In its history, the Ultimate Fighting Championship has never shied away from aggressively expanding into new markets despite obstacles. This Saturday, Sept. 3, the UFC makes its first appearance in Paris.
The card is headlined by a Heavyweight title contender bout between Frenchman and No. 1 contender Cyryl Gane and No. 3-ranked fan favorite Tai Tuivasa. France has long been starving for mixed martial arts. The sport was banned in France in for 15 years — the country cited the sport’s “dangerous nature” as reason for the banning.
Despite the outlawing of mixed martial arts, France has still produced some of the most elite fighters in the UFC today, thanks to Factory X. Factory X was the starting point for current UFC undisputed Heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou and former interim Heavyweight champion Gane. In 2020, the ban on mixed martial arts was lifted, opening the door for the UFC and others to explore the market for combat sports fans. On Saturday, more than 20,000 fans inside Accor Arena will presumably be rooting for Gane to win and take the next step towards his second title shot.
Saturday’s main event is a contrast in styles between the sheer raw power of Tuivasa and the precise and patient striking of Gane. During Gane’s 7-0 start in the UFC that pushed his record to 10-0 overall, he showed flashes of knockout power with two knockouts against Junior dos Santos and Derrick Lewis. Despite showing the knockout power, Gane’s primary game plan was on display in performances against Alexander Volkov and Jarzinho Rozenstruik. Gane’s plan is to stay on the outside and frustrate his opponent with his speed and movement.
After claiming the interim title at UFC 265 with a knockout victory over Derrick Lewis, Gane earned his first title shot against former teammate Ngannou. On that January night, at UFC 270, Gane frustrated Ngannou, peppering the champion with sidekicks repeatedly. Gane turned Ngannou, one of the most feared men on the planet into a wrestler. The champion secured three takedowns in the latter stages of the fight to retain his title, handing Gane his first loss.
The Frenchman will likely not have to worry about wrestling versus Tuivasa. As the fan favorite, he has lived up to his Bam Bam nickname, recently winning his last five fights by knockout. In the streak, Tuivasa has wins over veterans like Augusto Sakai and Derrick Lewis. One of the things in question for Tuivasa is his cardio. The Australian has never been to the fifth round in any of his fights in the UFC. If the fight ends in the first two rounds the advantage probably goes to Tuivasa, but as the fight wears on the advantage likely swings to Gane as he has the speed advantage.
The top of the Heavyweight division is a log jam of title contenders including Curtis Bladyes, Jon Jones and Stipe Miocic. The knee injury to Ngannou complicates the Heavyweight division even further. A statement making win by either man in Saturday’s main event could go a long way and clear up the UFC’s vision on the Heavyweight division.
Saturday’s co-main event features a clash between top-5 Middleweights. Former Middleweight champion Robert Whittaker faces Italian dream Marvin Vettori. Despite being top contenders, both men are in “no man’s land” in terms of title contention. Both Vettori and Whittaker have been beaten twice by current Middleweight champion Israel Adesanya. Adesanya’s dominance in the division has left much of the top 15 with little hope of another title shot. A lot of times, success in sports is all about timing. This is especially true for Whittaker, who had to battle Adesanya shortly after Whittaker’s first title defense versus Yoel Romero. One could argue if Whittaker came along 10 years earlier, the Australian could be known as one of the greatest Middleweights of all time.
Instead, the Australian sits with an 11-2 record at Middleweight with the two losses coming to Adesanya. Whittaker is known as one of the best boxers in the UFC. Vettori on the other hand, used his wrestling and reach advantage in wins over Kevin Holland and Paulo Costa to reach his title opportunity with a Adesanya. With his speed and striking ability, Adesanya completely outclassed Vettori. In order to win on Saturday night, Vettori will likely have to execute his take downs in order to neutralize Whittaker’s sophisticated striking approach.
Whittaker gave his thoughts on the match up with Vettori in an interview with submission radio. Whittaker said “I understand the type of fighter he is. The grit, the tenacity he has, and the type of fight he wants. I’ve got 15 minutes to put on a show.”
Barring a loss by Adesanya to Alex Pereira at UFC 281 in November, there is no foreseeable path to a title shot for Whittaker in the Middleweight division. With that in mind, Whittaker mentioned a possible move to light Heavyweight in the near future saying “it’s a more natural weight for me.” Regardless of the title implications, Saturday’s co-main event should be an exciting clash between high-level Middleweights.
Also, on the main card at Middleweight, Alessio Di Chirco looks to get back on track versus Russian prospect Roman Kopylov. Di Chirco has fallen on hard times recently in the UFC losing last five fights. At Chirco’s only win in that five-fight stretch came in a massive upset over Joaquin Buckley via a head kick. At 32, Di Chirco is in direct need of a win to stay on the roster.
Although his opponent Kopylov is similar in age at 31, the Russian has just two fights under his belt in the UFC. Despite starting 0-2, Kopylov still has time to recapture his knockout prowess that got him into the UFC. There are plenty of fighters that started 0-2 and went on to become a success in the UFC. No. 3-ranked Bantamweight Merab Dvalishvili comes to mind. Kopylov enters Saturday looking for his eighth career knockout in 11 career fights.
At Lightweight, Nasrat Haqparast looks to snap his two-fight skid against veteran John Makdessi. Despite having knockout power, Haqparast has fought against elite strikers like Bobby Green and Dan Hooker in his recent losses. Makdessi is one of the most underrated fighters in the UFC. At age 37, Makdessi fights once a year on average. The Canadian striker could be a tough test for Haqparast assuming father time hasn’t caught up to him.
In the main card opener, Charles Air Jourdain looks to bounce back from his controversial decision loss to former UFC fighter Shane Burgos, Jourdain will showcase his high-flying style against Nathaniel Wood.
In the featured prelim, former professional fighters league standout Abus Magomedov makes his UFC debut versus Dustin Stoltzfus. On the prelims, fans will be treated to a bout with fight of the night potential when Joaquin Buckley battles Nassourdine Imavov. Also, on the prelims at Lightweight, Cage Warriors title contender Michal Figlak makes this UFC debut against France’s Fares Ziam.
Overall, the UFC Paris card is littered with hometown fighters. Out of 12 total fights, France is represented in five bouts. The action will be called by the commentary team of John Gooden, alongside UFC Hall of Famer Michael Bisping, and former UFC Lightweight contender Paul Felder. All the action can be found on ESPN Plus, beginning with the prelims at 12 PM ET and continuing with the main card at 3 PM ET. With college football also kicking off Saturday, Saturday will definitely be a two-TV type of day for an avid sports fan.