Francis Ngannou retains his title and sets up a fascinating showdown with the organisation
Words by Will Vo
With rumblings of a boxing match with Tyson Fury on the horizon and a tangible animosity between him and UFC president Dana White, it would have been easy to suggest that heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou’s head was not in the right place ahead of his much-anticipated fight with former training partner Cyril Gane. Couple that with the champion finding himself two rounds down going into the third, and struggling mightily with the outside point fighting style of Gane, and the writing seemed to be on the wall for his reign as the champion.
However, if there is one lesson to be learned from the career of Francis Ngannou up to now, it is one of perseverance, and finding a way to win; and that is exactly what he did. Realising that his usual path to victory – the knockout – was becoming more and more unlikely, Ngannou utilized a facet of his game that we were yet to see explored fully in his wrestling and ground game. The turning point, and the snapshot of this fight immortalised into GIFS that have spread around the community on social media, came in the third round, when a Cyril Gane front kick rolled over the shoulder of Ngannou, and the undisputed champion picked up his French adversary and slammed him onto the mat.
From then on, Ngannou leaned on this knowledge that his weight was enough to hold Gane down, and won the remaining rounds in that manner.
So, why should I care about this fight? Well, MMA fans have long speculated about the almost mythical “champions clause”, and we will finally see it put to the test now, as Ngannou threatens to walk away from the UFC due to issues with his pay. Essentially, the “champions clause” supposedly dictates that every time a champion retains their title, their contract is automatically extended by one fight. This means that a fighter can theoretically never see out their contract whilst holding the belt. This has long been argued about in various corners of the MMA community, with some lawyers saying that its impossible to enforce, and other managers saying that they have seen it in writing and that it exists.
Francis Ngannou has the title, and also has teased his desire to walk away from the organisation as this fight was potentially the last of his contract unless the aforementioned clause is real and does come into play.
With all these rumblings occurring in the foreground and the background, it is easy to neglect the skills of Francis Ngannou and Cyril Gane as fighters. Francis has now shown that he can catch the best wrestlers in the division with his signature power before they can implement their own gameplan, as was the case against Blaydes, and an albeit faded Cain Velasquez, whilst also wrestle against the best pure striker in the division, in Cyril Gane. Meanwhile, Gane has shown that he is the most technical striker in the land of the giants, neutralising Ngannou on the feet in a way that no one else has.
In the words of Dana White, we will have to see how this all plays out, but it is an interesting position for the fans, a potentially powerful one for Francis Ngannou, and one of potential warning for the UFC.