UFC 270 predictions: Is Gane poised to end Ngannou's reign?
Ahead of Saturday's UFC 270 in Anaheim, theScore's Nick Baldwin makes his picks for the top bouts.
Francis Ngannou (16-3)
Ciryl Gane (10-0)
Unlike in some past fights, Ngannou kept composed in the striking department, and his takedown defense stayed on point as he claimed the heavyweight title against Stipe Miocic in 2021. The narrative afterward was that this new-and-improved version of Ngannou was borderline unstoppable and could be champion for years to come.
Yet "The Predator" is the betting underdog heading into his first defense against interim champ Gane - one of the most fascinating heavyweight title fights in UFC history.
The heavyweight division has never seen a fighter quite like Gane. "Bon Gamin" moves like a middleweight, and his distance management is second-to-none. When he steps into the cage, his focus isn't to land haymakers and go for the knockout; it's to hit his opponent and not get hit. So far, he's done a good job of that.
Against Ngannou, though, all it takes is one shot. Ngannou is arguably the heaviest hitter the sport has seen, and his fundamentals have gotten a lot better since he began training at Las Vegas' Xtreme Couture under the guidance of Eric Nicksick and Dewey Cooper. That was especially evident in the Miocic fight.
That said, Gane is a genuinely tricky matchup for him. The interim champion's striking technique, speed, and fight IQ will give Ngannou serious problems.
Ngannou needs to pressure Gane to ensure he stays active and Gane doesn't get comfortable. It's been a while since Ngannou lost a staring contest to Derrick Lewis, but we can't rule out the possibility of Ngannou getting into a low-output kickboxing match with Gane.
If that happens, this is Gane's fight to lose. And even if Ngannou implements a perfect game plan, Gane could still win.
The pick: Gane, unanimous decision
Brandon Moreno (19-5-2)
Deiveson Figueiredo (20-2-1)
While it's hard to pick against Moreno after he put on a masterclass in the second fight with Figueiredo, it's not inconceivable that their third meeting will be more competitive.
Figueiredo seemed to struggle to make weight for their second clash last summer, and he didn't quite look himself in that bout. But he looked great Friday morning - he was second on the scale after Moreno - so it's possible he'll be at his best Saturday.
Whether that'll be enough is the question. Figueiredo is the harder puncher, but Moreno proved in their first fight in December 2020 that he can eat a shot with no issue. And then in the rematch, he appeared to be the slicker boxer. On the ground, it wasn't a contest.
Now training in Las Vegas, Moreno seems to be getting better and better. Figueiredo will give him a good fight, but Moreno will show that he's still the man at 125 pounds.
The pick: Moreno, unanimous decision
Cody Stamann (19-4-1)
Said Nurmagomedov (14-2)
One of the most promising prospects in the bantamweight division, Nurmagomedov is getting a significant step up in competition against Stamann.
Nurmagomedov - unrelated to Khabib, if you're wondering - should have no issue taking care of business Saturday. He's a much craftier striker than Stamann, whose bread and butter is wrestling. Nurmagomedov uses elbows, kicks, and spinning strikes to batter his opponents.
Stamann has a shot at pulling off the upset if he can get the fight to the ground. But Nurmagomedov will overwhelm him on the feet, and he boasts a six-inch reach advantage that'll only help him.
That said, don't expect this fight to end inside the distance. Yes, Nurmagomedov's last two wins were finishes, but Stamann is tough and has never been knocked out. He'll make it the full three rounds, but Nurmagomedov will be the clear victor at the end of 15 minutes.
The pick: Nurmagomedov, unanimous decision