The UFC has been largely restricted to the United States, Abu Dhabi, and England since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, which also happens to be when MMA was officially legalized in France. The world's leading MMA promotion will put on its first event on French soil this weekend, at the Accor Arena in Paris.
UFC Paris will be headlined by former interim heavyweight champion Ciryl Gane, the first-ever French titleholder in UFC history. Gane will take on Australia's Tai Tuivasa in the main event, with top-ranked middleweights Robert Whittaker and Marvin Vettori set to feature in the co-main.
A number of French and European prospects are also set to compete at the upcoming UFC Fight Night, and the matchmakers have put together some explosive stylistic matchups as well. Overall, the fight card is stacked with top talent and should deliver an entertaining night of MMA action.
On that note, here are five questions that will be answered at UFC Paris.
#5. Could Paris be an annual destination for the UFC?
The UFC put on its inaugural event in mainland Europe back in 2009 when the promotion visited Cologne, Germany. Since then, the MMA leader has returned to Germany on numerous occasions, in addition to debuting in Croatia, Czech Republic, Poland, Sweden and the Netherlands.
MMA was banned in France in 2016. At the time, the government claimed that the sport would only be legal under the supervision of an existing French sports federation. With the establishment of FMMAF (French MMA Federation) in 2019, the fastest growing sport in the world could finally enter a new market.
Following news of the legalization of MMA in France, there were rumblings that a UFC event on French soil would be underway in 2020. However, the COVID-19 pandemic likely shelved these plans and the promotion will now finally visit Paris this weekend.
France is very well represented in the UFC, unlike most European countries. This allows matchmakers to stack fight cards with French talent, as they've done with this Saturday's Fight Night. Previous editions of UFC London have seen England emerge as one of the marquee destinations on the UFC calendar, and France has the potential to be another regular annual fixture.
Moreover, the right matchup could also see Paris get the full pay-per-view experience down the line. A potential rematch between heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou and former interim titleholder Ciryl Gane would have to be the perfect championship fight to bring to Paris.
#4. Which French prospects will make the most of the opportunity?
As discussed in the previous entry, the UFC matchmakers have stacked this weekend's fight card with up-and-coming French talent. A number of high-caliber prospects are set to feature at the Accor Arena on Saturday and will be keen to not only emerge victorious in their respective bouts, but potentially make a statement as well.
One of the most intriguing fights on the main card is a featherweight scrap between France's William Gomis and Dutch ace Jarno Errens. Both fighters will be making their UFC debuts on Saturday, which should make for an interesting contest.
Under the tutelage of renowned coach Fernand Lopez, and with teammates like UFC standouts Ciryl Gane and Nassourdine Imavov, Gomis has blossomed into an extremely dangerous fighter. 'Jaguar' is riding an eight-fight win streak and has six knockout wins under his belt.
French lightweight Fares Ziam will return to the octagon for his fifth octagon appearance this weekend. Now 2-2 in the UFC, Ziam could find himself on the chopping block if he loses to undefeated Polish star Michal Figlak, who is making his promotional debut, making this a high stakes affair.
Multi-time kickboxing world champion Cedric Doumbe and top-ranked women's flyweight contender Manon Fiorot were also slated to fight on home soil, but their bouts were scrapped and postponed, respectively.
One of the most promising French fighters on the roster, Benoit Saint-Denis, will also be looking to come away with a resounding win at UFC Paris. The 26-year-old boasts a 100% finish rate and will be eyeing a second win in the promotion when he takes on Gabriel Miranda in the prelims.
#3. Can Nassourdine Imavov deliver a statement-making win?
Behind only former titleholder Ciryl Gane, his teammate Nassourdine Imavov is possibly the best French contender on the roster. Imavov has already picked up three victories since signing with the UFC in 2020, which has seen him break into the middleweight top 15.
He was scheduled to fight former title challenger Kelvin Gastelum earlier this year, but visa issues saw the bout get scrapped. Now ranked No.12 at 185 pounds, Imavov will be looking to resume his ascent up the rankings when he locks horns with Joaquin Buckley.
Nassoursine Imavov doesn't quite get the recognition that his skills warrant, possibly due to his polite and soft-spoken demeanor. His latest win, a stunning TKO victory over Edmen Shahbazyan, was a clear indicator of his talent. His upcoming opponent, however, could bring the best out of him.
Joaquin Buckley is among the most explosive fighters around, making this matchup against a fellow striker in Imavov an excellent stylistic clash. Buckley's unpredictability is a direct contrast to his French counterpart's measured and clinical style, which should ensure an absolute barnburner.
While a win on Saturday will see Imavov make a small jump up the rankings, a highlight-reel finish against a popular and loudmouthed fighter like Buckley will undoubtedly boost his stock. With divisional kingpin Israel Adesanya looking dominant as ever atop the middleweight division, a threat to the crown could emerge on Saturday night.
#2. Who is the second-best middleweight in the world?
The co-headliner of UFC Paris sees top-ranked middleweights Robert Whittaker and Marvin Vettori square off in a bout with major title implications. Both fighters have lost to 185-pound champion Israel Adesanya twice, and a loss on Saturday could effectively terminate their title aspirations for as long as Adesanya holds the belt.
Whittaker occupies the No.1 spot in the middleweight ranks, while Vettori sits two places behind. Both former title challengers are gunning for a trilogy fight with 'The Last Stylebender', making this upcoming matchup a must-win.
Robert Whittaker certainly had more success against Israel Adesanya than Marvin Vettori did. 'The Reaper' was highly competitive in his rematch with Adesanya earlier this year, while Vettori's meeting with the champion was largely a shutout.
Whittaker is the more dynamic and technical of the two fighters, which could prove to be a game-changer when they lock horns. However, Vettori is as durable as they come, making this matchup highly intriguing. 'The Italian Dream' has never been finished in his professional career, and his Aussie counterpart will be looking to be the first.
This being a three-round fight between two incredibly tough competitors, both middleweights will be at each other's throats right from the get-go. With a third shot at Adesanya's throne potentially up for grabs, expect this bout to blow the roof off the Accor Arena.
#1. Can Tai Tuivasa spoil the party in Paris, or is this Ciryl Gane's time to shine?
Tai Tuivasa is really up against it at UFC Paris. Tuivasa will enter enemy territory on Saturday night as he takes on the face of French MMA at the moment, Ciryl Gane, in the main event.
Gane is the No.1-ranked heavyweight in the world and is regarded by many as a future world champion. 'Bon Gamin' is going to be a tricky matchup for Tuivasa to deal with, and the former interim champion will have the support of the French faithful behind him as well.
Tuivasa needs a knockout if he is to emerge victorious, as the probability of him outpointing Gane over five rounds is highly unlikely. Considering his French counterpart hasn't even come close to being finished in his professional career, 'Bam Bam' will have his work cut out for him.
The betting odds reflect the same as Tuivasa is a massive underdog, despite the fact that he's riding a five-fight win streak wherein he's knocked out all his opponents.
While the odds are quite steep, Ciryl Gane is still technically the better fighter. The towering Frenchman moves unlike any other heavyweight, has excellent footwork and movement, and tends to do well against power-punchers like Tai Tuivasa, evident in his flawless performances against Jairzinho Rozenstruik and Derrick Lewis.
In his last outing, Gane suffered the first loss of his professional career, losing to former teammate Francis Ngannou in their title unification bout back in January. It was a narrow decision loss and 'Bon Gamin' has vowed to exact his revenge as he looks to become France's first homegrown UFC champion.