Ciryl Gane didn’t expect to be on this stage — competing in the headliner of a UFC event — so quickly.
Honestly, who would?
It’s rare for any fighter like Gane (rhymes with “ran”), with less than 10 pro MMA bouts on his ledger, to reach main event status. Rarer still to get here, with a heavyweight clash against fellow power-packed striker Jairzinho Rozenstruik on Saturday at UFC Apex in Las Vegas, roughly 2 ½ years removed from his debut in the sport.
“I’m a fast learner,” Gane told The Post over the phone on Tuesday. “I love sport, and when I studied the sport … I did well.”
That he did. Gane (7-0, six finishes), who competed in professional Muay Thai in his native France between 2016 and 2018, was 3-0 with Canada-based regional promotion TKO before getting the UFC call-up. He won his first two by submission and a third by decision over fellow up-and-comers — all in the second half of 2019.
A combination of the coronavirus-altered UFC spring schedule and various opponents pulling out for myriad reasons delayed Gane’s next fight nearly a year, but the wait was worth it. Taking on former UFC heavyweight champion Junior dos Santos at UFC 256 last Dec. 12, Gane issued a reminder of his knockout power with a second-round TKO.
The victory placed the 30-year-old Frenchman on the heavyweight map and thrust him into a UFC main event less than three years from his pro debut: 941 days later, to be exact. That’s the fastest debut-to-headliner run since Eryk Anders squared off at middleweight against former light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida on Feb. 3, 2018, just 897 days after his first pro fight.
The win over dos Santos, who granted has now lost four in a row and all by TKO, gave Gane the first recognizable face for his highlight reel and ensured that his “prospect” label faded faster than that of most MMA neophytes. Thus, the matchup with Suriname’s Rozenstruik (11-1, 10 finishes) made a lot of sense. Each man had, in their most recent trip to the octagon, stopped dos Santos. Rozenstruik notched his win over the ex-champ last Aug. 15. Both signed with the UFC in summer 2019 and have competitive striking backgrounds outside of MMA — Rozenstruik has scores of kickboxing matches under his belt.
Gane, despite his striking base, has shown more diversity in his method of victory thanks to three submissions: by front choke, arm-triangle choke and heel hook. Not the case for Rozenstruik, who has won all but once by (T)KO. In 2019, he notched back-to-back knockouts in a combined 38 seconds; he also pulled out a KO victory with four seconds to go in a fight he’d likely have lost by decision against Alistair Overeem to cap a 4-0 2019 in the octagon.
“Of course, he has power. I have power,” said Gane of his opponent for the UFC Fight Night event that will air on ESPN+. “He’s really dangerous with that.”
Gane noted that the 32-year-old Rozenstruik has good kicks in his arsenal but identified the South American’s right hand as his most potent weapon.
The 6-foot-6 Gane, who figures to have a four-inch edge in height and three-inch reach advantage on Saturday, does take pride in and enjoys improving upon the other aspects of MMA while training at the MMA Factory in Paris, a potential equalizer in this matchup of ex-kickboxers.
“I like to do the ground game,” Gane said. “… I can do anything.”