a wrestling match that showcased his much-improved game on the ground.
The judges scored it 48-47, 48-47 and 49-46 for Ngannou, who had never won a decision in his mixed martial arts career. The Associated Press also scored it 48-47 for Ngannou, the Cameroon-born French citizen who trains in Las Vegas.
Just 10 fights and three-and-a-half years after his professional MMA debut, Gane appeared to have an edge in the first two rounds of his first title fight with superior striking, with both fighters showing appropriate caution for each other’s power.
Gane mixed in some spinning kicks with increasing confidence, but Ngannou changed the tone of the fight early in the third when he got an arm under Gane’s leg and lifted the challenger skyward, slamming him down.
Gane had never been taken down in his UFC career, but Ngannou did it repeatedly in the third and fourth rounds, showing off his markedly improved wrestling and Gane’s weaknesses in defense.
Ngannou, 35, was homeless for a period after moving to France to become a boxer before coach Fernand Lopez introduced him to the MMA Factory gym in Paris, allowing him to sleep there while molding him into one of the sport’s most feared fighters.
Despite being the defending champion, Ngannou’s purse for the title defense was US$600,000, according to the California State Athletic Commission, a fraction of what he could earn from a boxing match with the likes of Tyson Fury.
That fee does not include any possible share of pay-per-view revenues that Ngannou might have been entitled to, but the fighter feels he deserves more.
“It’s not simply money. Obviously, money is a part of it, but it’s also the terms of the contract, I don’t agree with it, I don’t feel like it’s fair, I don’t feel like I’m free, I don’t feel like I have been treated good,” Ngannou told reporters.
Figueiredo (21-2-1) won his penultimate bout 48-47 on all three judges’ scorecards after a frenetic, physical addition to a rivalry that has featured 13 rounds of outstanding action over the last 13 months.
The trilogy began with a majority draw in December 2020 and continued with Moreno’s third-round stoppage victory in June last year in Arizona.
Additional reporting by Reuters
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