On Saturday, Jan. 22, the UFC will host it’s first pay-per-view card of the year. Headlining the show is a title unification bout for the heavyweight championship, crowning the undisputed baddest man on the planet at UFC 270: Ngannou vs. Gane.
Champion Francis Ngannou won the belt less than a year ago by knocking out Stipe Miocic in the second round of their rematch at UFC 260. Puzzlingly, the UFC decided to schedule an interim title fight just five months later with Ngannou unable to defend the title until later in the year. Ciryl Gane claimed the interim title by defeating Derrick Lewis by TKO, earning a “Performance of the Night” bonus along the way. Now, the former training partners will square off inside the Octagon with only one man leaving with a belt still wrapped around his waist.
In the co-main event, gold is also on the line as Brandon Moreno meets Deiveson Figueiredo for the third time with the flyweight title at stake. The pair fought to a draw in a thrilling first meeting before Moreno ultimately took the title off of Figueiredo in the rematch at UFC 263. Now, they square off once more, and, this time, it will be Moreno walking out last as the incumbent champion.
Also on the main card is a welterweight contest that was slated to take place last weekend as Michel Pereira takes on promotional newcomer Andre Fialho. Pereira picked up an impressive win in his last outing against Niko Price, but faded late in that fight. He will be tested by Fialho, who has fought in several high profile promotions before getting his shot inside the UFC.
UFC 270 takes place inside the sold-out Honda Center in Anaheim, CA. The night gets underway with the early prelims airing on both UFC Fight Pass and ESPN+ at 6 p.m. ET. The televised prelims will follow on ESPN and ESPN+ at 8 p.m. ET. The action culminates with the five-fight main card on ESPN+ pay-per-view at 10 p.m. ET. Combat Press writers Andrew Sumian and Matt Petela preview the fights in this week’s edition of Toe-to-Toe.
Undefeated interim title holder Ciryl Gane meets former training partner Francis Ngannou in a title unification bout; which hard-hitting fighter comes away wearing the belt?
Sumian: 2022 is starting off with a bang as two of the most powerful and skilled heavyweights meet in the main event at UFC 270. However, both men have very different mindsets going into their highly anticipated showdown.
Gane joined the UFC after compiling a 3-0 record, but he brings a plethora of striking experience into the cage collected throughout his Muay Thai career. The French native is a prolific and talented striking artist, capable of knocking out any top heavyweight or gradually breaking them down. In his last four fights, he has defeated Junior dos Santos, Jairzinho Rozenstruik, Alexander Volkov and, most recently, Derrick Lewis to earn the interim title. The undefeated Gane is a methodical tactician whose ability to game-plan for specific opponents is truly a skill and obvious advantage. The interim champion continuously improves with every Octagon performance and should pose a threat to the reign of Francis Ngannou.
It is unclear what motivates Francis Ngannou at this point in his MMA career. The 35-year-old Cameroon native is arguably the most feared and powerful heavyweight currently active on the UFC roster. He has utterly demolished all who dare stand to trade with him, including Curtis Blaydes, Cain Velasquez, Rozenstruik and dos Santos. He avenged his first loss in the UFC by knocking out Stipe Miocic in impressive fashion to earn the title. Despite the dominant run, Ngannou has made headlines throughout 2021 citing his difficult and complex relationship with the UFC. It seems that the champion is more focused on making more money and launching a boxing career, rather than competing at the very highest level of MMA. Despite this change in attitude, Ngannou is a difficult challenge for any top heavyweight due to his thunderous knockout power and improving wrestling.
Like most heavyweight fights, this bout will end in one of two ways. The first way results in either champion knocking the other out early and closing out the evening. The second way favors Gane and will result in a unanimous decision victory after the interim champion wins a close, yet convincing, decision victory by defeating Ngannou using his movement and cardio advantage.
Despite Ngannou’s difficulties with the UFC, and the possibility that he may not resign, the champion will be motivated enough to prove a point by finishing Gane in round one and riding off in the sunset. It is unlikely Gane will be able to avoid the power of “The Predator” for five rounds. The champion will yet prove why he is the most feared heavyweight in all of MMA and move onto bigger and better things. Whether or not those things are in the UFC will remain to be seen.
Petela: This will be a twenty-five minute masterclass in how to avoid being knocked out. There might not be a human on the planet who can knock an opponent out with as much ease as Francis Ngannou. The only thing he needs to do is connect and the fight could be over, documented by the number of knockout victims he left in his wake en route to claiming the UFC title. However, he is going up against an incredibly skilled opponent whose technical acumen is off the charts. There is a difference between a punch landing for statistical purposes and connecting clean. Gane will be able to thread the needle for the entirety of this fight, getting touched by Ngannou, but not getting caught flush with anything that has fight ending power.
This won’t be the most entertaining fight in history, as Gane avoids engaging in potentially fight-ending firefights for the majority of the contest. He will use his superior footwork throughout to keep Ngannou guessing and exhausting the champion by the championship rounds. Once the fourth and fifth rounds come around, Ngannou will be laboring into his punches too much to even get close to landing a fight finisher, but fans will get restless as Gane doesn’t look to land anything that will end the fight in his favor. Constant awareness of Ngannou’s ability to close the show like no one else, Gane will continue his almost point-fighting style until the final bell, much to the chagrin of fans and UFC President Dana White.
The co-main event is the third fight between Brandon Moreno and Deiveson Figueiredo; does Moreno remain unbeaten in the pair’s trilogy or does Figueiredo even score to one win a piece?
Petela: When fighters meet for a third time, nearly 70 percent of the time, the fighter who won the second meeting will also emerge victorious in the third fight. That will be the case this weekend in the co-main event and Brandon Moreno will make the first successful defense of his flyweight title.
Their first fight was an instant classic and a rare draw that didn’t leave a sour taste in everyone’s mouth. In their second meeting, Moreno captured the title inside the distance, and he will get that same result to conclude the trilogy. He has shown that he can withstand the heavy fire power of Figuerdo, and that he has the grappling edge once he is able to get the fight to the canvas. For this fight, Figueredo has been training with former two-division champion Henry Cejudo who was a former training partner of Moreno before their relationship soured. While that training will possibly close the grappling gap between the two black belts, it won’t be enough for Figuredo to totally overcome the slick transitions and submissions of Moreno, and this one will end by third-round submission just like the second bout.
Sumian: Despite Figueiredo holding a distinct power advantage over the champion, this is Moreno’s fight to lose. The newly crowned UFC flyweight champion is a more well-rounded mixed martial artist than the Brazilian and was able to provide that in their second meeting. However, expect Figueiredo to make things interesting in the trilogy bout by pulling off a unanimous-decision victory this time around. He will use his power and length to keep Moreno out of boxing range, which he ultimately paid the price for in their second meeting. The former champion is capable of defeating Moreno if he utilizes his own skill set and will do so on Saturday night. It would not be surprising if these two fought for a fourth time given how entertaining their meetings and respectable rivalry has been.
Andre Fialho, Victor Henry, Jack Della Maddalena, Pete Rodriguez, Saimon Oliveira, Michael Morales, Genaro Valdez, and Jasmine Jasudavicius — do we need to know these names?
Sumian: The only names on this list that are worth taking note are Michael Morales and Genaro Valdez. Morales has compiled an impressive 12-0 record and earned a shot to compete in the UFC after a successful Contender Series debut. He is an established knockout artist and will face Trevin Giles in what should be a fun scrap featuring two strikers. A win over an established name like Giles can certainly garner Morales more attention.
Genaro Valdez hails from Mexico and has also compiled an undefeated 10-0 record. He has finished all 10 of his opponents by submission or knockout and will be taking on the recently struggling Matt Frevola.
Both men have a chance of extending their undefeated streaks and defeating fairly well-known names in the UFC. A win for each should earn them an even bigger name for their sophomore UFC appearances.
Petela: This is a huge crop of newcomers that get an opportunity to make their names on a high-profile fight card. Morales and Valdez are probably the closest to a sure thing that this incoming class has to offer, but the other name to pay attention to is Andre Fialho. The Portuguese fighter has fought in most other major promotions, including Bellator and the PFL, and picked up a win just a year ago against former UFC fighter James Vick. He has a tough UFC debut against the unconventional Michel Pereira, but it won’t be until his sophomore appearance that fans will have a clearer picture on whether or not he has the skills to compete amongst the best in the world. Victor Henry is also an exciting newcomer that could make a splash – more about him later.
Who’s the biggest winner at UFC 264?
Petela: Said Nurmagomedov. He sports an impressive 14-2 record and has a 3-1 record since joining the UFC. His lone loss came by decision to Raoni Barcelos, but has he gotten back on the winning track since that fight. He will pick up his fourth UFC victory over proven veteran Cody Stamann this weekend on a big stage and he will gain a new level of popularity bolstered not only by his famous last name but by his performance as well. A win over Stamann will be the win he needs to start inserting his name among future contenders in the bantamweight division.
Sumian: Ilia Topuria. He will face Charles Jourdain, who is stepping in on short notice to replace Movsar Evloev. Topuria is a very talented featherweight and has compiled an impressive 11-0 record. He has three wins in the UFC and will make it four in a row after defeating Charles Jourdain by unanimous decision. Topuria will showcase his skills and prove he is ready for a top-15 ranked featherweight.
Who’s the biggest loser at UFC 264?
Sumian: The UFC and Francis Ngannou. Francis Ngannou will win this fight in impressive fashion, which will give him even more power to negotiate. As we have seen in the past, the UFC will purposely not play ball, in effort to assert the organization’s dominance and control, which may send Ngannou out the door. Both parties are extremely stubborn and arrogant, which is unfortunate, given how big of a star the champion could be in MMA.
Petela: Deiveson Figueiredo. He doesn’t really have anywhere to go from here in terms of reclaiming a title. He will have two losses against the champion and has also struggled to make weight in the past for the 125-pound championship limit. Perhaps he moves up to bantamweight, but with the backlog of contenders, there it will be a while before he gets close to gold.
What one fighter’s UFC career is on the ropes at this event?
Petela: Matt Frevola. Despite having one of the greatest nicknames in the sport, “The Steamrolla” will have to pick up a win if he wants to stay on the UFC roster. He has gone a mediocre 2-3-1 since being signed by the promotion and has dropped his last two contests. He has a winnable fight this weekend against newcomer Genaro Valdez and should be able to pick up a win, but should he falter, this will likely be the end of the road for the Long Island resident.
Sumian: Cody Stamann. Unfortunately, the Grand Rapids native is one of the most talented, yet boring, fighters who has never finished an opponent inside the UFC. After nine fights in the UFC, he has yet to pull off an impressive finish or memorable performance that would give the UFC any reason to keep him around for much longer. On top of that, he is on a two-fight losing streak and will likely suffer a third against the surging Said Nurmagomedov. Stamann is one of those fighters that will go to another organization and immediately be a top contender.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
Sumian:Rodolfo Vieira vs. Wellington Turman should provide fans with a fantastic grappling affair. The pair combine for 14 submission victories, and they are both black belts in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Expect these two to go out at it until someone pulls off a slick submission victory.
Petela: Raoni Barcelos vs. Victor Henry. Barcelos is a three-time “Fight of the Night” winner and is 5-1 inside the UFC. He is coming off his first loss since signing with the organization and will have a tough test against newcomer Victor Henry. Henry is a fighter who can get the job done both on the feet and on the canvas with six wins by knockout and eight by submission. These two bantamweights will have the fans in attendance at the edge of their seats as they go back and forth over 15 minutes.
Who takes home the “Performance of the Night” honors?
Petela: Rodolfo Vieira. He bounced back from his stunning submission loss to Anthony Hernandez by securing his first post-fight bonus with a rear-naked choke over Dustin Sloltzfus. He is squaring off with a talented grappler this weekend in Wellington Turman, a fighter who has never been submitted in his career. That gives this fight the possibility for being full of high-level grappling exchanges and ultimately it will be the multiple-time jiu-jitsu world champion Vieira who gets the submission win and earns an extra $50K for his efforts.
Sumian: Michel Pereira. The Brazilian will make it four in a row when he knocks out UFC newcomer Andre Fialho who has been knocked out twice in his career. Expect the flashy style of Pereira to open some holes, which eventually allow him to land on Fialho.
Pair this card with…
Sumian: While the co-main and main event of UFC 270 are must watch TV, the remainder of the card looks completely different than it did months ago. Two key bouts that are no longer on the card include Derek Brunson vs. Jared Cannonier and Greg Hardy vs Aleksei Oleinik. There are several under-the-radar bouts that could deliver some formidable entertainment, but Saturday night is all about the championship bouts to welcome in the new year. Thus, pair this card with an Alchemist Heady Topper that hails from Vermont and regarded as one of the best beers today.
Petela: The main event is literally as big as it gets with the heavyweight championship on the line. So whether you’re watching this event with a group of people or by yourself, go all out with a top of the line food and beverage pairing. We’re talking steaks on the grill, a glass of scotch that’s almost old enough to order its own scotch, and, if you’re up for it, a top of the line cigar. My recommendation is the Hoyo de Monterrey Excalibur.
Main Card (Pay-per-view, 10 p.m. ET)
HW Championship: Francis Ngannou vs. Cyril Gane
FlyW Championship: Brandon Moreno vs. Deiveson Figueiredo
WW: Michel Pereira vs. Andre Fialho
BW: Cody Stamann vs. Said Nurmagomedov
Preliminary Card (ESPN and ESPN+, 8 p.m. ET)
MW: Rodolfo Vieira vs. Wellington Turman
BW: Raoni Barcelos vs. Victor Henry
FW: Charles Jourdain vs. Ilia Topuria
WW: Pete Rodriguez vs. Jack Della Maddalena
Preliminary Card (UFC Fight Pass and ESPN+, 6:00 p.m. ET)
BW: Tony Gravely vs. Saimon Oliveira
WW: Michael Morales vs. Trevin Giles
Women’s StrawW: Silvana Juarez vs. Vanessa Demopoulos
LW: Matt Frevola vs. Genaro Valdez
Women’s FlyW: Kay Hansen vs. Jasmine Jasudavicius
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