We’re about to learn a lot about Ciryl Gane and Tai Tuivasa.
Although the heavyweights appear to be very different on paper, both are facing an uncertain reality at UFC Paris this Saturday. Is Gane still a champ-in-waiting or just a failure in his first fight against Francis Ngannou. Is Tuivasa a legitimate threat to win a UFC title or is he just on a thrilling win streak that is destined to end just short of its destination?
It’s unfair to both fighters to tie their future prospects so tightly to one fight, but given that we can expect Ngannou, Stipe Miocic, and yes, Jon Jones to factor into the title picture sooner rather than later — not to mention the perpetual chaos realm that is the heavyweight division — who’s to say how long it will take for either man’s contender reputation to be restored should they suffer a devastating loss?
The smart money is with Gane. But, given the extent to which Tuivasa has advanced since almost being tossed aside, there are few things more MMA than Tuivasa finding a means of taking Gane out before a crowd full of Parisians.
In other main card action, Robert Whittaker fights Marvin Vettori in a highly anticipated middleweight clash, slumping 185ers Alessio Di Chirico and Roman Kopylov seek a much-needed win, John Makdessi fights Nasrat Haqparast in a lightweight matchup with a sprinkling of bad blood, featherweights William Gomis and Jarno Errens make their UFC debuts, and Charles Jourdain and Nathaniel Wood both make quick turnarounds as they navigate the perilous featherweight division.
What: UFC Paris
Where: Accor Arena in Paris
(Numbers in parentheses indicate standing in MMA Fighting Global Rankings)
Ciryl Gane (3) vs. Tai Tuivasa (5)
Your boy is pushing the wagon “Tai Tuivasa IS a REAL competitor” for quite some time now. There’s no reason to stop now. This is it. This is the ultimate test of whether or not the power of punching and positive thinking can take you all the way to a title shot.
*Tuivasa has changed a lot since his days of being on a losing streak that saw him lose three fights and was on the verge of being released. He’s legitimately become more focused and disciplined and that’s evident in his results. I know it sounds somewhat condescending to say that Tuivasa got better just because he started making an honest effort, but when you’re talking about a fighter with his talent, that can make all the difference.
That said, even the best version of Tuivasa might not be enough to get past Ciryl Gane. Gane may not have been able to become the heavyweight champion, but he is still considered the greatest athlete and technical striker in this division. He should win this fight. I get it.
But, Tuivasa is my choice. It’s not just that he could score a knockout at any moment (though that’s a huge factor), it’s that he genuinely believes he can. This is my theory for what went wrong with guys like Derrick Lewis and Jairzinho Rozenstruik when they fought Gane. They didn’t believe they were able to knock him out. So they froze. Tuivasa won’t freeze. Tuivasa might be rocked, or submitted to the authorities. But he will not freeze.
Or at least it won’t take him long to thaw. I’m predicting that Tuivasa struggles to come up with a strategy to score against Gane in the first round, then just goes bananas in Round 2 and catches Gane for a knockout win.
Shoeys are gross, but Tuivasa will earn his on Saturday.
Robert Whittaker (2) vs. Marvin Vettori (3)
You thought that one knockout at the top was shocking. What do you think of Robert Whittaker becoming the first fighter to finish Marvin Vettori?
I understand Vettori has an unbreakable chin. This is Drew Dober-quality iron. It’s clear to me that Whittaker can be the one to find the off-switch. “The Reaper” has never been known for just raw punching power, but rather his speed and precision, and those traits are what you need to put down a bigger guy. That’s exactly what Vettori is, which is what makes this fight so dangerous for Whittaker.
Because it could definitely go the other way. Vettori isn’t known for finishing with strikes, but he’s become increasingly confident on the feet during his time with the UFC and while he won’t win a pure striking battle, all it takes is one good shot from “The Italian Dream” to put Whittaker in trouble. Neither man is close to getting a third fight with Adesanya, so fans should look forward to this being a fun, loose, and occasionally wild banger.
I still believe Whittaker will pull it off and take the win in the third, as long as he has his combination going.
Whittaker by knockout in Round 3.
Alessio Di Chirico vs. Roman Kopylov
Some of you might be inclined to ask, what is this bout between two middleweights with a combined 4-8 UFC record doing on the main card when there’s a perfectly good middleweight bout between top 15-ranked Nassourdine Imavov and fan favorite Joaquin Buckley just sitting right there on the prelims? I don’t have a great answer for you.
What we do have here is a couple of fighters hungry for a win, which means they’ll either be inspired to put on a fiery performance to silence the doubters, or they’ll fight safe to preserve their jobs. Fans hoping for the latter are happy to hear that Alessio di Chirico has overcome his inability of pulling the trigger. His more assertive style has resulted in two first-round head kick knockouts in his past two outings; unfortunately for him, he was on the receiving end in his most recent fight.
Can he apply pressure to Roman Kopylov If so, this is easy work for Di Chirico. Kopylov just hasn’t shown the finishing ability that made him an intriguing signing in 2018. And when things start to go badly for him, they get worse in a hurry.
I believe Kopylov has the greatest future, however, I am skeptical about the UFC. I must therefore lean toward Di Chirico.
Pick: Di Chirico
John Makdessi vs. Nasrat Haqparast
This is Nasrat Haqparast’s bounce back opportunity, but it could be his final fight in UFC. Makdessi isn’t the same size as his past opponents, Bobby Green and Dan Hooker. However, he’s a veteran striker and Haqparast had problems with this type of challenge before.
What I like for Haqparast in this matchup is that he has a size advantage over Makdessi, which will make all the difference for the still-developing 27-year-old. Makdessi is a brilliant striker who has had the misfortune of being a tweener. He’s definitely on the short side for a lightweight, but way too thickly muscled to drop to 145. So Haqparast should get off to a quick start here and make things uncomfortable for Makdessi.
As long as Haqparast can keep Makdessi on the back foot, he can take control. The last thing he wants is to give Makdessi space and give him an opportunity to unleash his dazzling spinning attacks. Haqparast is moving intelligently, cutting the cage off and getting a nod.
William Gomis vs. Jarno Errens
Some of you might be inclined to ask, what is this bout between–you know what? We’ve done this dance already. Buckley and Imavov should be on this main card.
But that is not true. Let’s be grateful for the chance being offered to William Gomis, a Frenchman sure to get a large cheering section and Jarno Errens from the Netherlands. Given their short careers, it is possible for this to turn out to be an exciting striking match. It’s not a mystery why they are being placed there.
Both fighters are tall featherweights who use plenty of movement to set up their attacks. Gomis prefers to strike inside while Errens uses long periods of counter-striking and bursts with aggression. It should be a standing duel. Errens, however has struggled with grappling defense. This could be an area Gomis targets to slow down the pace.
Gomis is more methodical and I think that gives him an edge. I don’t believe he will make the same mistake Errens could capitalize on, nor can I see Errens leading the action. Gomis wins this one on points.
Charles Jourdain vs. Nathaniel Wood
I like Nathaniel Wood featherweight. I don’t like this matchup for him.
Charles Jourdain is more than just a striker, but when he focuses on that aspect of his game, few are better at 145 pounds. Plus-athlete and creative, Jourdain knows his spot. On Wood’s side, he’s plenty athletic as well and he’s got a nasty streak that should make for a compelling contrast once he and Jourdain start exchanging. Wood is a versatile thrower who loves throwing from unusual angles and volume.
Jourdain is capable of handling that. He’s super sharp from a technical standpoint and his striking defense is going to frustrate Wood. As that frustration builds, he’ll make more mistakes, and that will create openings for Jourdain to go to work. At the same time, Wood won’t go away easy, which is why this is an ideal main card starter and a front-runner to win the Fight of the Night award.
It wouldn’t surprise me if these two meet again somewhere down the road. But this first meeting belongs to Jourdain.
Abusupiyan Magomedov def. Dustin Stoltzfus
Michal Figlak def. Fares Ziam
Nassourdine Imavov (14) def. Joaquin Buckley
Benoit Saint Denis def. Gabriel Miranda
Christian Quinonez def. Khalid Taha
Stephanie Egger def. Ailin Perez