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New era of French MMA opens with a kick in the balls

While various forms of unsanctioned MMA-adjascent events have gone on for years in France, this Thursday marked the first fully regulated mixed martial arts event in the country. And it started in an all too familiar fashion.

Ben Zakar left, lands a kick to the groin on his opponent Pierre Rouviere.

The battle for fully regulated, modern MMA in France has been a long and grueling one. While the country has hosted mixed martial arts fights in various forms since the 90s, back in 2015 France held it’s first event under the modern ‘unified rules’ of MMA. World Warriors Fighting Championship exploited what they called “a loophole” in the country’s regulatory process that had otherwise kept similar events from going forward. Government reaction, along with lots of apparent pressure from the French Judo Federation, was swift.

In 2016, the country reinforced and strengthened it’s ban on mixed martial arts, dubbing the sport essentially outright illegal. Notably the French Sports Ministry passed regulations to ban fighting on surfaces using a caged enclosure, and to ban any use of ground striking techniques.

Nonetheless, promotions like 100% Fight (which served as home court to a young Francis Ngannou) managed to carve out a space, operating under the strict rules enforced on them. And in 2019 French Minister of Sports Roxana Maracineanu announced that the path to fully regulated, legal MMA in 2020 was open—provided that the sport be regulated under one of the existing sporting federations within the country. Eventually the Boxing Federation was awarded a 2-year contract to oversee MMA regulation and modern, full-rules MMA was finally set to have its day.

This past Thursday, October 8th, the country’s first officially regulated MMA event went ahead in Vitry-sur-Seine. Dubbed the Mixed Martial Arts Grand Prix, it featured a main event between former UFC lightweight Mickael Lebout and Portuguese welterweight Joao Bonfim.

But before the card could get to its more prestigious headliner, it opened with a middleweight bout between Ben Zakar and Pierre Rouviere. The true beginning of a new era in mixed martial arts.

The two men squared off, feinting and looking to trade. Then Zakar nailed Rouviere straight in the pills. Somehow all too fitting.

The rest of the card was a wild and often sloppy affair, full of fun momentum swings and the kind of rapid changes in position and control that fans have come to expect from the lower echelons of MMA. While Lebout may have been the most notable MMA veteran on the card. The event also saw the debut of longtime international Judo competitor and former French national champion Laetitia Blot.

Blot secured two quick slamming takedowns and near instantaneous transition to mount on her opponent for a first round TKO victory via ground-and-pound. While it seems unlikely that a long MMA career is waiting out ahead of the 37-year-old, she looked like a physical force in the cage.

The event also played host to the third pro MMA fight for multiple time kickboxing champion, 39-year-old Karim Ghajji. Ghajji (103-16-1 in the squared circle) has regularly featured on Bellator and Glory kickboxing events. He last competed in MMA back in 2018, at an Octogone MMA event in Paris, using France’s previous mixed rule set. This time out Ghajji found himself getting dropped hard by an overhand right early in his bout against Wallace Felipe, but came back to find an RNC win. Ironically both his MMA victories to date have come by submission.

It’s unclear exactly why night’s second contest, between Kevin Fall and Nicolas Di Franco was called off after two rounds, and subsequently scored a draw. It appears, on the live broadcast that there may have been a disagreement over how many rounds the bout had been originally contracted for, and/or potentially that one fighter was unwilling to continue into the third round.

Here’s a look at the complete results from MMA’s first fully sanctioned French event:

Mickael Lebout (20-10) def. Joao Bonfim (8-6) via Submission (Omoplata) in Round 1
Laetitia Blot (1-0) def. Silvia Nascimento (0-3) via TKO (GnP) at 1:29 of Round 1
Alioune Nahaye (9-2) def. David Mora (5-3) via KO (strikes) at 3:52 of Round 3
Karim Ghajji (2-1) def. Wallace Felipe (0-1) via Submission (RNC) at 3:59 of Round 2
Kevin Fall (4-5-2) drew Nicolas Di Franco (5-1-1) at 5:00 of Round 2
Pierre Rouviere (1-0) def. Ben Zakar (4-1) via KO (Body kick) at 0:24 of Round 2