How Ciryl Gane’s Jon Jones dream turned into a nightmare

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“One month before the fight, we were so happy; it was a dream,” Ciryl Gane reminisces. Then comes a laugh. “One minute after the fight, it was a nightmare.”

It is easy to forget, but the hype around Gane’s title fight with Jon Jones in March was not based on the latter’s long-awaited return alone. There was genuine anticipation for what could have been an intriguing contest between a light-heavyweight great, in Jones, and a heavyweight contender who moves like a welterweight, in Gane. Once the fight started, however, that intrigue was extinguished within moments.

Gane, failing to do himself justice – as he would tell you – was taken down early and submitted as the clock ticked past the two-minute mark. “My coach told me every day, every time, every training [session]: ‘Don’t throw the backhand,’” Gane tells The Independent. “‘If you want, [throw] the jab – maybe the uppercut – but not the backhand.’ I threw the backhand, he caught me.”

Indeed, Jones dipped his head off the centre line as Gane overcommitted to a left cross, then engulfed the 33-year-old, hauling him to the canvas – weighing down on Gane with every ounce of his new, 248lbs heavyweight frame. Once Gane had been forced to the fence, there was no escape. Jones locked in a guillotine choke, and before the fans in Las Vegas had time to comprehend what had happened, the American had forced his opponent to tap. The vacant heavyweight title was vacant no longer.

To many onlookers, Jones’s status as the greatest ever was confirmed within those 124 seconds. And what of Gane, the former interim champion who was sitting with his back against the cage, staring up at his victorious opponent, and coming to terms with a second loss in an undisputed-title fight? The Frenchman was, suddenly, no longer an example of the ‘modern’ heavyweight, and instead a kickboxer with a gaping hole in his game – a gap that Jones had exploited mercilessly.

Jones controls Gane before submitting the Frenchman to win the vacant UFC heavyweight title ” height=”3151″ width=”4727″ layout=”responsive” on=”tap:auto-image-gallery,inline-image-carousel.goToSlide(index=1)” tabindex=”0″ role=”button” data-gallery-length=”3″ i-amphtml-layout=”responsive”>

Jones controls Gane before submitting the Frenchman to win the vacant UFC heavyweight title

(Getty Images)

“I was confident in this position [on the mat],” Gane insists, “but I did [something] wrong. When we went back to the gym after the fight, we did only wrestling and grappling, every day. I was already confident, but I know it’s really normal to be more confident and have better reflexes when you do something every day. This is gonna help me for sure.”

Technical faults can be addressed, of course, but fighters sometimes suffer from intangible issues in bouts of this magnitude – in moments of this magnitude – that can define results and careers, and that are less easily expelled.

“It was really difficult to explain,” Gane says. “People asked me if I felt a lot of pressure during the fight, during the press conference, the waiting… Did you see me afraid? No, I was really happy to be there! I wanted to fight against the GOAT and prove that I’m a good fighter. In the cage, in front of the opponent, everybody saw me really confident. But when we started, and during the fight, something switched – I don’t know exactly why. I couldn’t manage the distance, I was not there. I think when you have a bad feeling, it’s harder to be good technically.

“I was not ‘here’,” Gane stresses again. “It was not me, it just was not me – everybody knows that. That’s why today, when everybody asks me if I want revenge: Yes, I want revenge, just because I want to prove that I’m better than that and can put Jon Jones through more adversity.”

Prior to his loss to Jones, Gane knocked out Tai Tuivasa in Paris last September ” height=”2516″ width=”3355″ layout=”responsive” on=”tap:auto-image-gallery,inline-image-carousel.goToSlide(index=2)” tabindex=”0″ role=”button” data-gallery-length=”3″ i-amphtml-layout=”responsive”>

Prior to his loss to Jones, Gane knocked out Tai Tuivasa in Paris last September

(AFP via Getty Images)

It is unclear whether Jones will still be around by the time Gane earns a prospective third shot at the UFC heavyweight title. The American, 35, was absent from the Octagon for three years before returning to fight Gane, and his plan to face heavyweight ‘GOAT’ Stipe Miocic before the end of the year looks fragile. Jones has also continually exchanged verbal barbs with Francis Ngannou – his predecessor as UFC heavyweight champion, and a former teammate and opponent of Gane.

But while Jones’s next step is ambiguous, Gane’s is clear. The Frenchman, a year on from headlining the UFC’s first-ever French card, will once again fight in a main event in Paris this September. Sergey Spivak, the Moldovan heavyweight with three stoppage wins in his last three fights, will be the tormented tourist at the Accor Arena.

“This is my mindset: Every time people ask who I want to fight next, it doesn’t matter who,” Gane says. “I just want to fight, do my job, my mission. I’m a competitor, so any opponent you put in front of me is going to be my mission. Spivak is well rounded – good ground game, good wrestler – so yes, it’s gonna be a test. I’m really happy about that. We’re gonna work on [what we need to work on], and I’m gonna do my best.”

In undisputed-title fights, Gane has struggled to do his best; in every other bout, his best has been more than enough. That bodes well for “Bon Gamin” – the “Good Kid” – as he wakes from his Jon Jones nightmare and begins to dream of UFC gold again.

Ciryl Gane headlines the UFC’s second ever Paris event, against Sergey Spivak, on 2 September. Tickets will go on general sale at 9am BST on Friday 23 June, via Accor Arena.