For the first time in its history, the sport’s premier promotion said bonjour, salut, and c’est l’heure to the French fanbase. Talk of an event in the European nation immediately arose after the legalization of MMA there in early 2020, and following the setback of COVID-19, it finally happened.
And to mark the special occasion, a number of talented and exciting fighters threw down inside the Octagon, four of whom were in action in a pair of blockbuster featured bouts at the top of the card. While the #1, Robert Whittaker, and #2, Marvin Vettori, middleweights went toe-to-toe in the co-main event, hometown heavyweight Ciryl Gane collided with Australian power-hitter Tai Tuivasa in the headliner.
With the likes of Joaquin Buckley and Charles Jourdain in action, as well as home fighters like Benoît Saint-Denis, Nassourdine Imavov, and William Gomis, the Accor Arena looked set to play host to a memorable French debut.
But did the 12-fight card deliver? Let’s find out with the positives and negatives from UFC Paris.
Positive – Bienvenue en France!
For the UFC, a new market to tap into was an obvious positive. But beyond the promotion’s own global ambitions, witnessing the development of mixed martial arts in a new country is always good to see.
It’d be remiss to discuss the growth of French MMA without giving credit to ARES Fighting Championship, led by MMA Factory chief Fernand Lopez, which was created following the sport’s legalization around three years ago. The organization certainly aided in turning heads towards MMA in France.
Now, the sport’s leading promotion has arrived. And with the first trip to French soil, a significant step was taken in the resumption of the UFC’s global expansion following the pandemic, with France marking the first new country to have hosted the Octagon since pre-COVID.
With recent visits to the United Kingdom and Singapore, as well as talk of a return to Sweden later this year and a confirmed pay-per-view in Brazil next January, it’s clear that the UFC is close to making a full worldwide comeback.
New audiences being exposed to the highest level of this beautiful sport around the globe? That’s a positive, for sure. And judging by the crowd reaction for the first local fighter of the night, France will be a solid addition to the UFC calendar. If that wasn’t evident throughout the card, the crowd’s rendition of the French national anthem during the main event should have done the trick.
Negative – Some Absentees
While the card wasn’t exactly left without name value or unbelievable matchups on offer, there were a few fighters whose absence was felt.
The first was Manon Fiorot, whose 4-0 start in the UFC has signaled her as one of the most notable French athletes in MMA. “The Beast” had an up and down experience when it came to her place on the UFC Paris card. First it was against Katlyn Chookagian, who withdrew. Then it was against Jéssica Andrade, who withdrew. Then it was back to Chookagian, but this time Fiorot was forced out, meaning that the pair will now throw down in Abi Dhabi next month.
The other notable missing presence was Cédric Doumbé. The former two-time Glory champion was due to make his UFC debut having gone 2-0 since transitioning from kickboxing. But with the French MMA federation not allowing an experience discrepancy as wide as two pro fights versus seven, as scheduled-opponent Darian Weeks had accumulated, that bout was forced to be scrapped.
Did those failed matchups prove to be detrimental to the card? No, not at all. But would they have added something to it? Most likely.
Positive – The Real Card-Opener
At the top of the checklist for every event like UFC Paris is success for the first local fighter of the night. On Saturday night, Benoît Saint-Denis ticked that box — and in some style.
This is no disrespect to the pair who delivered impressive performances in the night’s opening two contests. Stephanie Egger opened proceedings with a buzzer-beater submission of Ailin Perez, ruining the night for those hoping to see some in-Octagon twerking in the process, while Cristian Quiñonez made it a quick Parisian experience for himself, finishing Khalid Taha in one round.
But it’s safe to say that those two bouts served as the prelims for the prelims, with Paris resident Saint-Denis providing the first hometown walk on the card.
After the crowd set the tone by displaying the kind of support that could be expected for the French fighters making the walk later on, “God of War” rewarded them with a mighty performance. After brawling with Gabriel Miranda from the start, Saint-Denis came close to finishing proceedings before the first horn.
While his Brazilian rival survived, the 30-second break in the corner wasn’t enough for him to recover. Saint-Denis secured another knockdown early in the second, this time capitalizing for the TKO.
A wild and enthusiastic crowd makes these kind of overseas events so much more enjoyable to watch, so kudos to Saint-Denis for accentuating it early.
Positive – An Ousted Prospect Takes His Chance
What’s the best way to respond to a planned release from the UFC? Put on a masterclass in well-rounded mixed martial arts for a three-round shutout.
After Saint-Denis’ success, there was no rest for the crowd as another Frenchman took to the cage. This time, it was the turn of Farès Ziam, who brought with him an intriguing story. Having been submitted in one round by Terrance McKinney earlier this year, the UFC had no plans to offer “Smile Killer” a new deal. That was until the promotion finalized its trip across the Atlantic to Ziam’s home country.
Having been re-signed for a fight in front of his home crowd, the Vénissieux native repaid the UFC’s faith by dominating newcomer Michal Figlak, who entered the Accor Arena with a perfect 8-0 record.
But that slate was blemished courtesy of a Ziam performance that saw him fare better in all areas of the game. His potential has always been clear, and at 25 years of age, there would have been time for the Frenchman to rebuild on the regional circuit.
Turns out, he won’t need to.
Positive – The Perfect Debut
Okay, maybe not perfect, but ‘fourth-fastest debut finish in UFC history’ is certainly up there.
Abusupiyan Magomedov’s first taste of Octagon action can be fully narrated in 11 words: front kick, uppercut, left hook, uppercut, uppercut, ground shot, goodnight, bonsoir. The victim of those strikes was Dustin Stoltzfus, who was on the wrong end of an arriving Dagestani-born German train (or a-bus… Abus, get it?) that was not stopping at the first station.
After three failed matchups, Magomedov finally made it to the cage for his debut, and he firmly announced himself to the UFC fanbase with a display that was as clinical and vicious as it was rapid.
And what better place to arrive than at the historical first event in France? Welcome to the Octagon, Abus Magomedov.
Positive – Wood Passes The Test
It wouldn’t be wrong to suggest that Nathaniel Wood has been reborn at 145 pounds. While his potential was clear during a 4-2 stint at bantamweight, since returning from a lengthy injury layoff this year as a featherweight, “The Prospect” has put in arguably his two best Octagon performances to date.
At UFC London in July, the Englishman completed the first task: earn a successful divisional debut win. But at UFC Paris, Wood was provided with the real litmus test of his potential success at 145 pounds in the form of the always-entertaining Charles Jourdain.
Wood, meet flying colors.
After a strong start for the Canadian, Wood changed the tide in the opening round — and the fight as a whole — by rocking Jourdain with a clean right hand. For the remainder, the pair threw hard at close range, and although effort and output never dropped from “Air,” it was clear which side was getting the better of the exchanges.
With a unanimous decision victory, Wood well and truly warned the 145-pound roster of his presence. And given how Jourdain performed against formerly ranked UFC featherweight Shane Burgos, it stands to reason that the Brit isn’t far from the top 15 already.
Negative – 10-10?
In almost all instances, judging decisions are subjective, and even the seemingly terrible scorecards have some seeing it the other way. But the 10-10 scorecard at UFC Paris was just flat-out wrong.
That verdict came in the final round of the main card fight between Frenchman William Gomis and the Netherlands’ Jarno Errens. For context as to why it’s so wrong, here’s the language on 10-10 scorecards that came out of the 2022 ABC Conference…
“The option to score a round 10-10 is a necessity for judges mainly due to the occasional requirement to score incomplete rounds where the action or time elapsed in the incomplete round should not impact the overall scoring of the bout.”
For further context, here’s the language on 10-10 scorecards in the official scoring criteria…
“A 10-10 round in MMA should be extremely rare and is not a score to be used as an excuse by a judge that cannot assess the differences in the round.”
Essentially, judge Christophe Chapius’ knowledge of the criteria must have failed him inside the Accor Arena because the third round in the Gomis vs. Errens bout — which went the full five minutes, included 35 combined strikes, and saw the Dutchman lock in a tight triangle choke — didn’t come close to matching any of the requirements for a frame to be scored 10-10.
Positive – Intense & Enthralling
Thank goodness the UFC came to their senses and moved Nassourdine Imavov and Joaquin Buckley’s animosity-fueled middleweight matchup to the main card, because boy did it deliver.
This fight was intriguing enough on paper, but the pair’s bad blood made it must-watch throughout. The first positive was how the contest played out. Both men threw hard for all 15 minutes, with Buckley eating a stiff front kick early and Imavov pushing through a brutal knee late in the day.
The second positive was the Frenchman’s performance, which maintained the perfect record for home fighters. Aside from some fatigue in the final frame, Imavov returned from a near-year layoff at his best, using his speed and elusive movement to control the action and dictate the pace. At just 27 years of age, the “Russian Sniper” is one to watch high up the 185-pound ladder.
The third positive was Buckley’s grit. “New Mansa” found himself two rounds down and with blood dripping from numerous cuts. But in the final stanza, the American came out willing to give it his all in search of a come-from-behind win. While he ultimately fell short, Buckley certainly played his part in making the fight as good as it was.
Positive – Another Clinic
It appears that against anyone not named Israel Adesanya, Robert Whittaker can do nothing but put in 10/10 performances.
Aside from a pair of defeats to the champion, the Australian’s appearances since 2019 have seen him display dominance against Darren Till, dominance against Jared Cannonier, dominance against Kelvin Gastelum, and now dominance against Marvin Vettori.
During UFC Paris media day, “The Italian Dream” suggested that he was continuing to improve, whilst former titleholder Whittaker hadn’t done so in years. But come fight night, Vettori was outgunned in all departments.
After a tentative opening frame, Whittaker came out in the second warmed up and with clear readings on what his opponent was offering, which was very little for the remainder of the contest. Not many are as good as shutting their opponent’s game down and leaving them quickly out of ideas as “The Reaper,” who cruised to a unanimous decision victory.
In securing his status as the clear second-best at 185 pounds, Whittaker gave us another masterclass that was quite frankly an absolute joy to watch.
Positive – A Heavyweight CLASSIC
The UFC Paris main event was as good a heavyweight fight as you’ll see.
From the back-and-forth action and the serenading crowd to the sportsmanship and respect, everything about Saturday’s headliner was a fitting end to a historical event.
For Gane, the result meant an immediate rebound and a big step closer to a second chance at attaining undisputed champion status. But perhaps as important as his triumph, we also saw “Bon Gamin” tested on the feet for the very first time.
“Bam Bam” Tuivasa did what Francis Ngannou, Jairzinho Rozenstruik, and Derrick Lewis couldn’t: connect clean and rock the Frenchman. For fans of the Australian (let’s face it, all of us), his performance in defeat was enough to ensure that his stock didn’t drop. If anything, in going toe-to-toe with the #1-ranked contender, who’s built a reputation on dismissing power hitters, Tuivasa went above and beyond what many expected of him.
Considering the men he’s flatlined in recent times, the fact that Gane was able to eat a Tuivasa knockout blow and rebound for a stoppage of his own was mightily impressive, and certainly cemented the fact that the former interim champ is exactly where he belongs — headlining events at the top of the MMA leader’s heavyweight division.
And the post-fight interview? Goosebumps.
What were your positives and negatives from UFC Paris?