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Ciryl Gane talks Francis Ngannou, their sparring sessions and power vs. athleticism

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Ahead of his undisputed title bout with Francis Ngannou on Jan. 22, UFC interim heavyweight champion Ciryl Gane chats with Yahoo Sports' Kevin Iole to preview the fight and breaks down his former sparring partner's game.

Video Transcript

KEVIN IOLE: Hey, folks. I am Kevin Iole. Welcome to Yahoo Sports. January 22 is not that far away, the biggest heavyweight title fight in UFC history, the champion Francis Ngannou going against this man, the interim champion. We have an undisputed championship bout, Cyril Gane. Cyril, how are you, my friend?

CYRIL GANE: Yes. I'm fine, my man. Pleasure. I'm fine. I'm really fine.

KEVIN IOLE: Great to see you. Let's first talk about what happened. I got a kick out of what happened at UFC 268. You were standing outside of the locker room at Madison Square Garden, and Francis went by. Now you, guys, I thought had a relationship, were friendly. And Francis seemed to snub you, guys. Maybe it was Fernand and not you. But what happened there? What did you see?

CYRIL GANE: Yeah. Ah, I think he was a little bit confused. I think he was a little bit confused when he crossed me and my team. Everybody know now he have some deal with my coach. But yes, I was there. And I saw [INAUDIBLE] just won his fight, just jumped in the top 15. So yes, maybe it would be good to say hello just that. But I'm OK. I'm OK. I'm OK.

KEVIN IOLE: Now you were coming off a really impressive win over Derrick Lewis where you-- Derrick is the all time knockout leader in the UFC. And you basically shut his offense out. And do you think that that fight made Francis realize what a threat you are? Because he fought Derrick Lewis, and he knows what Derrick does. Do you think that Francis, kind of, realized the threat level he was facing when he saw that fight?

CYRIL GANE: Not-- I think yes, but not only Derrick Lewis. We can talk also about the Volkov, about [INAUDIBLE] or something like that. But it's not mathematic. That's not because he lost against Derrick, and me, I won against Derrick. It's not mathematic.

But I think yes. He know now I can manage some powerful guy. I can manage some technical guy, something like that here. So yes. I-- he'd take me in serious. Yeah, for sure.

KEVIN IOLE: When you trained with Francis a couple of years ago, I know you were just starting out. What do you remember about him? You know, he's known for his punching power. You know, did you feel that punching power? And what other things did-- do you have in your head that you remember from those sparring sessions you did?

CYRIL GANE: It was exactly that. A guy like to spar at the training. Whenever he is, where he is, like to use his power. So yeah. This is what the feeling. And I was a little bit happy because it was a chance for me.

The feeling was yes, I'm lucky because I just start my career, and I can test-- test me, challenge me with-- with the guy already in the top 5 of the UFC, the biggest league in the world. So this is-- this is what my feeling.

KEVIN IOLE: I know, you know, sparring is supposed to be private. And you know, the video got put out there and everything. But do you feel confident of how you would do against Francis from those sparring sessions? Or do you think it's just long enough ago that it doesn't really matter?

CYRIL GANE: Yeah. We improved a lot since this time. So no. This is not-- this is not-- this is not this exactly make me confident. This is more because I got a [INAUDIBLE] base on my side. This is better thing to make me confidence because you know him. You met him. Do you understand. So-- so this is make me more confident than the sparring.

The sparring is just sparring. And in the cage, you have a lot of guy, very strong, really, really hard to beat in the training. And when you jump in the cage, he did nothing. And you-- and you exactly the same in the reverse. You are the guy in the training and not very good. But in the cage, he killed everybody. So no. And there are-- yeah, three years ago. So [INAUDIBLE].

KEVIN IOLE: In boxing, I think this matchup, they would call the boxer versus the slugger, right, you know, that you being the boxer and him being the slugger. But you know, you-- your game has really evolved, you know. Your coach Fernand Lopez seems to have done a great job with.

And it seemed like, you know, you're not just a guy that can avoid getting hit and take other people's power away. But you have some pretty good offense of your own. Do you feel like, feel confident if it got into a firefight, and I know that's not the fight you want to fight, but if it got that way, do you feel confident in your offense to be able to win as well?

CYRIL GANE: This is going to be a real game-- a real problem to-- to manage. You have his strength. You're going to come with his strength. I have mine. So it's going to be a game. It's going to be a game. We will see who is going to win. But I think the guy going to win is the guy going-- can-- can put this tempo, can put his style, and I'm not bad in this game.

KEVIN IOLE: Your athletic ability, you might be the best athlete the UFC has ever had in terms of heavyweights, right? A lot of people talk about Steve [INAUDIBLE] all the things that he's been able to do. But do you feel like, you know, in your early years in MMA, you relied a lot on your athleticism as you were learning the sport?

CYRIL GANE: Yeah. 100%. This has helped me a lot. And when we talk about the genetic, the, the-- the genetic is not only just the body, just the muscles. I think on my mind, I got some-- some strength And this has helped me win some fight.

You see, a jump in the case against the guy maybe have 10 more experience than me, really more technical than me. And I come-- and I won because I did the good choice at the good moment, you see. And this is the genetic. When you talk about a sport when you-- when you talk about the-- the genetic is not only you see, you understand? This is a big part of the-- this gift.

KEVIN IOLE: And I was going to ask you because when you thought Jairzinho Rozenstruik, some people were booing, right, during the fight.


KEVIN IOLE: But you didn't-- you seemed like you weren't bothered by it. I was struck that your mind like, you know, you had a game plan. You were going to do what you did. And you felt you're-- is that a strength like that, you're able to put out all the other stuff going on and just focus on what you and Fernand thought was important.


CYRIL GANE: Exactly. Yeah. I remember. You make a

KEVIN IOLE: What did he say?

CYRIL GANE: Now he say, you said, ask him what is his position because I think and I say, yes, I remember because you asked me at the head of this fight. I don't know exactly your position was. But I remember you. And I did a mistake also on your question, I remember.

But yes. This is make me comfortable on any situation, any situation because I know, I'm really aware about the game, about-- about me. And-- and whatever the people can say, whatever is going to happen, I'm really aware tomorrow I can lose.

This is-- make me no pressure. I'm the undefeated. OK. All right. But this does not make a pressure also. So yes. I'm really-- I'm really like that. And this has helped me a lot. Yeah.

KEVIN IOLE: When you went back to France after winning the title, I mean, MMA only recently last year got legalized in France, what was the reaction like? Was it-- you know, in most countries when a new champion goes home, people go crazy. When Francis went to Cameroon, it was crazy. What was it like for you going back to France?

CYRIL GANE: It would be something big, yeah, for me, for my country. Probably, it will be something really big. And I want to bring this. I want to bring this-- so for my family, in my country because a lot of fan, a lot of fighter in France, a lot of star in France, and this is going to help me to this guy to shining, you see.

In France, you have a lot of athletes, you have a lot of champion not only in the MMA but also the former champion like big athlete like Jerome [INAUDIBLE] . We have a lot of-- a lot of name, a lot of name in the boxing as well, Jean [INAUDIBLE].

We have a little country but a lot of athletes, not only in the fight game also in the soccer, also in athletics, everywhere. And-- and in the MMA also, we can do something really big in the sport. And I want to bring this message.

KEVIN IOLE: That's awesome. The other thing, we'll wrap-- wrap up on this, what is it you love about MMA? Because you know, you were a successful kickboxer, you could have pursued that route. You decided to do MMA. And obviously, it's been a good decision for you. What is it that makes you love MMA and want to pursue this line of fighting?

CYRIL GANE: Because every time, I'm-- I'm this kind of guy, I'm really in love with all sport. I'm really in love. That's why I was great player in soccer, also in basketball and a lot of sports. But when I started in MMA, when I have something new front of me, I'm just like a kid.

Like, this is legit for me. And I make a pleasure to learn because it's something legit. This is a game for me. I like that I like to play. This is new. And because also I'm a competitor. I like to win. I'm--


CYRIL GANE: I'm that kind of guy. But when you mix that, I was just really happy to study the new sport. I did three years in the Muay Thai. And in the Muay Thai, you have a little bit block, you see located. Because in MMA when I-- when I found the MMA, I was like, really free, really free. The cage is bigger, you can-- you can dance, and you can jump. You can run, you can do everything. That's why it was a great feeling.

KEVIN IOLE: Before I let you go, you mentioned basketball, and I know you were a really good basketball player. Can you still dunk?

CYRIL GANE: Oh, yeah. Of course, my man.

KEVIN IOLE: Of course.

CYRIL GANE: I [INAUDIBLE] But things are a little bit different. I'm a little bit heavier than-- than the a few years ago. So it's a bit more complicated. But I can dunk. Yeah.

KEVIN IOLE: I wish I could just say, oh, of course, I can dunk. I'm lucky if I can touch the net. Well, here's Cyril Gane. We appreciate you. Good luck next week when you fight Francis Ngannou. I appreciate you, your time. And all the best to you.

CYRIL GANE: Thank you, my man. Take care.