Heavyweight was once the gold standard of boxing. He who held the heavyweight championship belt was the greatest fighter in the world. This was in the days before MMA, and when a heavyweight boxer was expected to be only 200lbs, rather than the 265 giants we have today.
Heavyweights were powerful, but athletic, you never saw two overweight men exhaustedly swinging punches into the air at the top levels like you do today.
Heavyweight kickboxing is a different beast, while it hasn’t been particularly interesting since the K1 days. A mixture of eclectic martial arts training, and no restraint on PEDs meant that K1 was the place for heavyweight combat sports. Fast paced, hard hitting and exciting.
And then there’s heavyweight MMA, which has been the exact same thing for the last 20 years. To the point where we have fighters in the UFC, who have literally been competing at the top levels of mixed martial arts for 20 years. Andrei Arlovski made his UFC debut in November 2000, winning via KO, he is still winning fights in the UFC to this day.
It’s hard to know if heavyweight fighters age better than lighter men, who rely more on speed and agility, or if they simply don’t have as far to fall. Tomorrow, at UFC 265 (the exact weight Lewis will weigh in at) we have the most ‘heavyweight’ of heavyweight match ups in the UFC. Derrick Lewis and Ciryl Gane, are polar opposites of each other in terms of technical ability and physical conditioning, yet it’s very hard to predict who will win.
First we have Derrick Lewis, a man who we can best describe as functioning as though he’s in the UFC video games. With seemingly no technical ability, Derrick Lewis when taken down, indeed can ‘just stand up.’
Possibly the hardest puncher in the UFC, depending on how seriously you want to take Francis Ngannou’s knock outs against famously glass-chinned opponents, Lewis epitomises the heavyweight division. He may well be the best heavyweight in the UFC, having beaten the current champion Francis Ngannou, without being hurt, yet he was thoroughly beaten by 75 year old Mark Hunt, who is in himself an anomaly.
Then we have Ciryl Gane, who might be the most interesting striker we’ve seen at heavyweight since Mirko Cro Cop. Like Cro Cop he’s fleet footed, in and out, and explosive.
He also boasts a professional Muay Thai record. At first I saw that and thought ‘who doesn’t?’, seemingly every UFC fighter has a pro muay thai record that can’t be substantiated, but my jaw hit the floor when I realised Gane not only fought but defeated Yassine Boughanem.
For those not in the know, Yassine Boughanem is quite literally the best heavyweight Muay Thai fighter in the world. He trains in Thailand full time with his brother Youssef (the first ever simultaneous Lumpinee and Rajadamnern Champion). Yassine is ranked number 1 by the WBC, and is the only heavyweight I can think of that lives the life in Thailand.
That Ciryl Gane was even competitive with Boughanem was a surprise, never mind winning. France has had a long and storied history of great Muay Thai fighters, being the best nation at the sport aside from Thailand itself, and Gane is clearly of that crop.
That being said his style in mixed martial arts isn’t typical of Muay Thai. In MMA, he adopts a longer more side on stance, more akin to Saenchai than Pornsaneh and utilises in and out movement to keep himself safe at range while doing damage. He was even able to do this against the human ladder, Alexander Volkov. As a former sparring partner of Francs Ngannou, safety is obviously paramount.
This in and out movement was bizarrely the exact same way Mark Hunt beat Derrick Lewis. Despite having footwork akin to a sherman tank, Hunt would retreat on a punch from Lewis, let him fall short before stepping in and hammering the beast. This is a style I don’t think I’d ever seen Hunt perform before or since, but it did the job perfectly with Hunt staying safe and wearing Lewis down before picking up the TKO win.
This is precisely why heavyweight MMA is so weird. Mark Hunt, despite a losing record, was competitive and indeed did outperform the top ranked fighters in the heavyweight division consistently. Giving Junior Dos Santos the best fight of his career. He did all of this while being in his 40s. Age doesn’t seem to be a limit in heavyweight and strangely neither does athleticism.
On paper there is no reason that Ciryl Gane should lose to Derrick Lewis. He is faster, fitter, a far better striker, and his gameplan is the exact style that Lewis hates. Yet every Derrick Lewis fight, is the weirdest Derrick Lewis fight. He has beaten the best of the best in the division, and it’s still not even clear if he’s a good fighter.
I guess tomorrow, we will find out.