ANAHEIM, California — Francis Ngannou retained his UFC heavyweight title with a surprising display of superior grappling in a unanimous-decision victory over previously unbeaten Ciryl Gane at UFC 270 on Saturday night (Sunday, Manila time).
Deiveson Figueiredo also beat Brandon Moreno by unanimous decision, concluding a thrilling fight trilogy by reclaiming the flyweight championship belt he lost to Moreno seven months ago.
Ngannou (17-3) defended his heavyweight belt for the first time with impressive perseverance against Gane (10-1), his fellow French citizen.
Both fighters possess incredible power and uncommonly fluid athleticism for big men, but the champion took control of a cagey fight in the third round with the first of several takedowns. Ngannou turned a matchup between fearsome strikers into a wrestling match that showcased his much-improved game on the ground.
The judges scored it 48-47, 48-47 and 49-46 for Ngannou, who had never won a decision in his mixed martial arts career. The Associated Press also scored it 48-47 for Ngannou, the Cameroon-born French citizen who trains in Las Vegas.
Just 10 fights and 3 1/2 years after his professional MMA debut, Gane appeared to have an edge in the first two rounds of his first title fight with superior striking with both fighters showed appropriate caution for each other's power. Ngannou wore light wraps around both of his knees into the cage, suggesting rumors about his leg health might have credence.
Figueiredo gets judges nod
Gane mixed in some spinning kicks with increasing confidence, but Ngannou changed the tone of the fight early in the third when he got an arm under Gane’s leg and lifted the challenger skyward, slamming him down. Gane had never been taken down in his UFC career, but Ngannou did it repeatedly in the third and fourth rounds, showing off his markedly improved wrestling and Gane's weaknesses in defense.
Ngannou landed a leg sweep in the fifth, but Gane recovered and attempted to secure a heel hook. The bid failed, and Ngannou got back on top and finished the fight strong.
Figueiredo (21-2-1) won the penultimate bout 48-47 on all three judges' scorecards after a frenetic, physical addition to a rivalry that has featured 13 rounds of outstanding action over the last 13 months. The trilogy began with a majority draw in December 2020 and continued with Moreno’s third-round stoppage victory last June in Arizona.
Figueiredo and Moreno (19-6-2) traded big shots throughout the third bout, but the Brazilian winner rode a strong start to his first victory since November 2020.
Moreno won plenty of exchanges, and he had the ferocious backing of a Southern California crowd featuring plenty of fans who drove 110 miles from his native Tijuana to watch the UFC's first Mexican-born champion.
The judges gave it to Figueiredo by a narrow margin — but he doesn't think this rivalry is finished.
“I’m ready for a fourth fight against Brandon in Mexico,” Figueiredo said.
With a fiery red stripe painted into his bleached-blond hair, Figueiredo came out with a strong first round at Honda Center, hurting the champ both with kicks and quick hands. They had several thrilling standup exchanges in the third round, each getting hurt and recovering — and Figueiredo sent Moreno crashing to the canvas with a right hand to the temple with about 8 seconds left in the round.
Moreno’s striking picked up in the fourth, and he landed a dramatic upper-body takedown 30 seconds into the fifth. Both fighters went out swinging in a brutal fifth round that concluded with 30 seconds of heedless swinging and slinging.
Moreno's fans repeatedly chanted “Sí se puede!” and roared for anything the champion did in Orange County, an area with deep MMA roots. Moreno was backed both by the Los Angeles area's huge Mexican-American population and plenty of traveling fans.
Moreno won his title last summer in the most decisive bout of the trilogy. He became a national hero in Mexico with his breakthrough victory in the rapidly growing sport, earning a meeting with the President.
Figueiredo, the Brazilian veteran who fought four times in 2020 while claiming his title, responded to his second career defeat by training with former two-division UFC champ Henry Cejudo and refocusing his game plan to handle Moreno's style.
Ngannou won his title last March in the culmination of a rocky journey to the top. He was ticketed as a future champion from nearly the moment he brought his fearsome power to the UFC, but mental lapses and shocking losses delayed his ascent until a five-fight winning streak capped by his stoppage of champion Stipe Miocic.
Gane had been moving relentlessly toward this title shot since he made his MMA debut in 2018. A Muay Thai champion kickboxer with sublime athleticism, he won his first seven UFC fights on the way to an interim heavyweight title last summer with his victory over Derrick Lewis.