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Making the Grade: UFC 270: Ngannou vs. Gane edition

UFC 270: Ngannou v Gane Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images

Unpredictability is part of the attraction when it comes to mixed martial arts and that was the best way to describe how the UFC 270 main event played out on Saturday night.

Billed as a showdown between former training partners — not teammates — as Francis Ngannou sought to defend his heavyweight title for the first (and possibly last) time against former training partner in Ciryl Gane, who came up under the same head coach who taught both of them how to fight.

What was expected was a chess match between two elite strikers with Ngannou known for his devastating one-punch knockout power and Gane with a methodical style where he will pick his opponents part before finally going in for the kill.

Of course the fight played out just how no one expected with Ngannou landing four takedowns while largely dominating Gane with a heavy wrestling attack on the ground. Ngannou went into the fight with a serious knee injury — the kind of injury that had his doctors telling him do not compete — but he still did it anyways.

The end result was Ngannou retaining his title, which also seemingly stuck it to UFC president Dana White as he disappeared from the arena following the conclusion of the main event.

Meanwhile in the co-main event, Deiveson Figueiredo erased the bad memory of his last outing against Brandon Moreno by pulling off a dynamic performance to become the first ever two-time UFC flyweight champion. Figueiredo got dominated and then finished by Moreno in their rematch but this time around the Brazilian showed patience and power with a strategy orchestrated by former two-division UFC champion Henry Cejudo, who helped lead him back to the promise land.

There’s plenty to dissect from the card on Saturday night so let’s talk about what passed and what failed at the first UFC pay-per-view in 2022.

This is Making the Grade for UFC 270: Ngannou vs. Gane.

PASSES

Wrestling with Shadows

Ever since Francis Ngannou lost a lopsided decision to Stipe Miocic in his first UFC title shot, the Cameroon native has been trying to fix the problems that led to that particular defeat. Perhaps the biggest hole in his game that was exposed that night was lackluster wrestling that allowed Miocic to essentially take him down at will and Ngannou couldn’t do much of anything to get back up again.

Fast forward to UFC 270 where Ngannou was fighting on a severely compromised knee, which meant he couldn’t really plant his feet for power punches much less maneuver around the cage with the kind of speed and footwork that gave Miocic nightmares in their rematch last March. After losing the first two rounds, Ngannou landed a Herculean slam on Gane that brought the French heavyweight crashing down to the canvas with a mighty thud and with that the momentum in the fight was completely altered.

After realizing that Gane was basically a mirror image of himself from four years ago — a supremely talented heavyweight fighter without a lick of wrestling in his arsenal — Ngannou took advantage of that to storm back and get a unanimous decision victory.

Up until Saturday night, Ngannou had only gone to decision three times in his career — all of them losses — but he showed that even on one leg against a very talented opponent, he could still find a way to win. Was it a highlight reel victory he’ll be touting for years to come? Probably not but the fact that Ngannou could show vast improvements in an area that cost him in a title fight a few years ago while also gutting through a bad injury is the definition of a true champion.

Oh and lest we forget that Ngannou did all of this under the shadow of the final fight of his UFC contract, which was almost a bigger storyline than the actual main event itself. In fact…

Class Act

Ngannou should receive all the praise in the world for his demeanor and attitude leading into one of the biggest fights of his career against an opponent who oddsmakers and bettors decided was actually favored to win at UFC 270.

Despite the looming specter of his UFC contract coming to an end not to mention a contentious relationship with Dana White (more on that later), Ngannou handled himself with nothing but class before and after the fight.

Sure, Ngannou had to lay into a couple of French reporters who misinterpreted what he said in past interviews while also accusing him of abandoning the country he called home for several years but even that was actually a moment where “The Predator” came out on top.

Immediately after the fight was over with Joe Rogan asking him about forgoing his future with the UFC in favor of pursuing a boxing match against Tyson Fury, Ngannou didn’t take the bait but instead he just said that we’ll have to wait and see what happens next.

At the UFC 270 post-fight press conference, Ngannou could have burned every bridge left with the promotion when asked about Dana White not putting the belt around his waist or skipping out on speaking to reporters after the event was over but in both cases he smiled, laughed quietly and looked just as befuddled by that decision as everybody else in the room.

The reality is Ngannou has been everything the UFC could want in a heavyweight champion — a terrifying force of nature in the cage, a charming guy outside the sport with a truly inspirational journey to get there that will undoubtedly become a major motion picture one day.

Yes, he’s been at odds with the UFC over his contract but judging by the reaction to the salaries released for the card on Saturday night, he’s probably not going to be the only one with those same issues moving forward.

Behind the scenes maybe Ngannou and his representatives at CAA are asking for the moon — but if all they want is a bigger piece of the pie and a chance to pursue a boxing match that could net Ngannou a $30 million payday, then maybe he’s just trying to get the same kind of concessions that Conor McGregor received when he set up a fight against Floyd Mayweather back in 2017.

Either way, Ngannou did everything right before and after his latest fight at UFC 270 and he should be commended for that.

Fourth Time’s the Charm

Like it or not, parity in sports matters and that played at least some small part in why nobody really seemed to care all that much when Demetrious Johnson was reigning as the UFC flyweight champion. Now that’s definitely not a knock on Johnson — if anything it’s a compliment to the way he ran roughshod over the entire 125-pound division while racking up 11 consecutive title defenses and losing only a handful of rounds while dominating a weight class for the better part of six years.

Unfortunately, Johnson was so much better than his competition that people just started tuning him out. It was fun to watch Johnson maul his opponents for a little while but when it got the point where it was almost a forgone conclusion that he was going to win and win handily, the drama and anticipation surrounding his fights just disappeared.

Since Johnson lost his title and left the UFC, the flyweight division was at first stuck in limbo and then revived thanks to the rivalry between Deiveson Figueiredo and Brandon Moreno.

Over three fights, Figueiredo and Moreno have brought the best out of each other while also giving fans an incredible series of battles that have resulted in a draw and one win a piece for the combatants. At UFC 270, Figueiredo overcame seemingly insurmountable odds, which included a beatdown from Moreno in their rematch, to reclaim his title in front of a very hostile Anaheim crowd that was firmly behind the first Mexican-born champion in UFC history.

Following his win, Figueiredo was showered with boos from just about everybody in the arena but that only added to the ongoing rivalry with Moreno that feels anything but finished. In fact, Figueiredo suggested a fourth fight against Moreno except this time they would clash in Mexico, which would undoubtedly give “The Assassin Baby” the home-field advantage.

As much as that bit of matchmaking might suck for Askar Askarov and Kai Kara-France, who are about to battle later this year in what has to be considered a No. 1 contender’s fight, the UFC would be foolish not to capitalize on booking Figueiredo vs. Moreno 4 while the 125-pound division is getting more attention than ever before.

This is exactly what the flyweights have needed for years — a compelling storyline between two great athletes and a rabid fanbase desperate to see them clash again. Here’s hoping the UFC is smart enough to see the potential in this fourth fight so Figueiredo and Moreno can meet one last time for all the marbles.

FAIL

Institutional Failure

It’s hard to argue against the California State Athletic Commission and executive director Andy Foster as the gold standard when it comes to combat sports regulation in the United States. Foster and the CSAC have tried to cut down on disastrous and dangerous weight cuts while also serving as one of the most transparent commissions in the sport, which is sadly a rarity these days.

Thanks to the CSAC, the salaries for UFC 270 were released on Saturday night, which is the first time in a long, long while that journalists, fans, and fighters alike got at least a small glimpse into the pay scale at the largest mixed martial arts promotion in the world.

It’s easy to start a conversation when seeing some of these salaries — for instance Figueiredo making only $150,000 for his title fight win over Moreno or Contender Series winner Jack Della Maddalena making $20,000 for his first-round knockout while his base pay was only $10,000, which was $2,000 less than his opponent Pete Rodriguez after he accepted the fight on short notice.

In other words, a Contender Series fighter made less base pay than a guy the UFC signed a week ago to face him.

While the conversation over fighter pay will continue, it’s getting harder and harder to actually investigate what the athletes are making when cowardly commissions across the U.S. suddenly decided to stop revealing the salaries handed out by promoters. Nevada is on the top of that list after the commission there opted to stop disclosing salaries for no apparent reason other than keeping just about everybody in the dark when it comes to what combatants are being paid there.

Now it has to be noted that disclosed salaries don’t give a full picture of what athletes are making because payments made from pay-per-view or discretionary bonuses are obviously not included. That said, the fighters and their representatives are now kept in the dark when it comes to negotiating contracts based on publicly available information that’s no longer available.

That’s unlike every other major sport in the U.S. where NFL, NBA and MLB teams all disclose salaries, which in turn makes it easier for agents to then go to the negotiating table when trying to seek a new contract for an athlete. If Patrick Mahomes wants a new deal, his agent can see what the Green Bay Packers are paying Aaron Rodgers or what the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are giving Tom Brady in order to understand the market when trying to hash out a new deal.

Thanks to commissions like Nevada and others suddenly keeping that information from the public, the UFC and other promoters are able to keep salaries in house without anybody being the wiser about what’s actually being paid to the athletes. It’s good to know at least one commission — namely California — still has the guts to do what’s right.

EPIC FAIL

Petty, Tom Petty

Dana White has some explaining to do after he bolted out of the Honda Center in Anaheim on Saturday night without placing the heavyweight title around Francis Ngannou’s waist and then failing to make an appearance at the UFC 270 post-fight press conference. Now full disclosure, neither White nor the UFC have addressed his absence and if this was some sort of family emergency, then the following statement is null and void.

In the highly unlikely case that White was forced to leave the arena early, it would appear that the UFC president would rather do anything else than celebrate a heavyweight champion in Ngannou, who has publicly berated the company for an unfair contract while all but saying he’s ready to leave with the belt still around his waist if the company can’t offer him acceptable terms for his next deal.

It’s impossible not to read between the lines when White hands Deiveson Figueiredo his belt and then sends UFC matchmaker Mick Maynard into the cage to give Ngannou his heavyweight title. There’s no way to ignore the fact that White didn’t make any post-fight appearance on Saturday at either the press conference or even for an interview with the UFC’s broadcast partner at ESPN.

That was White’s way of saying a million words without ever opening his mouth.

Since the contract dispute has become public, White has taken direct aim at Ngannou’s representatives at CAA — a rival agency to the UFC’s owners at Endeavor — and essentially blamed them for offering the heavyweight champion bad advice. It’s not clear what bad advice White believes has been doled out but Ngannou has been plenty loud and clear on his own that he wants more freedom than the restrictive UFC contract allows while also looking to make better pay among his peers.

Judging by White’s behavior at UFC 270, he’s not ready to cater to any of Ngannou’s demands and it would seem like the promotion is headed for an ugly split with arguably the most marketable heavyweight champion since Brock Lesnar returned to professional wrestling.

More than anything, White’s decision to abandon Ngannou in the cage, and then not bother to address his win afterwards, speaks volumes about what would seem like a rather petty attitude when it comes to dealing with this entire ordeal.

OVERALL GRADE FOR UFC 270: C