Jeff Wagenheim: A win is a win for Ciryl Gane
UFC matchmakers have prepared a seasonal tasting menu of heavyweight fighting for your dining pleasure. The main course, a championship bout at UFC 260 between Stipe Miocic and Francis Ngannou, is still a month away from coming to the table. But Saturday night delivered an appetizer that was kind of a mixed plate.
Ciryl Gane was the winner of the UFC Fight Night main event in Las Vegas, earning a unanimous decision over Jairzinho Rozenstruik by winning every round on every judge's scorecard. The 30-year-old French fighter remains unbeaten after his biggest test in the Octagon. That's a positive. And to carry on with the food analogy, let's just acknowledge that there is nutritional value in simply defeating a fighter in the top five of ESPN's heavyweight rankings.
It was not a flavorful success, however, in terms of aesthetics. Sure, Gane showed off speed and smarts in picking apart Rozenstruik from distance for five rounds. And when one is in a 25-foot cage with a man who came into the bout with 10 knockouts in 11 pro bouts (plus 64 in his kickboxing career), that is a strategy that is good for the brain. However, it's not so good for the wallet, especially at heavyweight, a division in which the expectation is for ham hock fists to be flying back and forth until someone falls.
This bout benefited from being contested at the UFC Apex in front of no fans. Had there been a crowd in the building, the boos would have been raining down from every corner.
But eighth-ranked Gane need not concern himself with that, at least not on this night. It was just his eighth pro MMA fight, and it was a step up in competition against a man who never ceases to pose danger. Just ask Alistair Overeem, who won the first 24 minutes, 56 seconds of his 2019 bout with Rozenstruik before being KO'd with one punch, just 4 seconds from the final horn.
Gane showed poise and that he clearly was not in over his head. His movement was constant, his jab sharp and quick, and his defense was solid (on those few occasions when Rozenstruik threw something his way). Gane's performance over, say, the first three rounds was eye-opening. But once he had established himself as the superior fighter, it would have been good to see him shift into a higher gear and go for a finish.
Gane even acknowledged as much in his postfight interview.
"I don't make a real big show for the fans," he said with a shrug.
Perhaps that will come in time -- in his ninth or 10th fight. For now, Gane has demonstrated he can hang with the best heavyweights. He provided us with a small-portion appetizer, adding to last week's more filling three-piece combo. Derrick Lewis was the star of last Saturday's heavyweight show with his knockout of Curtis Blaydes, but earlier that evening, Chris Daukaus and Tom Aspinall opened some eyes with victories over veteran fighters.
All of these performances combined to shine a light on the future of the heavyweight division. It makes me hungry for Miocic vs. Ngannou.
Brett Okamoto: Who's next for Ciryl Gane and Jairzinho Rozenstruik?
Gane: Derrick Lewis. It seemed obvious before the fight started that the winner would face Lewis -- who scored an unbelievable knockout against Curtis Blaydes in last week's main event. And even though the hype around a Lewis vs. Gane matchup would have been much higher had Gane finished Rozenstruik, that's still the fight to make, and it's still a fantastically intriguing matchup. Frankly, Gane has more potential than Lewis at this point in their respective careers; but Lewis has a knack for creating that magical moment, as he has done it many times.
Gane fought intelligently and took what Rozenstruik gave him on Saturday. The rare times when Rozenstruik did come forward, Gane handled it beautifully. Saturday's match was supposed to be a test for Gane. It was and it wasn't, the way it played out. I don't believe we've seen his full potential yet, because no one has forced it out of him. Let's see what Lewis has to say about that.
Rozenstruik: Curtis Blaydes, I guess. Look, it is far, far, far easier said than done -- to suggest Rozenstruik should have taken more risks to try to change the tide on Saturday. Gane was handling any pressure Rozenstruik threw at him very well and had Rozenstruik completely out of sorts with his speed, feints and occasional level change. But the perception coming out of this fight is that Rozenstruik accepted defeat. He knew he was down on the scorecards from the opening round, and he never changed tactics or was truly willing to put himself in harm's way to try to turn it around.
It's hard to get up right now to see him compete against another elite heavyweight, because we just saw him perform so badly against one, but Blaydes would make sense from a rankings standpoint.
Marc Raimondi: Bantamweight will be the UFC's most intriguing division this year
Sorry, lightweight division. Wait until 2022, welterweights. Better luck next time, featherweights.
There is no division in the UFC deeper right now than bantamweight.
Yes, lightweight has stars such as Dustin Poirier, Conor McGregor, Michael Chandler, Charles Oliveira and Justin Gaethje all vying for the title Khabib Nurmagomedov is likely to vacate. It is a tremendous weight class, no doubt.
But consider this: Pedro Munhoz was only ranked No. 8 in the world at bantamweight coming into Saturday's fight with Jimmie Rivera, who wasn't even ranked at all. The two put on an excellent, technical and violent fight. The only man at bantamweight with more wins in the UFC since 2014 than Munhoz is Aljamain Sterling, who will challenge Petr Yan for the title next week at UFC 259.
Look at the other bantamweight contenders: Cory Sandhagen, who is coming off highlight-reel knockouts over Marlon Moraes and Frankie Edgar; Jose Aldo, one of the greatest fighters of all time; former bantamweight champ and hard-hitting fan favorite Cody Garbrandt; and TJ Dillashaw, the former champ who was one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world before his two-year suspension for performance-enhancing drugs. Bantamweight has rising stars such as Rob Font, Song Yadong and Sean O'Malley. It has legends such as Urijah Faber. Merab Dvalishvili is going to be a nightmare opponent for many contenders.
So, lightweight might get the majority of the headlines and main event-type fights. But bantamweight? There is no division deeper in the UFC, and that will be apparent as the year wears on.