Monday, May 23, 2022

UFC 270 results, takeaways: Francis Ngannou shows the heart of a champion and UFC needs to reward him

Although it was far from a shocker that the pair of title bouts headlining Saturday’s UFC 270 card from Anaheim, California, turned out to be exciting and dramatic affairs, few could’ve predicted the manner in which we got there.  

The underdogs came through on this night as Francis Ngannou unified the heavyweight championship with a shocking decision win over unbeaten Ciryl Gane in the main event. Meanwhile, 34-year-old Deiveson Figueiredo regained the 125-pound strap he lost via stoppage by edging Brandon Moreno in a thriller to close out their third meeting.  

Let’s take a closer look at what we learned from an exciting night inside the Octagon.

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1. Forget wrestling, Ngannou defended his title with nothing but heart 

Make no mistake, it was Ngannou’s surprising decision to rely upon grappling over the final three rounds to control Gane that won him the fight via unanimous decision. But it was just part of an overall gutsy effort from “The Predator” to expose the inexperience of his unbeaten opponent and do whatever it took to exit the Octagon with his title. Let’s face it, Ngannou looked everything from lost to exhausted through two rounds as Gane, a slight betting favorite, established control by striking from distance. But Gane had never taken part in a UFC fight coming in where he hadn’t completely controlled the terms of it throughout. And once Ngannou adjusted by taking him down, it was Gane’s own gas tank that began to betray him. An ill-fated decision to go for a leg submission while on his back in Round 5 also became a stumbling block for Gane as Ngannou broke free and improved his position to take the decision. Considering the drama of his ongoing contract battle with the UFC and the soap opera of facing his former teammate and ex-coach, Ngannou showed incredible mental strength to figure out a path to victory and gutting it out until completion. The fact that Ngannou also revealed after the fight that he competed with a torn MCL not long after also hurting his ACL late in training camp makes the victory even more impressive.  

2. With Jon Jones likely on deck, the UFC needs to do right by Ngannou 

UFC president Dana White’s absence from both the post-fight press conference on Saturday and his traditional spot placing the belt around title winners inside the Octagon appeared to speak volumes about the current temperature between promoter and leading fighter. Ngannou explained during fight week that his current UFC deal expires in December and he’s willing to sit out until then should UFC continue to offer him fight purses similar to the $600,000 he made, according to the California State Commission. Any form of Ngannou, 35, sitting out yet another year just to walk off into free agency would be a major injustice for just about everyone. UFC has never been financially stronger in its 28-year history and it has never had a destroyer quite like Ngannou, even if his grappling heavy win on Saturday lacked his typical mix of violence and entertainment. Although Ngannou keeps talking about a heavyweight boxing crossover that it’s clear UFC has little to no interest in, it’s not hard to imagine paying Ngannou what he’s worth inside the cage would do nothing but keep him there. A fight against Jones, the former light heavyweight king, would be one of the biggest and most interesting PPV main events in quite some time. One could also imagine multiple rematches against Gane still to come for Ngannou in the future. Should Ngannou never appear in the Octagon again, however, the blame will fall on UFC and UFC alone in the court of public opinion. This has the potential to be a major statement in the ongoing public debate over fighter pay and Ngannou has done nothing but repeatedly prove just how worth it he is as an investment.  

3. It won’t be long until Gane is back fighting for the heavyweight title 

True champions learn from devastating defeats and come back stronger. Look no further than Ngannou for proof as he avenged a one-sided title loss to Miocic in 2018 by patiently dismantling him in their rematch last year, showing improvements in everything from his stamina to his takedown defense. Gane will likely get his shot at doing the same in short time, mostly because he’s far too talented not to. It’s hard to fully comprehend it but Gane is still just three years into his transition from Muay Thai to full-time status as a mixed martial artist. Gane’s striking was so far advanced entering his UFC run that head coach Fernand Lopez chose to teach Gane how to use his dynamic skill set to outright avoid dangerous situations — either on the feet or the ground — rather than slow his growth by taking the time to become proficient in the areas he lacks experience. While the downside of that decision was fully on display at UFC 270, Gane took the defeat well and seems to have all the necessary intangibles inside of him to rebound from this loss in a healthy way and come back even stronger. The thing that made this fight so unique was that both Ngannou and Gane potentially represented the only fighters on the planet capable of neutralizing the other. Gane may have lost his first shot at the undisputed title, but he was anything but dominated or embarrassed. This has all the making to be a valuable learning experience.  

4. Attention: Deiveson Figueiredo and Brandon Moreno, please #FightForever 

For a title trilogy that wasn’t necessarily clamored for by fans given how dominant Moreno was in winning the belt last year, the pair of exciting 125-pound studs proved in their five-round thriller why they really are perfect dance partners. At 34, Figueiredo secured a gutsy comeback win just seven months removed from tapping out to Moreno when he patiently stood his ground and edged the budding Mexican star by a close and unanimous decision (48-47, 48-47, 48-47) in their third meeting. The fight was equally technical and thrilling as the two fighters stood dangerously close to each other throughout and took turns creating pockets of action. Given how much fun this division has become in the aftermath of UFC exits by former flyweight champions Demetrious Johnson and Henry Cejudo, there’s no reason why Figueiredo and Moreno shouldn’t continue down their already unique path of fighting three consecutive times with no interim fights for either by signing up for a fourth. This decision was disputed enough to where it makes sense. Figueiredo also mentioned after the fight his willingness to travel to Moreno’s backyard of Mexico for yet another rematch. Moreno entered the arena to explosive cheers in the Mexican-American market of Southern California. And even though his budding star potential as the first Mexican-born UFC champion may have taken a hit with the loss, fans love a redemption story even more. On this night, that same redemption went to the gritty Figueiredo, but it’s hard to believe this rivalry is anywhere close to being over.  

5. Henry Cejudo has a budding second career to consider 

Cejudo, a former two-division UFC champion, may have come up empty in his hope of swaying Dana White to give him a featherweight title shot and a bid for his third world title in as many weight divisions despite being retired. But he’s currently doing just fine as a fledgling MMA coach at the highest level. Cejudo, alongside his own head coach, Eric Albarracin, helped the former flyweight champion regain his crown in a five-round thriller. The transition from fighter to coach has come slowly but surely for the former Olympic gold medalist. Cejudo also joined Albarracin as consultants for former UFC women’s strawweight champion Weili Zhang. China’s first UFC champion may have come up empty in a split-decision loss to Rose Namajunas in their rematch, but some felt Zhang had done enough to get the nod. Cejudo also works regularly with former light heavyweight king Jon Jones. Whether or not he does cash in for a big-money return to the Octagon eventually, Cejudo seems to have the right demeanor and fight IQ to make just as big of a difference behind the scenes. The typically reckless Figueiredo was much more patient and technical in outdueling Moreno on Saturday in their third meeting, which showcased Cejudo’s influence.  

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