Maybe it's a blessing in disguise that the public's conversation about the UFC heavyweight title picture has not typically included Ciryl Gane.
The current narrative is that champion Francis Ngannou will make his first defense against Derrick Lewis, unless former light heavyweight champ Jon Jones sneaks in to turn the title shot into a big-money fight. Former champ Stipe Miocic is still in the conversation. Curtis Blaydes is maybe a victory away from getting back in.
Gane, meanwhile, remained undefeated on Saturday with his second straight victory over a top-10 heavyweight. Saturday's unanimous decision victory over Alexander Volkov might insert Gane into the title picture, but realistically he'll be on the periphery at best. And that's not a bad thing.
The 31-year-old Frenchman is just nine fights into a pro MMA career that began less than three years ago. He's getting better each time out, but he's still figuring things out. Against Volkov, who is just a year and a half older than him but has been in the game a long time, Gane ramped up the aggression as the fight wore on. That's something he did not do back in February when he coasted to victory over Jairzinho Rozenstruik.
Gane, who is no. 4 in the ESPN heavyweight rankings, is fast with his hands and also his footwork, and he is poised as he stands in front of his opponents. He's also busy with strikes. On Saturday, he landed 135 significant strikes, tied for seventh most in a UFC heavyweight bout. But a couple of times, when he appeared to have put the sixth-ranked Volkov on the defensive, Gane did not shift his attack into overdrive. That might be what keeps him unbeaten -- he's not likely to sloppily get caught -- but it's not going to create a lot of memorable moments.
Gane used to train with Ngannou, who has had many a memorable moment in the Octagon. They're much different fighters, obviously, and the speedy, fluid Gane need not attempt to mimic his heavy-handed former Paris sparring partner. But Gane would be well served to ramp up things just a bit in order to put his own personal stamp on the heavyweight division, to give the other contenders something to think about beyond fast hands delivered at a leisurely pace.
Karate sparing match @ufc— Derrick Lewis (@Thebeast_ufc) June 26, 2021
Gane is learning. He was better this time than he was last time. Last time, he was better than he'd been the time before. He has time. He has the fundamentals to carry him to the top, whenever the gridlock above him allows for a new contender to enter the picture. It could take a while, but that's OK. By the time Gane is front and center, he's going to be a problem.
-- Jeff Wagenheim
Marc Raimond on who's next for ...
Gane: In a perfect world, Gane would continue to take a step up in competition and fight a Lewis or Miocic, but it's unclear if either one of them would take that fight when they know a title shot is cinched up. If Jones does end up getting the chance at Ngannou, Lewis vs. Gane is a no-brainer. But Gane might have to take on someone like Marcin Tybura, who has won five straight. Whatever happens, if Ngannou vs. Gane is booked for the belt down the road, it absolutely has to be held in Paris, right?
Volkov: It's hard to find someone in the heavyweight division who Volkov, a five-year UFC veteran, has not already fought. But how about the winner of the scheduled fight between upstart Chris Daukaus and Shamil Abdurakhimov, which is scheduled for July 24? Daukaus has won three straight in the UFC, all by KO/TKO. Abdurakhikov has only lost to Curtis Blaydes since 2016. The winner will need a step up in competition and Volkov fits the bill.
The heavyweight bout went to the heavyweight. With perhaps an assist from the referee.
Tanner Boser, who has competed in that weight class for all but one bout in his 29-fight career, controlled the standup action against undersized Ovince Saint Preux in the first round and finished the longtime light heavyweight in Round 2. But that was not the whole story.
After being picked apart in Round 1, Saint Preux, who had fought just once before at heavyweight, got a takedown early in the second and tried to set up a submission from top position. Boser defended well from his back, then put his hand against the fence in order to get the fight back to standing. Was it an illegal fence grab? Or had Boser just pressed against the fence? It was hard to know for sure, but referee Jason Herzog did not jump in.
Very hard to tell if Tanner Grabbed the fence on second look. Seemed like he did initially but after rewatching it looked like he closed hand. But still not certain! Either way massive win for Boser!— Daniel Cormier (@dc_mma) June 26, 2021
Seconds later, after Boser landed a knee that wobbled Saint Preux, then a right hand that dropped him, the ref did jump in to declare it a TKO at 2:31 of the round.
For Boser, who is 29 and from Edmonton, Alberta, the win ended a two-fight losing streak, with the most recent defeat coming just 21 days ago, a split decision against Ilir Latifi.
Saint Preux, a 38-year-old from Knoxville, Tennessee, has lost six of his last nine.
At the end of the second round, it seemed like Valiev had nothing left. The commentators on the broadcast were wondering if he could walk to the corner under his own power.
Valiev could. And he could do more than that, too. Valiev held off a Barcelos onslaught in the second round and held on for a majority decision win (28-28, 29-28, 29-28) in a battle of surging bantamweights. Barcelos dropped Valiev twice in the second round and was not far from finishing. But Valiev survived to win the third round.
"I train with [former UFC champion] Frankie Edgar," Valiev said in his postfight interview. "Who cares about knockdowns? We're here to kill each other."
Afterward, Valiev called out UFC matchmaker Sean Shelby and asked for a top bantamweight next.
"[Give me the] toughest guys in your division," Valiev said. "I'll kill them all."
Valiev outpointed Barcelos in a solid first round and was looking good in the second before Barcelos dropped Valiev with a combination, and then landed a monstrous uppercut. Barcelos tried to finish with ground and pound, but seemed to tire, and Valiev had the durability to get through it. In the third round, Valiev fought much like he did in the first, blitzing in and picking Barcelos apart. Barcelos landed some hard shots in the third, too, but Valiev did just enough.
Valiev, 32, is unbeaten in nine straight fights and is undefeated in three UFC fights. The Dagestan native has not lost since a fight in World Series of Fighting back in 2016. Barcelos, a 34-year-old Brazilian, had a nine-fight winning streak snapped.
Fili looked tremendous from start to premature finish with big punches that twice dropped Pineda in the first round, with kicks to the head that wobbled him, with kicks to the body that made him sag. But in the end it was the wrong strike that prevented Fili from earning a victory.
Early in Round 2, during an exchange near the cage, Fili tried to push Pineda away and poked him in the eye. Referee Herb Dean paused the action, brought in the cageside doctor and when Pineda was unable to pass an eye test, waved off the fight, ruling it a no contest at 42 seconds of the round.
Fili, 30, took the ruling in stride. The fighter from Sacramento, California, came in having lost two of his past three, so the win would have been a boost. But he has to be happy with his dominant performance.
Pineda, who is 35 and from Houston, has just one win in his past five fights -- although two of them, in the PFL in 2019, were originally victories overturned to no contests by a drug test failure.
Means, 37, is closer to 40 than he is to 30, yet the crafty "Dirty Bird" is still winning fights in the UFC.
With a diverse attack, Means beat Dalby by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28), holding off a late Dalby comeback. Means mixed up his signature combinations with a few solid head kicks, some elbows and excellent body work. Means said he fell back in love with wrestling during this training camp and used takedowns well in the first and second rounds. Dalby rallied in the third, wobbling Means twice with right hands. But Means was able to control Dalby against the cage and ride out the round for the victory.
Means has now won three straight fights. The New Mexico native was coming off a victory over Mike Perry in November. Dalby, a 36-year-old Denmark native, was undefeated in seven straight fights coming in.
Moicano forces Herbert to tap out in Round 2
Renato Moicano hurts Jai Herbert and gets him in a rear naked choke for a second-round submission win.
He might never end up on MMA's Mount Rushmore, but in this fight he had the stature of a Mount Moicano.
Moicano, 32 and from Brazil, utilized grappling to control this fight from start to finish, taking the fight to the canvas less than 30 seconds in and moving into dominant mount position several times in controlling Herbert the whole way before locking in a rear-naked choke to force a tapout at 4:34 of Round 2.
Moicano, 33, came in having lost three of his past four, but this was as dominant a performance as he has turned in. Herbert, from England, had no answers for the takedowns or positional advances on the mat. It was just a matter of time before Moicano finished the job.
Herbert has lost both of his UFC bouts after starting his career 10-0.
For the second straight fight, Nzechukwu mounted a huge comeback.
Marques got his back in the first and second rounds, threatening with submissions. In the final round, Nzechukwu came out with a barrage of punches against a tired Marques en route to a TKO victory, 20 seconds into the third. Nzechukwu landed two left hands to start the round and then poured it on until referee Jason Herzog stepped in.
This guy has no quit in him— Belal Muhammad (@bullyb170) June 26, 2021
Nzechukwu, 29, a Nigeria native fighting out of Dallas, has won three straight, and his last victory over Carlos Ulberg in March also came from a big rally. Marques, 35 and a native of Brazil, had a four-fight winning streak snapped.
Rakhmonov stays unbeaten with submission win over Prazeres
Shavkat Rakhmonov submits Michel Prazeres with a rear naked choke in Round 2.
Rakhmonov remained unbeaten by controlling every second of the fight everywhere it went. The 29-year-old native of Uzbekistan, who fights out of Kazakhstan, finished off his second UFC win by dropping Prazeres with kicks and punches early in Round 2, unloading ground-and-pound and clamping on a rear-naked choke to elicit the tapout at 2:10.
For Prazeres, who is 39 and from Brazil, it was his second straight loss following an eight-fight winning streak. He had not competed since February 2019 because of a two-year US Anti-Doping Agency ban.
Wells tees off on Alves for second-round TKO win
Jeremiah Wells drops Warlley Alves and tees off to force a second-round TKO victory.
With someone like Wells, who has incredible power, mistakes on the feet cannot be made. Alves, 30, threw a lazy leg kick -- and paid for it. Wells, 34, cracked him with a right hand to the ear, sending Alves to the mat. As Alves was getting up, Wells landed a hard combination, then finished on the ground with more punches, posting a knockout at 30 seconds of the second round.
Wowwwwwwww what a shot! #ufcvegas30— Niko Price (@Nikohybridprice) June 26, 2021
Wells, from Philadelphia, was making his UFC debut as a former Cage Fury Fighting Championship welterweight champion. Alves, a Brazil native, has dropped two straight and four of six.
Prachnio KOs Villanueva with a thudding body kick
Marcin Prachnio stops Ike Villaneuva with a vicious body kick in Round 2.
Look at Prachnio, he's on a UFC winning streak. The 32-year-old from Poland, who dropped his first three bouts in the Octagon, has since won two in a row, including this body-kick KO of Villanueva. Prachnio took early damage from a flurry of punches but gradually took control by immobilizing his opponent with leg kicks. Then, early in Round 2, he switched to southpaw and landed a kick to the liver area of Villanueva, who collapsed to the canvas at 56 seconds of the round. Villanueva, who is 37 and from Houston, has lost three of his four UFC fights.
Avila rocks Stoliarenko with front kicks en route to stoppage
Julia Avila lands back-to-back front kicks on the chin of Julija Stoliarenko and tops it off with a submission win in Round 3.
Avila damaged Stoliarenko in every round with her fists and then got the finish with her grappling skills. In a solid performance, Avila stopped Stoliarenko via rear-naked choke submission at 4:19 of the third round. Avila, a 33-year-old fighting out of Oklahoma City, has won four of five. The 28-year-old Stoliarenko, a Lithuania native, is still looking for her first UFC victory, dropping her second straight.
Jaynes' UFC run is in peril of going bust as he dropped his fourth in a row -- and maybe lost some money as well. The 31-year-old, fighting in his adopted hometown, said before the bout that he was betting his purse on himself, and he started out like a man with a bankroll at stake. But Rosa dodged much of the aggressive striking and shifted the momentum midway through Round 1 with strong grappling, then fended off a late submission threat by Jaynes to secure the decision (30-27, 29-28, 28-29).
Hadzovic escapes last second chokehold, avoids potential nightmare loss
Damir Hadzovic escapes with a decision after nearly getting choked out by Yancy Medeiros.
Medeiros is a longtime training partner of Nate Diaz. And he almost pulled off a Diaz-style comeback.
After getting pummeled for the better part of three rounds, Medeiros nearly stole the fight in the third round, getting Hadzovic's back and locking in a choke just before the bell. But Hadzovic held on without tapping for a unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28) victory to open the prelims.
That was a done deal good fight👊🏼— Nathan Diaz (@NateDiaz209) June 26, 2021
"Three rounds with a Hawai'ian warrior," Hadzovic said. "That's what I got. Thank you, Yancy, for testing me. Now I'm battle-tested."
Hadzovic was landing big punching combinations on the feet throughout the fight. The incredibly tough Medeiros ate all of them, and when Hadzovic started running out of steam in the final round -- not unlike what happened with Diaz and Leon Edwards at UFC 263 earlier this month -- Medeiros took over. Medeiros landed some punches on the feet, took Hadzovic down and got his back several times. Though exhausted, Hadzovic fought off the choke and then refused to tap as seconds ticked off the clock to hang on for the win.
Hadzovic, 34, snapped a two-fight losing streak. The Bosnia native, who fights out of Denmark, picked up his first win since February 2019. Medeiros, a 33-year-old from Hawai'i, has dropped four straight following a three-fight winning streak.