UFC Paris is done and dusted. All things considered, the promotion’s first trip to France can’t be seen as anything less than a resounding success. Ciryl Gane battled back from adversity to put the brakes on Tai Tuivasa’s title hopes. Robert Whittaker showed that he’s still a clear cut above the rest of the pack at 185. And Nathaniel Wood made a statement that he’s a dark horse contender in the bantamweight division.
So, what’s there for Gane to do while Ngannou and the UFC try to come to terms? Should Whittaker start thinking hard about taking a stab at light heavyweight? And how far away is Nassourdine Imavov from a big fight in the middleweight division?
To answer those questions—and one or two others—I’ll be using the classic Silva/Shelby fight booking methodology from the UFC of years past. That means pitting winners against winners, losers against losers, and similarly tenured talent up against one another. Hopefully, by following that model, a few of these bout ideas will actually make it off the page and into the Octagon. Now, let’s get to the fights!
This fight almost became an amazing disaster for Ciryl Gane. The MMA Factory talent looked near untouchable for the first five minutes of his bout with Tuivasa, before a winging hook from the big man sent him sprawling to the mat. Fortunately for ‘Bon Gamin’ his instincts kicked in fast and he was able to quickly reassert his jab and kicking game to stop his opponent’s progress in its tracks. After picking up the third round KO victory, Gane made it clear that he still has his eyes set firmly on the UFC title. But what does that mean in a world where he’s already fought and lost to the champion?
Francis Ngannou’s future still seems entirely up in the air, and whatever comes next for him, it feels incredibly unlikely that it would be another fight with Gane. If he’s not willing to take any other booking, then that might leave the Frenchman waiting for quite a while on the sidelines—all while the UFC tries to coax Ngannou back with promises of other, more notable, PPV challengers. However, if he’s willing to stay busy, then there is another man sitting right in the same place, with lots of good wins under his belt and very little chance of competing for UFC gold right now. Curtis Blaydes recently walked away from his bout with Tom Aspinall with his hand raised and he’s got multiple losses to Ngannou to overcome. Blaydes vs. Gane is too obvious a fight to pass up if the UFC can convince both men to take it.
Tai Tuivasa made a somewhat improbable run to the top of the mountain on the back of five straight knockout wins. Only to have Ciryl Gane slam the door on his title hopes, at least for the moment. Still just 29-years-old there’s plenty of time for ‘Bam Bam’ to find his way into contention further down the line. With his combination of size, power, and durability, it seems like it’ll only be a matter of time before we see the Aussie fighting for gold. For the moment, however, he needs a small step back.
Fights with Alexander Volkov, Jairzinho Rozenstruik, Tom Aspinall, or Sergey Pavlovich would all be strong options. Even though it’d be a winner-loser booking I gotta go with Tuivasa vs. Volkov. Given the Russian’s losses to Gane, Blaydes, Lewis, & Aspinall he’s still a mile away from the belt, which means he’ll need lots more fights like this one if he’s going to make a run of his own. Volkov vs. Tuivasa seems like the step back Tuivasa needs and a chance for Volkov to keep building momentum.
Robert Whittaker against everyone at middleweight not named Israel Adesanya just isn’t a fair fight. He’s too commanding, too creative, and too powerful. I honestly figured that Vettori’s legendary durability would set him up to, at the very least, stay on Whittaker in the pocket and make the bout a bit ugly—even if it was on the way to a loss. For a round that worked. But once Whittaker started to surprise Vettori with his kick setups and counters he had the ‘Italian Dream’ looking entirely gunshy. The result was a pretty clean and commanding unanimous decision.
After the bout, ‘The Reaper’ didn’t exactly make a call-out, but did remind fans that as far as he’s concerned he’s still the most dangerous middleweight in the world, even including the champion. He’s not likely about to get a 3rd Adesanya fight right now, and he’s teased the idea of going to LHW. If he did, I’d love to see Whittaker vs. Blachowicz. If he’s gonna stay at middleweight, then he’s gotta fight Alex Pereira next—no matter whether the Brazilian wins or loses to Adesanya, and even if that means waiting until after Adesanya gets a rematch. Whittaker vs. Pereira (post Adesanya) is a must see fight.
A rough landing for Marvin Vettori after taking a decision over Paulo Costa in his last bout. Whittaker and Adesanya are clearly in a class all there own, and all the work that Vettori has done to improve and make himself an elite talent over the years hasn’t got him all that close to beating either man at this point in his career. Still, he’s got his legendary durability on his side and a ton of heart and grit. There are plenty of great bouts out there for him. Fights with Chris Curtis, Nassourdine Imavov, Andre Muniz, or Dricus Du Plessis would all be fun. Or, among the old guard, we still haven’t seen Vettori vs. Brunson, Vettori vs. Cannonier, or Vettori vs. Gastelum. With Jared Cannonier’s fight against Sean Strickland getting scrapped, that seems like a perfect matchup to me. Marvin Vettori vs. Jared Cannonier is a top quality middleweight fight if Vettori wants a quick turnaround or Cannonier is willing to wait.
For two solid rounds Nassourdine Imavov put on a masterful performance. He landed hard counters whenever Buckley rushed forward, and took a wrestling game to his opponent whenever Buckley gave him space. Buckley showed some incredible heart to rally back in round 3, and put all kinds of hands on Imavov late, but that wasn’t enough to make up for the early work from the Russian-born fighter. That should leave Imavov perfectly placed to get a top 15 ranked opponent next time out. Bouts against Dricus Du Plessis, Andre Muniz, or Kelvin Gastelum would all be a lot of fun. The Du Plessis bout is unquestionably the best of those. The South African’s combination of huge power and non-stop wild aggression, coupled with the physicality to compete with Imavov for strength should make for a real nail biter. Imavov vs. Du Plessis is a great battle of rising contenders.
An absolutely beautiful fight from Nathaniel Wood. He stepped right into the teeth of Charles Jourdain’s offense and even found himself landing the bigger shots once he got there. He’s an improbably calm fighter in the heat of battle, and those counter trips and counter hooks he was landing constantly caught Jourdain off guard over and over. The end result was a thrilling fight where Wood fairly confidently took all three rounds and had Jourdain on his heels throughout. That should mean a the top 15er at 145 is forthcoming. That could mean bouts with Sodiq Yusuff, Ricardo Ramos, Lerone Murphy, or Hakeem Dawodu (should he beat Julian Erosa next week). I’d have really loved to see the Yusuff fight, but it turns out ‘Super Sodiq’ is already booked. So lets go with Ramos vs. Wood instead. Two former bantamweights finding serious success at 145.
An absolute shitkicking from Abus Magomedov in his UFC debut against Dustin Stoltzfus. I expected the Russo-German fighter would have a significant advantage on the ground, but he never let things get that far, stunning Stoltzfus with a front kick straight out the gate, and bombing on him with a series of heavy uppercuts after. Time to get him in there against another hot talent looking to rise up the ranks. Fights with Caio Borralho, Aliaskhab Khizriev, Andre Petroski, or even Punahele Soriano would all be decent ideas. My first thought was Borralho, just because I think the combination of grappling chops and size would make for a fascinating test for both men. But Borralho’s booked already, so I’ll say go with Magomedov vs. Khizriev. The Dagestani’s suffocating top game should make for a heck of a test. But Magomedov also has the kind of veteran experience that could drag the ‘Black Wolf’ into deep water. Magomedov vs. Khizriev is a tough fight for both men.
A bit of a low simmering, tit-for-tat bout for Haqparast, but given some of his recent struggles, going out and getting a win had to be the top priority. He ate a whole lot of low kicks, but countered well over the top and kept Makdessi chasing him for three rounds. That keeps Haqparast dead in the middle of the lightweight division looking to climb toward the elite. In fact, it lines him up for just about anyone outside the top 15 coming off a win. Fights from Uros Medic up to Jim Miller all make reasonable sense. Drakkar Klose is a guy who has been trying to rebuild his own Octagon career after coming back from a bad neck injury. Seems like both men are in a similar spot right now. Klose vs. Haqparast would be a rock-solid bout to see if either man can make a move toward the top 15.
An absolute slobberknocker from the Frenchman. He chased Garbriel Miranda all over the cage, with his swarming, power striking and aggressive grappling game. Even though it got him in a little trouble here and there, the end result was a pace that Brazilian just couldn’t keep up with. Saint-Denis nearly had the finish in the first round, but left nothing to chance on the restart with a brutal TKO early in the second. That puts the ‘God of War’ on two straight victories after losing his debut and should line him up for another quality action fight. That could be someone like Natan Levy, or Viacheslav Borshchev, but I like the idea of a bout with Ignacio Bahamondes. The rangy Chilean fighter loves to scrap and can push a mean pace. Bahamondes vs. Saint-Denis should make for a war.
OTHER BOUTS: Joaquin Buckley vs. Bruno Silva, Roman Kopylov vs. Jacob Malkoun, Alessio Di Chirico vs. Nick Maximov, William Gomis vs. Blake Bilder, Jarno Errens vs. Isaac Dulgarian, Charles Jourdain vs. Alex Caceres, Dustin Stoltzfus vs. Dusko Todorovic, John Makdessi vs. Joe Lauzon, Fares Ziam vs. L’udovit Klein, Michal Figlak vs. Mike Breeden, Gabriel Miranda vs. Victor Martinez, Cristian Quinonez vs. Aoriqileng, Khalid Taha vs. Aaron Phillips, Stephanie Egger vs. Josiane Nunes, Ailin Perez vs. Letson/Chandler loser