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Ciryl Gane of France walks on stage during the UFC fight night weigh-in at Sajik Arena on December 20, 2019 in Busan, South Korea. (Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC)

Proving Time For Ciryl Gane

A Win Over Junior Dos Santos At UFC 256 Could Show He Belongs Among Heavyweight Elite

Ciryl Gane kicked in the door in the heavyweight division during his rookie season in the UFC, earning three victories in five months.

Ciryl Gane: Anyone, Anywhere
Ciryl Gane: Anyone, Anywhere

Arriving in the Octagon with a 3-0 mark and the TKO heavyweight title over his shoulder, the French prospect validated all the hype that accompanied his arrival by scoring consecutive submission wins over Raphael Pessoa and Don’Tale Mayes in August and October, respectively, and the wrapped up the year with a unanimous decision win over Tanner Boser in Busan, South Korea.

Brandishing a 6-0 record as a professional and carrying tons of momentum, it felt like “Bon Gamin” was poised to do big things in 2020, but his year, like everyone else’s year, has been filled with unexpected twists and turns that have kept him out of the Octagon until now.

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“It’s been a bunch of bad surprises, but everything is nice,” said the optimistic and positive Gane, who faces off with former champion Junior Dos Santos in the opening bout of Saturday night’s UFC 256 pay-per-view main card. “As I always say, ‘I have a roof over my head and food on my plate,’ so everything is nice.”

The bad surprises started in March, when the unbeaten heavyweight was forced to withdraw from an April bout against Shamil Abdurakhimov after coming down with a pneumothorax, a chest condition that causes shortness of breath and sharp chest pains. It wasn’t the first time Gane had dealt with the affliction, so he opted to have a minor surgical procedure to alleviate the ailment, which pushed back his planned 2020 debut.

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Between the summer and fall, Gane was linked to or scheduled for four different bouts, his name affixed to fight cards in July, August, September, and October against a rotating cast of opponents, including Abdurakhimov, Sergei Pavlovich, and newcomer Ante Delija, only to have each of those opportunities fall through for one reason or another.

“(The surgery) was really nice; it will never be a problem again,” Gane said of the procedure to correct the pneumothorax. “It was my second time, and this time, I went to the hospital and had a small surgery to ensure it will never happen again.

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“Every time there is bad news, there is good news too,” he continued, maintaining his positive outlook in regard to the numerous cancellations and delays he’s faced this year. “I suck it up, for real. I stay positive and always maintain a good mindset. I stay focused on training and that’s it.”

In addition to having a roof over his head and food on his plate, the series of false starts meant that Gane had an inordinate amount of time to continuing honing his craft and sharpening his skills under the watchful eye of his coach, Fernand Lopez.

On top of that, it meant that he was available when the UFC came calling with an offer to face Dos Santos this weekend in Las Vegas.

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It’s a considerable step up in competition for the 30-year-old rising star, who turned pro a year before making his UFC debut and has yet to face a ranked opponent, let alone a former titleholder.

But like many other highly touted up-and-coming competitors, finding a suitable dance partner for the 15th-ranked Gane has been serious challenge, and a matchup with the always game, ever-dangerous Dos Santos will provide a great deal of clarity about where the undefeated fighter stands in the heavyweight hierarchy heading into 2021.

“I want to say a big thank you to the UFC because I know it was a little complicated to find an opponent for me this year,” he began. “Fighting against a man ranked behind me isn’t a good deal for me, but the people ahead of me don’t want to deal with me because I’m young and I don’t have a great deal of experience, so it’s not a good deal for them.

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“If I win against Junior, the people will know that I’m ready for the big names,” he added. “So now we’re going to see and I’m going to do my best against this big man.”

Still a fixture in the Top 10, Dos Santos enters Saturday’s contest on the first extended losing streak of his career, having dropped three straight contests. But not all slides are created equal, and in the case of “Cigano,” it’s difficult to fault him too much for the setbacks as the losses have come in matchups against Francis Ngannou, Curtis Blaydes and Jairzinho Rozenstruik — the men that currently occupy the top three positions in the heavyweight rankings.

While it’s entirely possible that the mileage he’s accrued over the course of 22 UFC appearances has carried the 36-year-old Brazilian into the twilight of his career, he remains in outstanding physical condition and hasn’t looked outmatched in any of those three defeats; he’s simply faced elite competition and got beaten to the punch in back-to-back-to-back appearances.

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“I’m really excited,” Gane said about the matchup. “For real, I can’t wait to be in the cage against this guy and I want to prove I belong, that’s for sure.”

Of all the things that stand out about the streaking French upstart, his desire to prove himself and allow his work inside the Octagon to speak for him might be the most impressive of the lot, which is saying something, because Gane is a six-foot-five-inch specimen with tremendous athleticism and an abundance of potential.

Where some athletes build a little momentum, garner a little attention and start calling out established contenders and reigning champions before they’ve beaten anyone of real substance inside the cage, the hard-working heavyweight representing Paris’ MMA Factory prefers to wait until he’s done something of note inside the Octagon first.

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“I just want to prove it in the cage,” said Gane, who has been one of the most hyped heavyweight prospects in the sport from the outset of his career. “You can talk a lot outside of the cage, but for me, I don’t like that.

“I just want to prove myself inside the cage and after you prove yourself, then you can talk.”

This weekend, he gets the opportunity to do just that against Dos Santos, and if he’s successful, it will be a positive ending to an otherwise difficult year.

“I say it all the time to my coach: it’s a bad year, but if I win this fight, it’s a good year for me.”