TNT Sports Reload - Episode 13Oct 10
After a week off to digest Leon Edwards’ spectacular ascension to the welterweight throne at UFC 278, we’re back in business this weekend with a brilliant, historic card to bring you from the French capital.
It’s headlined by two heavyweight contenders with hometown hero Ciryl Gane taking on Tai Tuivasa atop UFC Paris – the promotion’s first ever trip to the iconic European city.
There’s some stellar middleweight action coming your way too with former champion Robert Whittaker making his return against former title challenger Marvin Vettori.
Plus Britain’s Nathaniel Wood looks to back up arguably the best performance of his UFC career in July when he takes on the all-action Charles Jourdain in a featherweight firecracker.
And there’s so much more to look forward to at the first ever UFC Paris, so here are four reasons you cannot miss it on Saturday night.
The heavyweight grand prix resumes
In recent times, the UFC’s heavyweight division has transformed from arguably the weakest in the promotion to one of the most unpredictable and exciting.
Underneath the champion, Francis Ngannou, a new class of contenders have emerged with the likes of Tai Tuivasa, Tom Aspinall and Ciryl Gane joining established stars like Curtis Blaydes, Stipe Miocic and Jon Jones on the hunt for heavyweight gold.
With Ngannou sidelined through a combination of injury and contractual wranglings, the rest of the division has moved on and entered into an unofficial grand prix tasked with crowning the next pretender to the throne.
Curtis Blaydes wholly unsatisfactory but legitimate win over Tom Aspinall in London was the first domino to fall earlier this summer – and the next will take place in Paris on Saturday night with Ciryl Gane taking on Tai Tuivasa at the Accor Arena.
The victor will almost certainly book their place to face Blaydes in what may even end up being an official title eliminator depending on how the rest of the division shakes out.
But what to expect from Saturday night’s showdown in the main event?
It’s an intriguing clash of styles with Gane, undoubtedly the more technical striker of the pair, taking on the ruinous power of a dangerous and wild Tuivasa.
But Gane will also have to deal with the added pressure of being the hometown fighter on the biggest night in the history of French MMA – although the 32-year-old has never looked the type to be susceptible to nerves.
As cool and composed inside the Octagon as he is outside it, Gane’s patient and cerebral striking have troubled all who have stood toe-to-toe with him in the heavyweight division so far; his ability on the feet even forced Ngannou to ambush him with a surprise grappling approach during their recent heavyweight title showdown at UFC 270.
Standing at an imposing 6ft 5ins, Gane has the length to keep the shorter Tuivasa at range and prefers to rely on technique rather than physicality to break his opponents down as the rounds progress.
That lies in stark contrast to the one-man wrecking crew that is Tai Tuivasa, who will take shots all day if it means landing some bombs of his own.
The popular Australian survived a thrilling slugfest with the UFC’s KO king Derrick Lewis to announce himself as a true heavyweight contender last time out, sleeping the Black Beast in the second round to pocket a third straight performance bonus with his fifth straight win.
At 29, Tuivasa has plenty of time on his side to reach the summit of the heavyweight division but this looks to be the toughest examination of his championship credentials yet in what will be his first ever five-round fight.
The man from Sydney will be at his most dangerous in the first 10 minutes of the fight with six of his seven UFC wins coming during that time; outside of that, Tuivasa will have to demonstrate cardiovascular endurance that he has not yet proven to remain competitive against Gane, who is no stranger to fighting in the latter rounds.
Will Tuivasa poop the party in Paris – or can Gane book his slot against Blaydes and move one step closer to the top of the heavyweight division?
The middleweight muddle
Two men with ambitions on the 185lb title face off in what could end up being the fight of the night as Robert Whittaker takes on Marvin Vettori in a middleweight cracker of a co-main event.
Whittaker, a former ruler of the division, comes into the bout off the back of a second defeat to Israel Adesanya – albeit in a much closer result than the first time they fought.
But that most recent defeat to Adesanya has left Whittaker’s future in the division looking a little murky given the relative lack of appetite for a trilogy showdown against the ‘Last Stylebender’.
Those uncertainties have materialised to the extent that, in the build-up to UFC Paris, the Aussie favourite has even hinted at a potential move up to the light heavyweight division in the not-too-distant future.
Quite what that means for his fight against Vettori on Saturday night remains to be seen but Whittaker is nothing if not game for a good scrap and won’t be keen to resolve his future off the back of another damaging defeat.
With Adesanya booked to face former Glory kickboxing foe Alex Pereira at UFC 281 later this month too, a victory would see Whittaker emerge as the strong favourite to face the Brazilian should he shock the world and dethrone the Kiwi king.
That is surely what Vettori will be hoping for too having also been defeated by Adesanya twice in recent times; Italy’s most successful MMA export is in the similarly frustrating position of being better than the rest but not quite as good as the best.
However, the 28-year-old, whose lively character is a great addition to the mix of personalities in the middleweight ruckus, has no quit in him and will not be dissuaded from pursuing the title at all costs.
A performance of the night win against Paulo Costa last time out, an unexpected light heavyweight assignment after Costa’s well-publicised inability to make the weight, improved Vettori’s record to 6-1 in his last seven.
But if the “Italian Dream” is to truly begin making some noise about another title run, he needs to start securing some finishes having done so just once in his entire UFC career.
Doubling that tally against as talented and experienced an operator as Whittaker would certainly be the ideal campaign material to get the title charge rolling once again.
Seatbelts on for a wild ride!
Fifteen minutes of pure violence look on the cards to open up the main bill in Paris as Charles Jourdain takes on our very own Nathaniel Wood in a cracking 145lb contest.
Jourdain, the French-Canadian based in Quebec, Canada, had been vocal about his desire to feature on a historic fight card in Paris and the 26-year-old prospect has been granted his wish.
Recently on the wrong side of a narrow decision loss to Shane Burgos in July, Jourdain may have felt himself a little unlucky against the much bigger man on enemy turf.
A talented and dangerous striker who needs no second invitation to come forward, Jourdain has become appointment viewing in the UFC despite a record of 4-4-1.
It’s a record that may look unspectacular on paper but Jourdain is still very young and as game as they come having never been finished in five career losses yet.
Wood will be hoping he can be the man to deliver that first stoppage defeat having battered veteran Charles Rosa from pillar to post during an impressive featherweight debut at UFC London in July.
All that was missing from a spectacularly one-sided beatdown that night was the finish – but it may have worked in Wood’s favour to see out the full 15 minutes in what was his first Octagon action in more than 18 months.
Now back into the swing of things with his second fight in quick succession, the lad from London is looking to take advantage of winning momentum and piece together back-to-back wins for only the second time in the UFC.
Wood has shown he can be hurt – but the 29-year-old will hope that the move up to featherweight could help his durability and physicality by removing a brutal weight cut from the equation.
Can “The Prospect” light up Paris with another standout performance?
One for the history books
UFC Paris marks the culmination of a lengthy campaign to have mixed martial arts recognised and celebrated in one of the last major European countries to reject the sport.
A little over two years ago, full contact MMA was banned in France; the sport only became legal on January 1 2020 when the French government finally permitted its practise.
Fast forward to the present day and the world’s leading MMA promotion finally touches down in the capital with a French headliner topping a card featuring some of the brightest talent in the country – an unthinkable prospect not that long ago.
The significance of the event should not be underplayed given the struggles that have gone into bringing the UFC to Paris today but those who campaigned so hard for the sport look to have been rewarded with a rabid, record-breaking crowd packing into the Acccor Arena this Saturday night.
The atmosphere will be electric, the fights will be fun and you will be watching history being written. Do not miss it!