The UFC's first venture to France saw rising Australian brawler Tai Tuivasa face former title contender and technical outfighter Ciryl Gane. In a regular division this fight between #3 and #1 contenders could be considered a title eliminator but alas with an injured champion alongside the looming shadow of Jon Jones, nothing is quite so simple at Heavyweight. As has been an incidental theme in the fights I've covered recently, one would be hard pressed to find a more different duo than Ciryl Gane and Tai Tuivasa.
Ciryl Gane was coming off the back of his title loss to Francis Ngannou, a fight in which he won the striking portion before showing sizeable holes in his grappling game that cost him the final three rounds. Gane is a point-fighting striker by nature, bouncing into his jabs and long kicks without much concern for combinations. Instead Gane throws these strikes one at a time before moving out of range of the potential counter coming back.
Tai Tuivasa has a self-described 'street fighting style' and is far more the traditional heavyweight. Tai's biggest weapons are his inhuman power and resilience, always content eating one to give one with confidence that his own would be more impactful. When asked of his game-plan he replied that he would "go in there and punch him". But behind the appearance of a sloppy brawler is a tricky cagecutter, backing his opponents onto the fence effectively and cutting off their attempts to exit with alternating hooks. Tuivasa has managed to land many of his knockouts against the cage, working the body when his opponents cover up and pumping uppercuts as they keel over to defend the body, or simply slamming in elbows as they're pressed into the cage wall.
The gameplan for both fighters would be simple. Ciryl Gane was expected to stand on the outside, throw his longest strikes and use his reach advantage to stay out of danger. Tai Tuivasa, on the other hand, would have wanted to back Gane to the cage, stop him from moving, negate his reach and hit the Frenchman hard.
Once the fight opened the range difference between the two heavyweights became increasingly apparent. Gane's slappy low kicks found the mark over and over whilst Tuivasa's own heavy returns swung through air as Gane shortened his stance and pulled his leg out range. Gane would also pop round and front kicks to the body, annoying Tuivasa and keeping him hesitant to wade in looking for his one big swing. The round continued much like this with Gane allowing Tai to advance at times only to walk him into his lancing jab, provoking smiles and acknowledgement from the Australian; a clear tell that he wasn't enjoying it. When Gane became too comfortable standing in front of Tuivasa he was quickly made to reconsider, being forced to gallop back away from alternating hooks as Tuivasa rushed in.
Round 2 saw Tuivasa gain momentum, using a few savvy tricks and setups to catch Gane. Most of these relied on Gane's anticipation of his standard left hook-right hook combo, finding opportune moments to switch it up and catch Gane slipping (quite literally). In one instance he dips, pumps out his right shoulder and swings out his left hook as Gane anticipates the big right hand coming towards him. In another, Tuivasa triples up on his left hand with a jab and two hooks, grazing Gane's chin as he expects the right hands and circles to avoid it.
Ciryl Gane proved that he hasn't fallen off after his run to the title as so many undefeated prospects have before him. However, he was also never forced to face the problems which costed him the title in the Ngannou fight, that being an opponent willing to wrestle him.
Curtis Blaydes is damn near undeniable at the moment despite two losses to the champion. All Blaydes truly needs is a win over a talented up and coming prospect. He had intended to get this with a win over Tom Aspinall, whose knee sadly exploded within the opening minute of his fight with Blaydes. Without a legitimate win over such a contender, Gane vs Blaydes for the #1 contender slot (or interim title) feels like the obvious fight to make in a world without Jon Jones or Stipe Miocic, who are entirely irrelevant to the heavyweight picture until they have fights booked. Blaydes would test Gane's wrestling more than anybody else at heavyweight could, whilst providing Gane the best way to prove that he's title-worthy once again.
As for Tai Tuivasa, his own flaws were showcased in his inability to deal with the front kicks and otherwise bodywork from Gane. I'd like to see him face Alexander Volkov in a bout that would force him to have to deal once again with being outranged and at the whims of body kicks. If Tuivasa can get past Volkov, he proves a willingness to grow and evolve, cementing his place amongst the Top 5 at Heavyweight.
Ciryl Gane proved himself able to come back from the type of adversity he hadn't truly faced until he faced Ngannou in this fight and showed an ability to fight smart that was being doubted after his questionable decision making in said Ngannou bout. Tuivasa showed his toughness, heart and power once again but ultimately petered in the face of harsh bodywork. Despite their dramatically different styles, both fighters cemented their right to a place at the top of the Heavyweight Division.
Top comments (7)
Bloody hell mate! I am going to have to fucking watch this again bro 😂
Thanks man! I enjoyed writing this one a lot, felt like I got to inject a little humour without detracting too much from the analysis. First time I've enjoyed a heavyweight fight in a little while too.
Gonna give 279 a miss because it's an execution and I'll be back with something on Sandhagen vs Yadong
Hahahah - he's getting points from BTSport I think, pushing the replay numbers up 😂
Great read this Ollie, the gifs really add to the narrative. I agree on the body shots and how that swayed the fight. The crowd were amazing too, seeing the fighters react to the audience chanting was funny to see.
He did for sure, I felt more reassured of his future in the division at that point.
Do you see similarities in styles between Gane and Aspinal?
There's definitely similarities although Aspinall is a significantly more sufficient grappler and is more willing to hang around in the pocket to let combinations go. Wish Aspinall had won vs Blaydes because Gane vs Aspinall would have been a delight
Great write up 👏
Works until it doesn’t, that’s when you realise you only have a brutal punchers chance, you know you’re outclasses.
To Tai's credit I think he's started making some clever stuff work for him in this recent run. As I briefly discuss he uses a lot of alternating hooks and will use that to bait people into thinking he's going to throw that combination and then double up on one hand to catch them. He's also pretty great at cutting the cage, tying them up against the fence and hammering in shots there. He's got a ways to go for sure but I think this fight proved he's got a good innings with the rest of Heavyweight