UFC Paris takeaways — Ciryl Gane gives a masterclass, Robert Whittaker reminds how dangerous he is at 185

What were the greatest moments at UFC Paris? Jeff Wagenheim, Brett Okamoto and Marc Raimondi offer their takeaways from an event packed with highlights in France.

For the first eight minutes of Saturday’s UFC main event in Paris, the Arc de Triomphe could have been placed between Ciryl Gane and Tai Tuivasa. That’s how Gane wanted it. For a round and a half he showed why he is considered the most technically skilled heavyweight forward in the world. While the Frenchman controlled the distance while landing crisp jabs to the face and kicks to the body, Tuivasa kept coming forward and delivering massive punches but failed to touch Gane.

Then Tuivasa found him in the middle of the second round with a winged right hand, and Gane fell backwards onto the canvas, stiffened.

“Honestly, Tai hit me so hard that he knocked me unconscious. He turned off the light,” Gane said through an interpreter. “I fell, but I had to be a warrior. I got up… and came back even stronger.”

He did as Gane immediately went on the attack, closing in and throwing everything he had. Now Tuivasa was the one retreating as the body shots clearly took their toll. The round ended with Gane going on the offensive and the crowd at the Accor Arena going wild. The fight was on.

However, it would not last another round. Gane spent Round 3 mercilessly attacking Tuivasa’s tender midsection and while the Aussie fighter remained dangerous, Gane was no longer fighting from a distance. In the last minute of the round he landed a crushing right uppercut that sent his opponent unsteady and then brought him down with a series of left punches before referee Marc Goddard stepped in to stop him at 4:23.

This was a hugely successful Parisian debut for the UFC, in part because two of their top heavyweights put on a rousing performance that both had their moments – although the one, fighting in his hometown, had many more big moments than the other.

In addition, Gane and Tuivasa showed martial arts spirit at its best. There was no bad blood. They smiled at each other the whole time, which never stopped them from KOing the other. It was a treat for the fans who sang along loudly throughout the opening round and appreciated what they were seeing.

And what was that? Parisian fans watched as their 32-year-old compatriot returned to the track in emphatic fashion after his only loss of his career, a five-round decision against UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou in January. This win puts Gane squarely back in the cover picture, although it’s a crowded picture where Jon Jones has the inner track to champion. However, the Frenchman’s day will come (again) and after seeing this magnificent performance I can’t wait for it to happen.

And if Ngannou, who used to train in Paris, still holds the belt on Gane’s next championship chance, I hope they take the title fight to the City of Lights. -Wagenheim


‘They have to come back’: Paris grabs UFC attention with epic performance

PARIS — Benoit Saint Denis had to pull himself together. He was the first French-born fighter to leave the UFC’s first card in his home country and enter the Accor Arena to be greeted by a hero.

When Saint-Denis started, the building was packed and it was only the third fight of the night. The fans were on their feet chanting his name and treating him like one of the sport’s biggest superstars.

During the first round, as Saint-Denis tumbled for leather with opponent Gabriel Miranda, a rumble came from the stands that was borderline scary. There was nothing sinister in the end – it was just the collective sound of more than 15,405 stomping and clapping in support of their hometown UFC star.

“In the first minute of the fight, it felt a bit like a video game,” said Saint-Denis. “It’s huge. The atmosphere. It’s hard for your brain to accept that all these guys are cheering you on. You have to focus on that [opponent], because obviously you have a job to do. That’s what matters.”

Saint-Denis said when Miranda defeated him in the first round, he snapped out of the daze. Just 16 seconds into the second round, Saint-Denis dropped Miranda and finished him off with a riot on the ground – as the fans here went wild with joy. It was like Saint-Denis was Conor McGregor, Muhammad Ali and Rocky Balboa all rolled into one and not a 26-year-old prospect in just his third UFC fight.

Fares Ziam, William Gomis, Nassourdine Imavov and Ciryl Gane also got the royal treatment. Ziam said the “energy” of the crowd got him out of an armbar and a bad position as Michal Figlak took his back. The crowd went wild as Gomis escaped a deep Jarno Errens triangle in the third round and won a decision.

And then there was Gane. The crowd was huge during his strike and the loudest of the night (up to this point) was the first round, which cheered Gane’s name and sang the French national anthem in unison. When Gane knocked out Tuivasa in the third round, he sent the fans into an incredible frenzy. There was cheering, dancing, singing and jumping and some fans looked like they were close to tears. The atmosphere was second to none in MMA apart from a few unreal maps in Ireland and England over the years. Maybe.

“No one on the planet expected that from the fans of France,” Gane said in his post-fight interview. “But brother, look at this. I’m so happy.”

The stands were about 75% full for the first fight and buzzing with energy, a stark contrast to the UFC shows in Las Vegas, which don’t fill up until the main card begins. And the only reason spectators weren’t quite seated at the first fight in UFC France history was because many were still waiting in long lines outside.

The UFC set up a mobile UFC Store on the side of the Accor Arena, alongside a giant “UFC” sign and steps painted with the likenesses of Gane, Francis Ngannou, Georges St-Pierre and French flyweight champion Manon Fiorot.

Berny Tamayo, who was born and raised in Paris, was in the vicinity of these oversized UFC letters before the event, snapping photos and hanging out with friends. Tamayo, who wears a Valentina Shevchenko (his favorite fighter) fight kit and Nate Diaz hoodie, said he’s been a UFC fan for ten years. However, he was unsure if the promotion would ever hold an event in his hometown as the sport was illegal in France until 2020.

“I said, ‘I have to be here — no matter what, no matter what the cost,'” Tamayo said upon learning about UFC Paris. “It’s so important. For us, it’s everything.

“We need to show Dana White that Paris is the place in Europe for UFC shows.”

A 10 minute walk to the Accor Arena through the Bercy district, you will pass the Nihon Judo Dojo and Team Zeitoun Thai Boxing Gym. France has long been a hotspot for judo, karate and muay thai. And now it seems poised to be a new focal point for MMA, especially after Saturday night.

“I don’t see any other way [the UFC]’ Saint Denis said. “You have to go back and back and back. Like they do in London.” – Raimondi


Robert Whittaker is one of the best fighters in the world

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Robert Whittaker takes victory by decision over Marvin Vettori in convincing fashion. (processed)

You know what? I love my ESPN peers and I think we at ESPN are doing a great job in this sport. But I have to confront her for a minute. You must show some respect to Robert Whittaker. In ESPN’s current pound-for-pound rankings, only two of the six voters have Whittaker in the top 10. When I went into this fight, I had him at number 7, the highest ranking non-champion on my list.

I think some people sleep over how special a fighter Whittaker is. This former champion is 12-2 since rising to middleweight and his only two losses have come against a generational talent in Israel Adesanya. And the last time they fought, two judges gave Whittaker two rounds out of five against Adesanya. What he does is tremendous. It’s not as impressive as what Adesanya did, but it deserves recognition and appreciation for what it is.

I love that in his speech after Saturday’s fight he claimed that he always shoots for first place and that he will always “lurk” at 185. There was some headlines earlier this week about a possible move to the light heavyweight division, but I hope that doesn’t happen. Whittaker is world class as a middleweight – belted or unbelted – I appreciate the size he performs at. – Okamoto

https://www.espn.com/mma/story/_/id/34518529/ufc-paris-takeaways-ciryl-gane-gives-masterclass-robert-whittaker-reminds-how-dangerous-185 UFC Paris takeaways — Ciryl Gane gives a masterclass, Robert Whittaker reminds how dangerous he is at 185

Emma Bowman

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