HOUSTON -- Ciryl Gane is a living, breathing representation of the evolution of mixed martial arts. He's a poised, smooth and tactical heavyweight who moves like a man two to three weight classes below him. He was born in France, which just legalized the sport of MMA last year.
Gane has been training in MMA for only three years, with two years of pro Muay Thai before that. But Saturday night he won UFC gold, stopping Derrick Lewis via TKO at 4 minutes, 11 seconds of the third round to win the UFC interim heavyweight title.
"He touched me maybe one time, two times," Gane said in the postfight news conference. "I think it was a master class."
Gane will likely fight heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou next to unify the title. Gane and Ngannou are former training partners at MMA Factory in Paris.
"[WWE CEO] Vince [McMahon] couldn't have written a better script than this," UFC president Dana White said in the postfight news conference. "It's beautiful. ... Him and Francis is a bad ass heavyweight fight."
Ngannou took to Twitter after Saturday's fight and said he's ready for Gane.
Impressive performance from Gane !— Francis Ngannou (@francis_ngannou) August 8, 2021
He's now a legit contender.
See you soon boy. When you know you know. #ufc265
ESPN had Lewis and Gane ranked No. 3 and No. 4, respectively, in the world at heavyweight coming in. Gane is the first French-born fighter to ever win a UFC title. Gane and Ngannou both came up in Paris under coach Fernand Lopez, whom Gane referred to as a "genius" and someone who can "see the future."
Gane said nothing Lewis did Saturday night surprised him or his team. The finish came when Gane had Lewis trapped against the cage. He landed a leg kick, a kick to the body and punching combination that hurt Lewis badly. Lewis covered up, survived the onslaught and fired back. But then Gane let loose with another big combination, landing with diverse techniques, and Lewis could not escape. He covered up, went to his knees and turtled up. Referee Dan Miragliotta had no choice but to call the bout.
The athletic, 6-foot-4 Gane was dominant throughout. He kept Lewis at bay, using his length and superior kicking game. Lewis seemingly could never get close enough to land a big shot, his specialty. Gane mixed it up well offensively and kept Lewis guessing. The fight -- and the finish -- left the crowd disappointed. Lewis is a Houston resident and the card was built around him as a star here.
Gane outlanded Lewis 98-16 in significant strikes and 112-16 in total strikes. He landed 80% of his significant strikes. Gane's plus-82 significant strike differential was the most ever in a UFC heavyweight title fight.
"He's a big, powerful, bad-ass heavyweight who moves like a middleweight," White said of Gane. "He completely shut him down, put on a clinic, looked good doing it. Made it look easy against a guy who can turn the lights off with one punch."
Gane (10-0) is one of the most promising up-and-coming fighters in all of the UFC. Gane, 31, now sports a 7-0 record in the UFC, making him only the fourth heavyweight to ever do that, joining Junior Dos Santos, Cain Velasquez and Randy Couture. "Bon Gamin" most recently beat Alexander Volkov via unanimous decision in what was a one-sided performance in June. Gane is the sixth UFC heavyweight to win a title while undefeated.
Gane's seven-fight winning streak is tied for second (with Andrei Arlovski and Velasquez) for the longest in UFC heavyweight history.
Lewis (25-8, 1 NC) has the most KO/TKO victories in UFC heavyweight history (12). That mark also puts him in a three-way tie for the most knockouts in any division in the UFC ever, along with Vitor Belfort and Matt Brown. Lewis, 36, was coming off a second-round knockout win over Curtis Blaydes in February.
"I think I'm one of the best in the world now," Gane said. "I think this means something. I don't want to say [I'm the best] because the champion is still Francis Ngannou."