The UFC returns to Las Vegas and the T-Mobile Arena for the return of the GOAT, as Jon Jones finally makes the move from light heavyweight to heavyweight to compete for the title against Ciryl Gane.
Jones is the consensus GOAT in MMA, but hasn’t fought in three years. He’ll take on Gane in the main event at heavyweight to crown the new undisputed champion, after Francis Ngannou left the company while still holding the belt.
In the co-main event we’ll also see Valentina Shevchenko defend her flyweight belt against Alexa Grasso, while household names like Shavkat Rakhmonov, Cody Garbrandt, Bo Nickal and Ian Garry also feature on the card.
Last time we predicted a whole card was UFC 284, and we went 8/12 on the night with two perfect picks (not including the draw) to move to 837/1299 (64.43%) with 342 perfect picks (40.86%). You can see our full picks history here.
We’ll look to improve on that here and after starting with the early prelims, and then moving on to the rest of the prelims on the card, we finish up with our main card picks here.
Bo Nickal (3-0) vs Jamie Pickett (13-8) – (Middleweight/185lbs)
A hugely anticipated UFC debut up next. Nickal earned himself a UFC contract with two first-round finishes on the Contender Series, and is a three-time All-American wrestler and former Olympic hopeful. Pickett has lost his last two in a row, suffering a submission defeat to Kyle Daukaus before getting KO’d by Denis Tiuliulin at UFC 279.
Nickal is arguably the best wrestler in the UFC now that he’s got a contract, but he’s also a very good striker with excellent kicks and some very fluid jiu-jitsu skills too. Pickett is a volume striker with okay power and good cardio, but his career trajectory is on the way down and the UFC knows it. Wrestling is a big problem for Pickett, and against someone as good as Nickal he’s in trouble.
This seems like a party for the UFC to introduce the world to Nickal. Expect him to come out really aggressively in the first round, score a takedown and work for a finish to really arrive in the organisation. PICK – Bo Nickal via Submission, Round 1
Mateusz Gamrot (21-2) vs Jalin Turner (13-5) – (Lightweight/155lbs)
Absolute banger in the lightweight division up next that was put together on short notice. Gamrot steps in for Dan Hooker who broke his hand in training, and looks to bounce back from defeat to Beneil Dariush most recently. Turner on the other hand is on a five-fight win streak, with two KO’s and three submissions in that run including a 45 second guillotine against Brad Riddell most recently.
Gamrot is a fantastic wrestler with excellent grappling skills and decent power in his hands, but it’s wrestling that is always at the forefront of his mind. Turner alternatively is a really well-rounded fighter with great power in his hands and great length to his striking, but he also has good wrestling and is trying to improve his grappling skills. This is surely too big a test for him to try and check his grappling skills.
“Gamer” has got cardio for days and has the exact style of fighting that Turner will hate coming up against. “The Tarantula” will look to use his size to stay out of grappling exchanges and use those straight punches to land damage, but Gamrot is so experienced at this level that I expect him to find a way to get this fight to the ground and dominate on the mat to claim a decision win. PICK – Mateusz Gamrot via Decision
Geoff Neal (15-4) vs Shavkat Rakhmonov (16-0) – (Welterweight/170lbs)
Hugely intriguing fight at welterweight up next. Neal is on a two-fight win streak coming into this one, having edged out Santiago Ponzinibbio in a split decision and then KO’ing Vicente Luque in a career-best performance. Rakhmonov is undefeated and making waves, with a 100% finish rate evenly split between KO’s and subs. He dominated Neil Magny most recently, submitting him with a guillotine in round 2.
Neal is a powerful boxer with good volume and excellent cardio too, as well as some decent wrestling defence for the most part. Rakhmonov is one of the most complete fighters in the MMA, with amazing wrestling and sharp, accurate and powerful striking to go with it. Rakhmonov has dominated everyone, winning every round in his career and seems able to switch up his fight style depending on his opponent.
If they go toe-to-toe on the feet, then Neal has a chance because of his power. But history tells you that when Rakhmonov comes up against a striker, he’s happy to wrestle. When you consider that Magny dominated Neal with wrestling and Rakhmonov dominated Magny, there is a clear path to victory there and I expect him to find another choke midway through the fight to keep this amazing record going. PICK – Shavkat Rakhmonov via Submission, Round 2
Valentina Shevchenko (23-3) vs Alex Grasso (15-3) – (Flyweight/125lbs)
Women’s flyweight title fight up next. Shevchenko is one of the best women’s MMA fighters of all time, and is currently on a nine-fight win streak although her most recent performance against Taila Santos was razor close and many believed that she lost. Grasso on the other hand is on a four-fight win streak, with a decision over Viviane Araujo most recently earning her this shot.
Shevchenko is the most well-rounded women’s fighter ever. She has got elite striking, elite wrestling, elite cardio and nasty submission skills too. Grasso is a good boxer with good volume, but her wrestling isn’t great and her takedown defence is a big problem in this match up. Shevchenko has the edge everywhere, and this fight is a bit of a mismatch.
Expect “Bullet” to out-strike her on the feet before switching to her grappling mode, getting Grasso on her back before looking for that crucifix position that she loves to get another stoppage win with elbows. PICK – Valentina Shevchenko via Knockout, Round 3
Jon Jones (26-1) vs Ciryl Gane (11-1) – (Heavyweight/220-265lbs)
Without a doubt the most highly anticipated heavyweight fight that could be put together right now. Jones is undefeated (his only pro loss came via a ridiculous DQ) and is the consensus greatest of all-time, but he hasn’t fought for over three years since beating Dominick Reyes pre-pandemic. Gane bounced back from his title fight loss to Francia Ngannou by knocking out Tai Tuivasa most recently at UFC Paris.
Jones is capable of doing everything, with fantastic striking and power to go with world-class wrestling, great jiu-jitsu and the best fight IQ maybe ever. Gane is a new generation of heavyweight, with fantastic footwork and amazing speed in his striking to go with brutal knockout power. He does have an achilles heel though, and that’s his wrestling defence. He will have a natural size difference on Jones though, and he must use that.
But “Bones” is the greatest of all-time for a reason. Expect him to start slowly and download all the data he needs, just like normal, before blasting in for a takedown and dominating Gane on the mat as we saw Ngannou do. We don’t know how Jones’ speed and endurance will hold up with an extra 50lbs of weight, so Gane could well make him pay, but I expect Jones to get the job done and cement himself as the greatest of all-time. PICK – Jon Jones via Knockout, Round 3
The UFC returns from a two week break to make history with the companies first ever card from Paris, France.
The historic card is headlined by hometown heavyweight favourite Ciryl Gane, as he takes on fan favourite and knockout artist Tai Tuivasa in the main event.
The co-main will also see two world class middleweight contenders go head-to-head too as Robert Whittaker and Marvin Vettori clash in a potential title eliminator.
Last time out at UFC 278 we saw an amazing card, where we landed 7/12 correct picks with three perfect picks to move to 705/1094 (64.51%) with 298 perfect picks (42.26%). You can see our full picks history here.
Charles Jourdain (13-5-1) vs Nathaniel Wood (18-5) – (Featherweight/145lbs)
A super fun fight and potentially the fight of the night. Jourdain suffered a defeat to Shane Burgos in his last bout back in June, snapping a two fight win streak. Wood alternatively returned to the Octagon at UFC London after nearly two years out with a brilliant performance, earning him a decision win over Charles Rosa.
Jourdain and Wood are very similar fighters and that should make this a fantastic fight. Jourdain is a relentless fighter with powerful strikes and a fantastic gas tank, who is comfortable on the mat if the fight goes to the ground too. Wood is an excellent kickboxer with brilliant range management and solid wrestling techniques too, making him an all-round threat.
This will be really difficult to call. Jourdain is cutting weight for a second time in six weeks which could have an effect on his style, while Wood looked as sharp as ever last time out. He’s about the right size for the division and his range management and calf kicks could really help in keeping Jourdain at distance to maintain control. He’s also got the takedown threat, something Jourdain has struggled with and that leads me to think he can claim an entertaining win as the underdog. PICK – Nathaniel Wood via Decision
William Gomis (10-2) vs Jarno Errens (13-3-1) – (Featherweight/145lbs)
Two UFC debutants fight each other on the main card of this card. Gomis is on an eight-fight win streak, with his most recent coming with a third-round KO back in June. Errens earned a decision win less than a month ago and steps into this fight on short notice.
Gomis is a fantastic striker with a great arsenal of attacks, mixing up boxing combinations and kicks to go with lateral movement and great knockout power. Errens has got some decent boxing techniques too, while his submission skills have earned him five tap out wins in his career to date. This bout is a question of which version of Gomis steps up in reality.
If the really good version shows up, then he should run rings around Errens with his technique and power while trying to put a show on for his home nation fans. If it’s the version who looks for highlight finishes rather than fighting properly and backs himself against the cage then he’ll have a tough night. Obviously it’s impossible to know before the fight, but logic tells you to go with the best version of both guys in this one and that means Gomis gets a dominant win and probably finishes it in style. PICK – William Gomis via Knockout, Round 2
John Makdessi (18-7) vs Nasrat Haqparast (13-5) – (Lightweight/155lbs)
An interesting lightweight scrap between two guys trying to make waves in the division. Makdessi has won four of his last five fights, with a win over Ignacio Bahamondes most recently at UFC Vegas 23 over a year ago. Haqparast has lost his last two against Dan Hooker (UFC 266) and Bobby Green (UFC 271) and will be keen to get back to winning ways.
Makdessi is a talented striker with unorthodox kicks and spinning attacks as part of his weaponry, but with a picture perfect jab arguably his best shot. Haqparast is also a brilliant striker, with a traditional boxing approach meaning his jab is sensational and he also packs great power to claim nine knockout wins in his career. Neither fighter is big on wrestling so this is likely to stay on the feet and that favours the younger southpaw, Haqparast.
The German knows how to smother his opponents lead hand and counter with a powerful left cross, and Makdessi’s game falls right into that trap. Both will jab a lot but when they counter each other and look for the kill-shot, it’s Haqparast who will land first and harder so I expect him to get a stoppage win midway through the fight. PICK – Nasrat Haqparast via Knockout, Round 2
Alessio Di Chirico (13-6) vs Roman Kopylov (8-2) – (Middleweight/185lbs)
A weird middleweight scrap up next between two heavy hitters. Di Chirico earned a memorable head-kick win over Joaquin Buckley at UFC Fight Island 7, but has lost the other four of his last five including his most recent fight against Abdul Razak Alhassan where he got KO’d in 17 seconds. Kopylov has lost his last two fights too, getting submitted in 2019 by Karl Roberson and then losing a decision to Albert Duraev at UFC 267 most recently.
Di Chirico is a bog standard striker with some okay takedowns and wrestling to go with it, while Kopylov is a good volume striker with lots of power and variety and some decent takedown defence. There is absolutely no reason for this fight to be on the main card, but the fact it is means the UFC expect something to happen. I don’t.
There will likely be quite a lot of stalemates against the cage as Di Chirico looks to close the distance and get the fight down, while Kopylov defends it with little striking in between. In the gaps Kopylov is likely to land good combinations and that should be enough for a judge’s decision, but this will be a great time to go for snacks or something. PICK – Roman Kopylov via Decision
Robert Whittaker (24-6) vs Marvin Vettori (18-5-1) – (Middleweight/185lbs)
A top level middleweight scrap up next. Whittaker 3-2 in his last five, with both defeats coming to Israel Adesanya in title fights (UFC 271). His wins were all via decision, where he dominated Darren Till (UFC Fight Island 3), Jared Cannonier (UFC 254) and Kelvin Gastelum. Vettori six of his last eight, with his two defeats also coming to Adesanya, with a title fight ending in defeat at UFC 263. He’s beaten Karl Roberson (UFC Vegas 2), Jack Hermansson (UFC Vegas 16), Kevin Holland (UFC Vegas 23) and most recently Paulo Costa.
Whittaker is arguably the best kickboxer in the UFC outside of Israel Adesanya, but he is also a brilliant wrestler and his dynamic movement make him a horror match up for anyone in the division. Vettori has got incredible cardio and uses that to over power his opposition with wrestling takedown attempts, and then smothering them from top position. The game plan will be clear here. Whittaker wants to stand and strike, Vettori wants the takedown.
I’m a big fan of Vettori even though he can be pretty boring to watch, but I’m a firm believer that Whittaker is the best in the world behind Adesanya and there’s a big gap between them and the rest. Whittaker’s pace, ability to mix it up and perfect technique when striking should see him do enough to claim a decision win as usual. PICK – Robert Whittaker via Decision
Ciryl Gane (10-1) vs Tai Tuivasa (15-3) – (Heavyweight/220-265lbs)
An absolute banger in the heavyweight division is the main event of this card. Ciryl Gane returns to the octagon for the first time since January, where he lost a title fight against Francis Ngannou via decision at UFC 270. His last win came at UFC 265 where he knocked out Derrick Lewis. Tuivasa is on an amazing roll, winning five in a row all by knockout against Stefan Struve (UFC 254), Harry Hunsucker (UFC Vegas 21), Greg Hardy (UFC 264), Augusto Sakai (UFC 269) and Derrick Lewis (UFC 271).
Gane is a tremendous fighter who is arguably the most well-rounded heavyweight fighter in the world outside of Jon Jones (maybe). His kicks are fantastic, he has good boxing and his wrestling is good too. He also possesses great cardio and some submission skills, making him a threat wherever the fight goes. Tuivasa on the other hand is a straight up brawler. He has got excellent leg kicks and dynamite in both hands, but he hasn’t been past the second round since losing to Blagoy Ivanov in 2019. This is a very similar match up to what people believed Gane vs Ngannou was, just on a different level.
“Bon Gamin” is likely to use his reach and kicks to dominate from the outside, bouncing around to avoid the heavy hands of Tuivasa. The difference from this fight to the title fight is that Tuivasa’s cardio is less reliable and he doesn’t have the new wrestling chops that Ngannou had to overpower him to the ground. Gane will take his time and wear Tuivasa out, before pouring it on late for a stoppage in his hometown. PICK – Ciryl Gane via Knockout, Round 3
Jasmine Jasudavicius def Kay Hansen via Unanimous Decision (30-27, 29-28 x2)
Hansen shoots in for a takedown immediately as the fight starts and both women clinch against the cage fighting for position. Jasudavicius is able to defend and looks for a right hand on the break but misses. Hansen trying to box from the outside but Jasudavicius the longer fighter and able to land her jab well. Lovely slip and left hook from Hansen lands, then she changes levels looking for a takedown but Jasudavicius defends it really well. Clinch against the cage and then Hansen gets tripped and ends up on her back with Jasudavicius in her guard. Big elbow lands from Jasudavicius but Hansen is looking for something from her back. She kicks her off but Jasudavicius lands a big elbow on the ground before the round ends. 10-9 Jasudavicius.
Jasudavicius throws a kick early doors which Hansen catches and is able to trip her down. She looks to move straight into mount, but Jasudavicius sweeps her and ends up on top herself and is landing some big shots against the cage. Hansen is looking for armbars but is eating big elbows to the face. Jasudavicius controlling the position on top but not much happening and the referee stands them up. Hansen catches another kick but doesn’t get her down, then throws a big spinning elbow and then shoots in for a takedown but Jasudavicius defends it brilliantly and reverses the position against the cage. After some grinding against the cage Jasudavicius gets another takedown with 10 seconds left to take the round. 20-18.
Nice exchange of right hands between the two ladies at the start of the round as Hansen tries to close the distance. Jasudavicius fakes a takedown and lands a nice left hand, before Hansen fires back with a crisp right hook that lands clean. She’s landing well on the feet despite being smaller, but Jasudavicius lands her jab well too in return. Beautiful left hand lands from Hansen but Jasudavicius eats it and continues to come forward. Hansen having the better of the fight on the feet but she needs a finish. Final 90 seconds and they trade big strikes, before another left hook from Hansen. Jasudavicius just misses with a left high kick, then Hansen lands a big elbow and a left hand. Jasudavicius gets hold of Hansen and lands some big knees in a Thai clinch for the final ten seconds. 29-28 Jasudavicius for me.
Lots of forward movement early on from Demopoulos, but Juarez moves away relatively easily and lands a bomb of a right hand. Hard low kicks land from Demopoulos but then Juarez lands another huge overhand right that drops her! She moves in for ground and pound and lands some heavy shots but Demopoulos manages to control her posture on the ground and cover up. Demopoulos starts looking for an armbar and is threatening hard with it. She sweeps Juarez from the bottom with the arm locked up and gets the tap! What a brilliant comeback win!
Matt Frevola def Genaro Valdez via Knockout, Round 1 (3:15)
High pace to start this one as Frevola goes high with a kick that just misses before both guys start swinging from the hip. Hard low kick from Frevola lands but both guys land with big right hands. Frevola pushing forward and lands a big right hand that wobbles Valdez! He drops him and then goes for ground and pound but Valdez keeps going. They get back to the feet and Frevola lands another hard right that drops him again! Valdez goes for a left hand that lands but Frevola too powerful now and knocks him down again! Valdez trying to defend himself but Frevola starts landing big knees up the middle. Huge strikes again from Frevola and Valdez goes down again but the referee still letting it go. Frevola takes his back instead, moves into mount and starts raining down punches and forces the referee to stop the fight! Wow, what a crazy fight! Huge win for Frevola!
Tony Gravely def Saimon Oliveira via Unanimous Decision (30-27 x3)
Very fast start to this fight as Oliveira throws a high kick and then a big flying knee as Gravely moves in for a takedown. Oliveira sweeps and gets on top and looks for a guillotine and it’s in deep, but Gravely is gutting it out and trying to lift the hips to ease the pressure. He pops his head out and lands some big ground strikes before controlling position from the top. Oliveira works his way back up to his feet and looks for a guillotine again, but Gravely steps behind him and takes him back down to the ground. Oliveira works his way back up again but Gravely throwing short combinations then shoots for a takedown again. Oliveira goes for another guillotine, but Gravely takes him down again and should take the round. 10-9.
Second round and Gravely immediately comes in for a takedown and gets it. Oliveira threatens with a kimura from the bottom but Gravely denies it and steps in. Good pressure again, but Oliveira lands a big left hook before Gravely goes for a takedown and denies another guillotine attempt. Gravely steps in and changes levels with an excellent takedown again and passes into half-guard immediately as Oliveira looks to throw elbows from the bottom. Gravely landing some big shots from top position but Oliveira eats them to get back to his feet, then starts throwing some hard elbows to force a break. Gravely taking Oliveira down whenever he wants now and landing heavy shots to end the round. 20-18 Gravely.
Oliveira comes storming out wildly but Gravely immediately goes to his wrestling to get a takedown and fight off another guillotine choke attempt. Oliveira throwing short elbows from the bottom but Gravely controlling the position well. Oliveira works his way back up to the feet, before Gravely goes for the takedown once again and successfully stops any momentum. Once again Oliveira goes for a guillotine but Gravely defends it easily and lands some solid ground and pound too. Oliveira works his way back up once more but Gravely lands a nice right hook as we enter the final minute. Exchange of strikes and Gravely lands a big uppercut that wobbles Oliveira. Spinning back elbow from Oliveira and a big knee but Gravely takes him down. Back up and a big knee from Gravely lands followed by a left hook before the round ends. 30-27 Gravely, great fight.
Jack Della Maddalena def Pete Rodriguez via Knockout, Round 1 (2:59)
Good pace to this fight early on as Maddalena applying pressure and stepping forward. Maddalena using his jab brilliantly but Rodriguez is responding with decent combinations of his own, including a nice left uppercut. Maddalena’s jab is picking Rodriguez apart and has busted his nose up bad. Maddalena lands a right hand, then follows it with a brilliant combination that rocks Rodriguez! Big left hand lands and drops Rodriguez and he follows it up with two shots on the ground to end the fight! What a performance from Maddalena.
Victor Henry def Raoni Barcelos via Unanimous Decision (30-27 x3)
Very even start to the fight as both guys trade singular shots while they look for range and movement. Barcelos lands a nice left hand then follows up with a beautiful combination that lands heavy on Henry. Henry throws a body kick but Barcelos side steps and lands a nice counter right. Big uppercut from Barcelos and a quick one-two lands, then he just misses with a big right hook. Henry lands a big left hand and Barcelos shoots, but Henry stuffs it and eats two big punches. Henry stepping forward now and he’s landed some big strikes too on the chin. Barcelos takes his head off the centre line and lands a big left hand, but Henry comes forward again. Barcelos landing heavy strikes but Henry still coming and lands some big shots of his own. Barcelos trips him to get a takedown but lets him back up immediately and Henry hurts him with a left hand. He rushes forward to clinch and lands some big punches before the round ends. 10-9 Barcelos, but momentum with Henry.
Henry keeping the pace very high at the start of the second after noticing Barcelos fade. Barcelos lands a nice combination, but Henry throwing kicks and then he lands a nice left hook. Nice double jab from Barcelos and after some more soft touches, Barcelos lands a big, hard one-two. Barcelos starting to land heavy again with some nice combinations but Henry is still right there. Two big right hands from Henry land but Barcelos responds with a very good combination in close. Barcelos catches a kick and goes for a trip takedown, but Henry gets back up immediately and they go back to trading. Big head kick just misses from Barcelos as the buzzer goes. 19-19? It’s very close.
Final round and Henry is working some heavy body kicks while Barcelos looking to land big punches to counter it. Both men are landing heavy strikes but neither going anywhere. Barcelos is fading and Henry is just continuing to come forward. Henry starting to land clean strikes on the chin and Barcelos is reacting. Henry looking for a finish but Barcelos clinches and Henry looks for a takedown. Hard knees to the back of the leg from Barcelos before he explodes out and lands some huge strikes on Henry. Left hand wobbles Henry but he’s still there and fights back himself to end the round and surely claim the win. 29-28 Henry for me.
Michael Morales def Trevin Giles via Knockout, Round 1 (4:06)
Three hard low kicks from Giles to open the round and Morales hasn’t checked any of them. Morales throws one back but then Giles throws another and then drops him with a huge one two! Morales recovers quickly and clinches, but Giles uses his strength and drags him down to the mat. Giles moves towards an arm triangle submission but Morales sweeps him brilliantly to end up on top, although Giles is able to scramble back to his feet quickly. Morales throws a big counter right hand and lands clean and Giles is hurt! Morales follows up with huge strikes and follows up with heavy ground and pound to force the referee to step in and stop the fight! Big performance from Morales, what a win!
Said Nurmagomedov def Cody Stamann via Submission (Guillotine), Round 1 (0:47)
Nurmagomedov comes out fast and aggressive early on with strikes including a spinning back fist and spinning back side kick. Stamann shoots in for a takedown immediately because he doesn’t like that and Nurmagomedov grabs the neck quickly. He locks in a high-elbow grip, rolls through and secures the tap out! Wow! What a performance.
Michel Pereira def Andre Fialho via Unanimous Decision (29-28 x3)
Fast start from Fialho as he takes the centre immediately and throws a nice combination. Fialho goes for a wheel kick but misses, before Pereira throws a big body kick and then a huge combination after kicking off the cage. Nice jab from Fialho lands and makes Pereira stumble back against the cage, then another lands flush too. Nice overhand right from Pereira lands but Fialho eats it then steps forward, feints, and lands a beautiful combo flush on the chin. Pereira responds with a couple of big shots too but Fialho has been excellent so far. Fialho coming forward and the jab is landing beautifully, before Pereira goes for a takedown and sees it stuffed. Big overhand right from Pereira lands but then he slips and Fialho ends the round on top landing some nice ground and pound. 10-9 Fialho.
Second round and Pereira has scaled back the wacky explosions and has gone back to fundamentals, and is doing well. Big left jab to the body and right overhand lands, Big combination and Fialho is rocked. Pereira goes for a flying knee but misses before landing a crazy body kick and a front flip lariat. Hard strikes land from Pereira, but Fialho responds with some big strikes himself. Big wheel kick misses again from Pereira, but then the hard front kick to the body lands. Pereira clinches and throws knees to the body, but Fialho lands some hard uppercuts at the same time. Pereira continuing to throw front kicks to the body, and mixing it up with hard right hands. Fialho counters with a right hand of his own as Pereira scores a takedown with 20 seconds to go. 19-19, great recovery.
Fialho continuing to come forward in this final round but Pereira seems to have figured him out and is now landing hard low kicks. Nice combination from Pereira, before he shoots for a takedown but doesn’t get it. Fialho forces Pereira backwards with strikes but then he replies with an explosive right hand. Pereira chopping away at the body but Fialho not going anywhere and landing his jab well. Pereira getting in and out with his strikes, but Fialho is still there and is landing really well. Pereira goes for one of those body kicks but gets it a bit low and there’s a pause in the action. Crazy exchanges to see the round out from both guys, but Pereira should claim the victory.
Deiveson Figueiredo def Brandon Moreno via Unanimous Decision (48-47 x3)
Hard low kick from Figueiredo early on, but when he goes for a second Moreno avoids it and chases him looking for a strike. Clinch against the cage forces a stalemate for about a minute, before they break and Moreno just misses with a left hook. Hard low kick from Figueiredo sits Moreno down but he bounces back up quickly. Another hard low kick from Figueiredo and then Moreno lands a hard right hand that seems to hurt Figueiredo. The Brazilian changes levels and drags Moreno down with a takedown and transitions to the back, but Moreno scrambles up to his feet quickly. Spinning low kick hurts Figueiredo’s leg but he lands a nice right hand before the buzzer ends the round. 10-9 Figueiredo, just.
Moreno coming forward well in this second round and he looks confident and calm. Figueiredo lands a right hand, then goes for a body kick but Moreno catches it and tries to drop him to the ground but they immediately scramble back up to the feet. Moreno starting to throw his own low kicks and both guys are looking to counter the other as it stands. Moreno steps in and lands a nice left hook to the body before a left to the chin, before Figueiredo changes levels and grabs a leg but misses with the big right hand. Nice combination to the body from Figueiredo, but Moreno fires back with a left hand. Figueiredo throws a big right hand that hurts Moreno, but the champ returns with a shot of his own that hurts Figueiredo. Both guys just miss with a head kick and the buzzer goes. 19-19.
Both fighters land a left hook early, before Moreno charges in with a knee but gets taken down. He gets to the cage and gets back to his feet while preventing Figueiredo from taking his back. Low kick each to add to the damage, before a left hand makes Moreno stumble! Moreno responds with a right hand that makes him wobble too, then they exchange big strikes again that make each other stumble. Hard low kick from Figueiredo but Moreno lands a few big strikes again that keep Figueiredo on the back foot. Another hard leg kick forces Moreno to the ground, before he throws a big combo that sees a left hand land on the chin of Figueiredo. Heavy left hand from Figueiredo lands but Moreno returns fire with the same strike himself. Head kick from Moreno is partially blocked. Figueiredo lands a huge right hand that drops Moreno! He sinks in a guillotine choke but the buzzer goes! Saved by the bell! 29-28 Fig.
Hard low kick again from Figueiredo and Moreno is hurting. Moreno throws a couple of low kicks himself and gets a reaction from Figueiredo, but Fig taking the centre. Hard low kick from Moreno puts Figueiredo down to one knee but he bounces back up immediately. Figueiredo just misses with a left hook and right cross, before a body lock and clinch against the cage as he looks for a takedown. Moreno scrambles out and starts throwing big flurries, with a left hook landing well. Hard body kick from Moreno, but Figueiredo returns it. Round ends with little action, got to give it to Moreno. 38-38.
Some good distance management early on from both guys before Moreno steps in and gets a takedown. Figueiredo uses his butterfly guard to elevate Moreno and scramble back to his feet quickly though. Nice left hand from Moreno lands, before a hook to the body too. Great slip from Moreno as he avoids Figueiredo’s strike and lands a strong left hand. Big right hand from Figueiredo lands and he drops Moreno! Moreno responds with a nice left hand, before Figueiredo lands a head kick. Both guys land a flush one-two. Final 30 seconds and both guys just start swinging for the fences, with both guys landing clean and both getting hurt. Amazing fight. 48-47 Fig for me, but no complaints if it goes the other way.
Francis Ngannou def Ciryl Gane via Unanimous Decision (48-47 x2, 49-46)
Ngannou takes the centre immediately and Gane bounces on the outside, before shooting in for a takedown but Ngannou defends it well. Ngannou clinches well against Gane and then Gane looks for an upwards elbow. Ngannou lands a big right hook and uppercut, but Gane avoids the big actions and steps away. Spinning kick to the body lands for Gane, and then he moves side-to-side and lands a nice jab too. Ngannou staying very calm so far and then clinching against the cage, landing a big knee to the body. Gane switches the position and lands a knee of his own, before Gane throws a nice body shot. Gane lands a push kick to the body and the round ends. 10-9 Gane.
Slow start to the round from both guys, as Gane throws a front leg side kick to the body. Nice low kicks from Gane and a jab, but the round has been very slow so far. Gane throws a big body shot and hook that lands well, but Ngannou relaxed and eats them. Ngannou misses with a big right hand but they clinch and Gane separates easily. Ngannou throws the one-two and just misses, but Gane responds with a spinning heel-kick that lands well. Gane is basically fighting at walking pace right now, in complete control while Ngannou is barely throwing. Hard body kick lands from Ngannou as we head into the final 30 seconds. Gane throws a right hand and Ngannou replies with an uppercut that lands, but not flush. Gane bounces around the outside to see out the round. 20-18.
Gane very relaxed for the opening minute as he moves around on the outside before throwing a kick that Ngannou catches and he slams him to the mat! Ngannou in side control looking to control the position but Gane does well to get out. Ngannou takes the back and lands some good shots in the ground and pound but Gane gets back up and they separate. Big spinning elbow from Gane on the break lands but Gane then steps back and steps in with a big double leg takedown. Gane goes for a kimura but Ngannou defends it well and ends the round on top. 29-28.
Gane showing his gas tank is nowhere near empty with good movement again, as Ngannou holds the centre and moves slowly. Gane walking around with his hands low, landing short leg kicks before Ngannou throws a hard body kick. He gets a body lock and spins to get Gane down to the mat. Gane trying to keep wrist control but gives it up and throws a short elbow, with Ngannou looking for ground and pound. Another takedown from Ngannou as he looks to move into full mount, but Gane manages to roll out. Ngannou gets him against the cage and lands a big knee to the chest before ending the round on top. What a combeack this is. 38-38, final round.
Gane comes out with leg kicks again and just misses with a big overhand right. Big left hand from Gane lands but Ngannou still in the centre and eats it. Gane changes levels and gets a single leg takedown, but Ngannou tries to get back up. Gane goes for a leg attack and Ngannou manages to get on top instead! Gane rolls it back through and torques for a heel hook but he can’t get it and now Ngannou gets back on top. Ngannou in half-guard and stalling the position as we enter the final minute. Gane can’t work any offense from the bottom and Ngannou is controlling the position. Ngannou looks for ground and pound to end the round and he’s surely taken the decision victory! 48-47 Ngannou.
The first pay-per-view of the year brings us two huge title fights in the smallest and biggest weights available to the men.
In the main event of the night Francis Ngannou will take on former teammate and interim champion Ciryl Gane for the heavyweight title of the world, while the co-main will see the trilogy between Brandon Moreno and Deiveson Figueiredo for the flyweight title.
Rodolfo Vieira (8-1) vs Wellington Turman (17-5) – (Middleweight/185lbs)
This fight got moved up to the main card during fight week and it’s no surprise why. Rodolfo Vieira got submitted by ‘Fluffy’ Hernandez in the submission of the year at UFC 258 in one of the shocks of the year, before bouncing back and submitting Dustin Stoltzfus. Turman is one of the youngest veterans in MMA, and snapped a two-fight losing streak with a split decision win over Sam Alvey at UFC Vegas 35 last time out.
Vieira has the nickname ‘the black belt hunter’ for a reason. He is one of the best Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioners in the world, not just MMA, and has great ability to secure takedowns using his body weight as well as wrestling. Turman is also a talented grappler but who has fallen in love with his hands more recently, looking to box and use his physicality. That won’t go well here though.
Vieira is going to stand only for as long as he has to before looking to bulldoze Turman into a takedown and then working his incredible jiu-jitsu skills for a submission. He managed to conserve energy against Stoltzfus to take it into the third round last time, but he won’t need to do that here as he’ll smoke him early. PICK – Rodolfo Vieira via Submission, Round 1
Michael Morales (12-0) vs Trevin Giles (14-3) – (Welterweight/170lbs)
A very exciting welterweight bout in this one. Michael Morales comes into the UFC as an undefeated fighter having earned a UFC contract on Dana White’s Contender Series back in September, while Giles saw a three-fight win streak snapped at UFC 264 by Dricus Du Plessis when he got knocked out.
Morales is an exciting well rounded fighter, with good speed with his hands and decent wrestling too. Giles on the other hand is making his welterweight debut having spent the vast majority of his career at middleweight. He has good power in his hands and good movement, but he isn’t the most explosive out there. Morales has great length and uses it well, but so does Giles.
It’s a very close fight on paper with different factors going in favour of different fighters. Giles is moving down in weight and we don’t know how he’ll cope, but Morales is pretty green and this is a huge step up in competition compared to the rest of his career. In what should be a decent fight, I think Giles will be able to use his boxing and size well to give Morales his first professional defeat. PICK – Trevin Giles via Decision
Cody Stamann (19-4-1) vs Said Nurmagomedov (14-2) – (Bantamweight/135lbs)
A very exciting bantamweight fight between two grappling machines at 135-pounds. Stamann has lost his last two in a row, dropping decisions to Jimmie Rivera and most recently Merab Dvalishvili at UFC Vegas 25. Nurmagomedov, the cousin of Khabib, earned a KO win over Mark Striegl at UFC Fight Island 6. He hasn’t fought in 14 months since though.
Stamann is a staunch wrestler, who has his whole game based around being able to take his opponent down and control the position for 15 minutes – something that 11 decision wins from 19 proves. Nurmagomedov in the opposite corner has largely worked as a kickboxer in the UFC, but the wrestling and submission skills have been seen previously in his career unsurprisingly. Nurmagomedov is likely to try and strike with Stamann, using his scrambling ability to get off the mat if any takedowns are given up at all.
Both guys are fairly well-rounded, but Stamann is clearly far more predictable than the Dagestani. That makes him much easier to plan for and I expect that while Nurmagomedov will probably get taken down at some point, he’ll be able to land plenty on the feet and get up consistently to be able to earn a decision win. PICK – Said Nurmagomedov via Decision
Michel Pereira (26-11) vs Andre Fialho (14-4) – (Welterweight/170lbs)
This one has got fireworks written all over it, so expect someone to go to sleep. Pereira is on a three-fight win streak after beating ‘Khaos’ Williams at UFC Vegas 17 and Niko Price at UFC 264 most recently by decision. Fialho is stepping in on short-notice for his UFC debut, on a four-fight finishing streak in UAE Warriors.
Pereira is an absolute mad man who is a specialist in capoeira, with explosive kicks and punches as well as some excellent wrestling and jiu-jitsu skills. Fialho has been dubbed ‘the knockout machine’ for his aggressive style, where he walks forward and tries to bait his opponent into a straight up brawl. Doing that against a fighter like Pereira is begging for trouble, but we’ve seen some crazy KO shocks in the past and I wouldn’t put it past him.
Ultimately though, this one looks like it may be too much of a step up for Fialho. Pereira is a legit contender at welterweight and with very little training for the fight, his gas tank isn’t guaranteed either. Pereira will trade big shots and mix in his takedowns to secure an impressive victory via choke. PICK – Michel Pereira via Submission, Round 2
Brandon Moreno (19-5-2) vs Deiveson Figueiredo (20-2-1) – (Flyweight/125lbs)
Absolute banger of a title fight in the flyweight division next between the two best 125-pounders in the world. This is the third time in a row these two have faced off against each other after a draw at UFC 256 and then Moreno’s famous title win at UFC 263 last year.
Moreno and Figueiredo are incredibly well-rounded fighters, but both with their primary aims slightly different. Moreno is an excellent grappler with a tremendous gas tank and he is happy to strike to pressure before stepping in for takedowns. Figueiredo on the other hand is an absolute powerhouse who looks to take his opponent’s head off with strikes, but also has the ability to tap his opponent out with his black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Both guys are at their peak right now and coming into this with no worries or concerns, so it really is a tough pick.
I have to go with the reigning champion to retain though. In the last bout, Moreno’s pressure was excellent and he showed that he could take the power of Figueiredo even when he got hit clean. He also managed to outscramble the Brazilian on the ground and when he got a dominant position, he held onto it and secured the submission. I don’t think he gets a finish here, but I do think he grapples and scrambles his way to a unanimous decision win. PICK – Brandon Moreno via Decision
Francis Ngannou (16-3) vs Ciryl Gane (10-0) – (Heavyweight/220-265lbs)
The best heavyweight title fight in the history of the UFC headlines this card. Francis Ngannou is on a five-fight knockout run, which culminated in him claiming the title at the second attempt with a second-round KO of Stipe Miocic at UFC 260. Gane is undefeated in his professional career and enjoyed some stellar victories in 2021, defeating Jairzinho Rozenstruik at UFC Vegas 20 and Alexander Volkov at UFC Vegas 24 before knocking out Derrick Lewis at UFC 265 to become interim champion.
Ngannou is the most powerful man to ever compete in MMA, with an explosion of power and a genuine ability to knock anyone out with a single strike. Gane on the other hand is one of the most technical heavyweight fighters ever, with brilliant kickboxing and even some solid wrestling too. This is a genuine battle of power vs precision, but it’s crazier that they are former teammates and sparring partners. Ngannou showed greatly improved wrestling against Miocic which could potentially narrow one path to victory for Gane, but ultimately he has got more than one.
Gane has the speed and footwork advantage, while he is also a good clincher too. But what Ngannou has is the ability to end any fight in a split second with one punch and it’s really tough to pick against him. But I’m going to. Gane has been flawless so far in his MMA career and while Ngannou has game-changing power, Gane is no slouch himself. With all the movement, speed and the fact he will know Ngannou better than anyone else make me lean towards Gane putting on a clinic and earning a late finish to become the undisputed king of the heavyweights. PICK – Ciryl Gane via Knockout, Round 4
After months of anticipation and what if’s, the heavyweight title of the world will finally be on the line at UFC 270 this weekend from Anaheim, California.
Francis Ngannou finally reached the top of the mountain back at UFC 260 when he knocked out Stipe Miocic and became champion, but his quick turnaround never happened.
Since then, former teammate and friend Ciryl Gane has beaten both Alexander Volkov and Derrick Lewis at UFC 265 to become the interim heavyweight champion to set this one up.
Now you could be of the opinion that there is nothing bigger than a UFC heavyweight title fight in the sport of MMA if you’re part of the roster, but this fight has got so much more than just the belt at stake.
For the challenger, this is legacy. The French fighter is currently undefeated as a professional, with a 10-0 record in his career and a 7-0 run in the UFC.
It’s also a chance to show that his coach backed the right horse, with an in-gym rift between coach and Ngannou meaning the latter left and would no longer be sparring partners with ‘Bon Gamin’.
That split allowed Fernand Lopez to give his undivided heavyweight attention to 31-year-old Gane and help him become the absolute best he could be.
That split also allowed Ngannou to go off and become champion elsewhere, something he failed to do against the same champion in his first attempt several years prior.
The details of the rift are different depending on who you ask, but there is a rift and it’s very real.
For Ngannou, this fight is more than just about defending the title. It’s about proving he is a complete fighter these days and not just a one-punch wonder, while also getting one over on his former friends and colleagues.
Further than that though, it’s about proving his worth to the UFC as a whole.
According to ESPN, this fight serves as the final fight on an eight-fight deal that he signed with the company several years ago. Should he lose his title, he would immediately enter a period of restricted free agency and after 90-days would be able to sign elsewhere if he couldn’t agree terms with the UFC.
Should he win though, he has vowed not to fight under the terms of his previous deal ever again regardless of the fact a ‘Champion clause’ would become active and add some fights to his deal on the previous terms.
Ngannou wants to have the ability to box entered into his contract, as well as a significant pay increase as the cemented best in the world. A win almost forces the UFC’s hand to at least somewhat compromise from their current position.
There’s also the shadow of Jon Jones in the background and a mega-money fight with him for whoever is the winner of this fight.
So many branches from one tree, but the ultimate prize for the winner is the UFC title belt and the ability to call themselves the baddest man on the planet.
This has all the makings to be one of the most memorable heavyweight fights in the organisation’s history, whether it lasts 25 seconds or 25 minutes. The aftermath will likely be just as exciting too.
The UFC returns to title fights this weekend at UFC 270 when the heavyweights and flyweight strap is on the line.
Both of those belts changed hands in 2021, as Francis Ngannou knocked out Stipe Miocic at UFC 260 and Brandon Moreno submitted Deiveson Figueiredo at UFC 263.
We also saw a new bantamweight, lightweight and light heavyweight champion crowned during the year, so how will 2022 pan out? Lets take a look.
Flyweight (125lbs) – Askar Askarov
Flyweight is one of the better divisions in the UFC right now and I think we’ll once again see a new champion crowned at some point in 2022.
Askar Askarov has been undefeated throughout his career with a 14-0-1 record, with the only draw coming in his UFC debut against… Brandon Moreno. Askarov will get his title shot by the end of the year, and his wrestling is too good for anyone to be able to navigate past him so I think he holds the belt come 2023.
Bantamweight (135lbs) – Petr Yan
The only reason Yan isn’t the champion right now is because he got over excited and threw a knee to a downed Aljamain Sterling at UFC 259. He was winning the first fight quite comfortably at the time, so the fight was re-made for later in the year.
Sterling was forced to withdraw and it’s now set for UFC 273 in April, which means Yan will head into the summer as champ. He’ll likely defend the strap at the end of the year against TJ Dillashaw in a brilliant fight, but I think he edges that and takes a huge boost in credibility this year.
Featherweight (145lbs) – Max Holloway
What a division, and what a title fight that awaits us later this year.
If Volk can see off the Korean Zombie at UFC 273 now in the new bout, he will face off against Holloway at some point in 2022 and I think ‘Blessed’ finally gets his win over the Aussie to reclaim the title.
Lightweight (155lbs) – Islam Makhachev
Arguably the most exciting division in the company right now when it comes to the title picture, I’m predicting yet another new champion at lightweight.
I think Makhachev gets the victory there, then gets the victory in the title fight too to fulfil Khabib Nurmagomedov’s prophecy that he will become champion and rule over the division for a long time to come.
Welterweight (170lbs) – Kamaru Usman
The best in the world right now pound-for-pound, and I don’t see that changing in 2022.
Usman went 3-0 in 2021 with wins over Gilbert Burns at UFC 258, Jorge Masvidal at UFC 261 and Colby Covington at UFC 268 and is now not expected to return to the cage until the summer.
That means one or two fights at most this year, with Leon Edwards certainly one of them, and I don’t see him losing to anyone so soon so I think he holds onto the belt yet again.
Middleweight (185lbs) – Israel Adesanya
The best middleweight in the world and one of the best of all-time, Israel Adesanya will be the 185-pound champion when we enter 2023.
His biggest test will come in February when he faces Robert Whittaker in a rematch at UFC 271, which I think he’ll win again. With that said though, a loss will almost certainly result in a rematch later in the year with their personal series set at 1-1 and he’d then reclaim the belt there.
Either way, ‘The Last Stylebender’ will be the champ when 2022 closes.
Light Heavyweight (205lbs) – Jiri Prochazka
This division isn’t particularly stacked at the top end but one thing it does have is a pathway for the title picture.
Glover Teixeira dethroned Jan Blachowicz at UFC 267 to finally claim the strap, but it feels short-lived because he’s due to take on the killing machine that is Jiri Prochazka next and that means he probably gets violently finished.
Aleksandar Rakic and Magomed Ankalaev are likely to find themselves in contention too by the end of the year, but stylistically none of them suit a fight with ‘Denisa’ and he holds the throne until 2023.
Heavyweight (265lbs) – Ciryl Gane
The big boys are in the best shape they’ve been in, maybe ever, in the UFC right now and it’s created arguably an amazing year in the division in 2022.
Ciryl Gane will take on Francis Ngannou this weekend and a fight with Jon Jones seemingly awaits the winner. Stipe Miocic is likely to return at some point this year too and head for the title once again.
With Miocic back as well as Jones and Ngannou’s contract situations there are plenty of routes to the title this year, but ultimately they all end with ‘Bon Gamin’ as the heavyweight champion of the world heading into 2023.
With Ngannou awaiting news for an opponent, Ciryl Gane quietly moved through the division with decision wins over Jairzinho Rozenstruik at UFC Vegas 20 and Alexander Volkov at UFC Vegas 30.
That gave the UFC the chance to make an interim title fight between Gane and Derrick Lewis at UFC 265, which the Frenchman won in emphatic fashion with a third-round knockout.
So at UFC 270, Ngannou will defend his title against Gane and the winner of that will firmly be in the sights of a returning Jones. For once though, there isn’t a preferred winner.
Ngannou vs Jones would be one of the biggest pay-per-view fights in the UFC today because the unpredictable nature of the fight. Ngannou has startling knockout power and if he is to make it to that fight, it means he will have handed Gane the first defeat of his career.
On top of his terrifying striking he showed brilliantly improved wrestling against Miocic, which is where Jones would be expected to have the advantage if they were to ever meet. With Jones gone for two years and considerably bigger than before, what will he look like in the cage?
If Gane is to win though, it becomes a gloriously technical battle in all aspects of MMA which would be just as exciting as anything the alternative could offer up.
‘Bon Gamin’ is 6ft 4 and chiseled out of stone. He has very quick hands, great grappling skills and knockout power, but it’s his composure and fight IQ that are beyond his years.
Jones would likely be more inclined to be involved in a stand-up battle against Gane, but once again wrestling is arguably where he would have the advantage.
Whatever happens at UFC 270, it’s the return of Jones lurking in the shadows of the division that make for exhilarating viewing for fans and would make for an amazing fight in 2022.
It’s has been a great year for the heavyweight division and the man leading the charge for the new generation is none other than Ciryl Gane.
The undefeated Frenchman came into the year knowing that he had the opportunity to make a charge towards the top of the division and he took it with both hands.
He started the year by cruising to a decision win over the dangerous Jairzinho Rozenstruik at UFC Vegas 20, before yet another dominant display against Alexander Volkov got him into the top five of the rankings.
With the UFC keen to get a title fight for UFC 265, Gane stepped in to fight Derrick Lewis for the interim belt and seamlessly picked him apart for a vicious second-round knockout of ‘The Black Beast’.
It’s been one hell of a journey for Charles Oliveira but he finally made it to the top of the mountain this year and made sure nobody could question him.
After eight wins in a row, Oliveira got his chance at the undisputed title after Khabib’s retirement was confirmed and he took on Michael Chandler at UFC 262. After almost getting stopped in the first-round, ‘Du Bronx’ recovered and stopped Chandler himself with a crisp left-hook just seconds into the second round to claim the belt.
There were question marks over whether his reign was legitimate though because he didn’t beat the previous champion or number one contender to claim it, but a brilliant performance at UFC 269 saw him submit Dustin Poirier brilliantly to make sure all those doubts disappeared.
The best lightweight in the world, with two stoppage wins in title fights against against top competition, Oliveira had one hell of a 2021.
1. Kamaru Usman (3-0 in 2021)
How do you top top two stoppage wins in two title fights? You add another title fight victory to your tally for the year, duh.
That’s what Kamaru Usman did this year, to further separate himself from the pack at 170-pounds and put forward a legitimate claim to be the best welterweight of all-time.
A beautiful knockout win over Gilbert Burns at UFC 258 was quickly followed up by a stunning KO against rival Jorge Masvidal at UFC 261 to cement himself as the best in the world. He then capped off the year with a war against long-time rival Colby Covington in yet another rematch at UFC 268, where he earned a unanimous decision win once again to stretch his unbeaten streak in the UFC to a record 13.
Undoubtedly the pound-for-pound best fighter in the UFC currently, Usman had the best year of his career to date and takes the fighter of the year award.
The UFC is set to announce a double header of title fights for the opening pay-per-view even of 2022, headlined by a heavyweight title fight.
The heavyweight division has seen a new champion crowned and then an interim title created too in 2021, despite the champion being available but the belts will be unified on January 22nd 2022 when Francis Ngannou looks to defend his title for the first time against former teammate Ciryl Gane.
The event will be co-headlined by another of the company’s African champions, as Israel Adesanya will face off against the man he won the belt against in 2019 Robert Whittaker in a hotly anticipated rematch.
Francis Ngannou started the year in fantastic fashion, avenging a defeat to Stipe Miocic with a brilliant performance at UFC 260 which ended in a vicious second-round knockout.
Ngannou then went on a tour of his homeland with the belt, before looking for a potential date in September to defend his title – ideally against Jon Jones or Derrick Lewis.
However when the UFC insisted on an August date and Ngannou couldn’t do it, they instead pitted Lewis against the undefeated Gane in Texas for an interim title.
Gane picked Lewis apart and eventually secured a brutal knockout in the second-round of their UFC 265 main event to move the Frenchman to 3-0 in 2021 and 7-0 in the UFC.
The two former teammates will go head-to-head in the main event, with French outlet La Sueur reporting that a deal is close to being finalized.
It’s been widely reported also that in the co-main event Adesanya and Whittaker will once again do battle for the 185lbs title, a little over two years on from their first meeting.
The first time around Adesanya put in a dazzling performance to secure a second-round knockout win over the then undisputed champion. ‘Izzy’ has continued his excellent record at middleweight since, beating all of Yoel Romero, Paulo Costa and Marvin Vettorri most recently at UFC 263 in the division although he suffered the first and only defeat of his career to Jan Blachowicz at UFC 259 when he challenged for the light heavyweight title.
Whittaker has been flawless since the defeat to Adesanya, going 3-0 with wins over Darren Till, Jared Cannonier and Kelvin Gastelum to secure himself a shot and set up a fight between the two best middleweight fighters in the world today.
UFC 270 will take place on January 22nd 2022, with Las Vegas expected to be the host location although that is not confirmed yet.
If UFC 265 told us one thing, it was the fact that the heavyweight division could very well have a new king by the end of the calendar year.
In the main event of the night Ciryl Gane stepped into Derrick Lewis’ back yard in Houston, Texas and laid a beat down on the hometown hero that culminated in a third round mercy stoppage from the referee.
It was a masterful performance from the Frenchman, as he improved to 10-0 and earned himself the interim heavyweight title to set up a showdown with the current undisputed champion Francis Ngannou.
The obvious story of that fight is the fact that they are former teammates at Factory MMA and will now be battling it out for the title of the baddest man on the planet.
But there is also the fact that the aura of invincibility around both men won’t exist for the other because of that. Ngannou and Gane have both trained and sparred with each other on several occasions and will know each other inside out.
While both will have developed further and improved since their separation back in 2018, following Ngannou’s first fight with Stipe Miocic when he blamed his coach for the defeat, the large crux of their game won’t have changed.
‘The Predator’ will still have ridiculous one punch power and a blitz from hell to end fights, while ‘Bon Gamin’ is very much a stick and move fighter who will fight in a similar fashion to the way he did Lewis.
The win over Lewis was made more impressive by how he froze the now two-time title challenger in the octagon. Gane outlanded Lewis officially 112-16 in total strikes and completely silenced the home crowd as he cooly and calmly executed his game plan to perfection.
He has shown in the past that he is a more than solid grappler if he needs to be, while his striking is excellent. His ability to maintain distance and control range is second to none in the heavyweight division and he showed a killer instinct in the Lewis fight that had been missing in previous bouts against top level opposition.
With his complete skillset he’s a problem for anyone, but what really sets him apart for me is his mentality and fight IQ.
He knows he can do it all and he knows what dangers he is facing in each fight, but he just adapts to the scenario and trusts in his own abilities. When he comes up against Ngannou he won’t look to beat him with force, it’ll simply be about not getting hit while piecing him up until an opportunity arises to finish the fight.
Because of the way he fights, it’s hard to look past him being the favourite in any fight he’s in. That includes the title fight against Ngannou plus any potential match up with the former champion Stipe Miocic. The most intriguing fight for him would undoubtedly be against Jon Jones, who has had that same aura around him at 205lbs since forever.
But with the dominance he has shown in every single fight so far in his combat sports career, plus the fact that he knows everything there is to know about Ngannou right now, Gane may very well be the uncrowned king of the heavyweights already.