Former sparring partners meet in the octagon on Saturday and Cyril Gane believes he has an edge on old pal Francis Ngannou.
Gane and Ngannou will fight for the undisputed heavyweight championship at UFC 270, but the duo are well acquainted from their time at the MMA Factory in Paris.
Ngannou had just lost two successive fights, coming up short in his bid to capture the UFC heavyweight title against Stipe Miocic and then being smothered by Derrick Lewis.
He went back to coach Ferland Lopez in 2018 ready to put in the work and he met Gane, then a rising 2-0 prospect.
“I didn’t know him before,” Ngannou explained to UFC, who is adamant the two are not former pals or sparring partners having only met a handful of times.
“We never met before. And I noticed he was pretty good. He has pretty good kickboxing. Very good footwork for a guy of his size.”
Gane was in awe of Ngannou, but not for long.
Recalling the incident, he said: “Sparring with Francis, the first impression is like ‘wow! This guy is really strong.’
“At this moment he was in the [UFC] top five, so for me it was good for the confidence.
“Francis left the MMA Factory, but if he stayed, what would have happened? I don’t know exactly. Probably would have been a big situation,” Gane said.
Ngannou, though, does recall sending his challenger to sleep in one encounter.
“Yes, I knocked him out [with] a left high kick,” he said.
“There’s a lot of reasons why that footage didn’t come out. Well, let me say this, that knockout wasn’t a voluntary knockout. It wasn’t in sparring. It was an accident. I didn’t intend to knock him out. I didn’t go there to knock him out.
“So personally, it’s not something that I would be proud of and feel tough because I knocked my sparring partner out or knocked him down or whatever. Usually, that stuff happens in training, but it’s always an accident. Because we are committed to take care of our partner. That’s how it works.”
Ngannou got back to winning ways under Lopez but after beating Curtis Blaydes he decided to move to Las Vegas and train in America.
Lopez says Ngannou’s bad habits crept back in and so he told the Cameroonian that he didn’t want to work with him anymore.
Since then his two losses, Ngannou has won five straight, all of which were knockouts, including four in the first round, which led to him winning the UFC heavyweight title and avenging his loss to Miocic.
To do that, Ngannou evolved his game and brought UFC pound-for-pound king Kamaru Usman into his camp.
Lopez seems to think he’s got the right man in Gane and the Frenchman also takes confidence from their sparring four years ago, but a lot may have changed since then.