The primary narrative of UFC Paris all depends on perspective. If it’s the main event we’re talking about, then Cyril Gane and Tai Tuivasa put on one of the better heavyweight headliners that we’ve had in several years. Gane operated with his usual efficiency for most of the fight, but Tuivasa found holes in Gane’s tight defense to drop the Frenchman and put him on the ropes. ‘Bon Gamin’ hung in there and was able to return to his typical outside attack centered on the body, wearing down the hard-hitting Aussie.
For fans more interested in the business side of the sport, UFC Paris was also an unmitigated success. The Paris crowd was loud from the curtain jerker to the final fight, giving the impression to many that France might be a future MMA hotbed if their enthusiasm is any indication. I wouldn’t make that kind of prediction yet, but no doubt it was a rowdy bunch. Throw in that former middleweight champion Robert Whittaker looked as sharp as ever in disposing of Marvin Vettori and it was a hell of a consequential night.
Those narratives will all get plenty of attention in various articles and websites over the next week. For now, the Unofficial Awards are here to focus on the quick hits less noticeable narratives that emerged, in hopes of giving a more all-around look at the event. Let’s dig in:
BIGGEST JUMP IN STOCK
Gane and Whittaker had more impressive victories, given they outclassed high level opposition, but they were already considered to be 1a in their respective divisions (just behind the champions) by most observers. Thus, I’ll go with Nathaniel Wood. The Englishman moved up to the featherweight division earlier this year and there were concerns about his potentially being undersized, standing just 5’ 6”.
Sure, he beat Charles Rosa earlier this year without issue, but any average UFC fighter should do the same. That made Charles Jourdain a BIG step up in competition—the Canadian himself coming off a controversial loss to a ranked opponent—and Wood dismantled him. ‘The Prospect’ hurt Jourdain several times and secured takedowns in every round as well. Jourdain doesn’t employ a strategy where he’d force his physicality on his opposition, so we’re still not entirely sure how much Wood’s lack of size will hurt him. Regardless, the early returns are fantastic—and have many believing Wood will probably have a number before his name after his next contest.
BIGGEST FALL IN STOCK
Either something was wrong with Vettori or Whittaker took away his desire to fight. For whatever reason, the aggressive version that we’ve all become exceptionally familiar with was nowhere to be seen in the final round (after offering just brief glimpses over the first two). Vettori spent most of the fight playing punching bag for the elusive Whittaker, offering very little return fire.
Had ‘The Italian Dream’ been able to at least put forth a respectable effort, losing to the former champ wouldn’t have really damaged his standing. Instead, not only does it have him sliding down the middleweight ladder, his reputation as a someone unwilling to back down doesn’t appear as sterling as it was heading into the event. Vettori can rebound if he can knock the block off his next opponent and regain some momentum, but KOs haven’t exactly been his forte. It’s possible Vettori has peaked.
Cristian Quinonez jumped out in front for this spot early, but Abus Magomedov sealed it up when he blasted through Dustin Stoltzfus in just 19 seconds. Credit needs to go to Stoltzfus for even surviving the initial front kick to the face from Magomedov, but the German wasn’t fooled by Stoltzfus’ poker face. He maintained the attack and landed several punches to put Stoltzfus away. It’s easy to forget how much hype there was around Magomedov in 2018 given his activity level has been low lately—this was only his third fight in four years—but this was a hell of a reminder that he’s got a lot to offer.
SAVED THEIR JOB
Once upon a time, Roman Kopylov was considered to be one of the brighter prospects the middleweight division had seen in a while—back when he was signed to the UFC in 2019. Inactivity couple with losses in both of his appearances had most believing he was a bust. It could even be argued the inactivity allowed a couple of his prime years to go to waste. But, at 31-years-old, he’s still young enough that he could begin to put it all together. The way he was able to put together his strikes against Alessio Di Chirico is a great sign in that direction. Putting away Di Chirico allows him to keep his job and earn the opportunity to show he’s got what it takes to hang around in the UFC.
START TYPING A RESUME
Six years is a hell of a long time to stay on the UFC roster. Di Chirico had several nice moments in that time—his head kick KO of Joaquin Buckley immediately comes to mind—but a stretch of five losses in six fights makes it damn near impossible to avoid the chopping block. It isn’t like it was a murderer’s row the Italian fell to in that time, either. If the UFC runs an event in Italy any time soon (which it actually sounds like they might), I could see the UFC signing him up given the lack of big time Italian fighters. Outside of that, I’d say the 32-year-old has had his legacy cemented as one of the first Italians to make some noise at the UFC level.
I’m not convinced of Stoltzfus getting a pink slip given he was willing to take the fight on short notice—I appreciate the UFC not punishing fighters for stepping up in those situations—but it’s not like luck wasn’t on his side when the UFC kept him around after opening his UFC career with three consecutive losses. He made good on that opportunity, but the 19 second loss to Magomedov makes his employment just as precarious as it was before his win over Dwight Grant. We’ll see....
Count me among those who was surprised to see Khalid Taha get another fight. The UFC was willing to overlook his 1-3 record that also included a no contest that was originally a loss. Nonetheless, he was given as favorable of a fight as he could get, with an opponent making their promotional debut on short notice. Still, Taha couldn’t seal the deal. In fact, this fight went down as his first official KO/TKO loss. Taha’s one-dimensional approach seems as though it has become easy to prepare for now that his opposition know what to expect. It would be a surprise if he were able to find his way back to the organization.
BIGGEST ‘WOW’ MOMENT
Initially, I thought Magomedov had this locked up with his front kick to the jaw of Stoltzfus. But the sequence in the middle of the second round, when Gane and Tuivasa came ‘thisclose’ to putting away one another, stole it all away. It started when Tuivasa delivered one of his trademark haymakers that floored Gane. Someway, somehow, Gane found a way back to his feet and brutalized Tuivasa’s body to the point he doubled over several times. Though the rest of the fight proved to be full of excitement up until the finish, it was that sequence that kicked things off.
HOME FIELD ADVANTAGE
While not everyone with a French connection emerged victorious (do French Canadians count?), everyone fighting out of France walked out of the event with a win. That list ended up being Gane, Nassourdine Imavov, William Gomis, Fares Ziam, and Benoit Saint-Denis. It shouldn’t be too much of a surprise, as the countrymen of countries the UFC find themselves either entering for the first time or after a long absence tend to find a high degree of success. UFC 134 is a fantastic example of that as phenomenon. That PPV was the UFC’s return to Brazil after 13 years. Of the eight contests that featured a Brazilian vs. Someone from any other country, only one Brazilian lost. Hopefully, the UFC doesn’t rush their return to France, since the effect tends to wear off quickly if the promotion makes frequent trips. Brazil lost that edge roughly a year after the UFC return.
WORST BLOOD FEUD
It was expected there would be a hell of a fight between Nasrat Haqparast and John Makdessi. After all, they are former teammates who didn’t exactly separate on the best of terms. Instead, we got a tentative kickboxing match that more closely resembled a sparring session. Haqparast was more willing to let his power show, but even that was only in spurts. Makdessi was content to just touch up Haqparast for the entirety of the fight, never landing anything that appeared to hurt Haqparast.
While knowing an opponent as intimately as these two knew each other can lead to a quick finish if they are each aware of the others’ holes, it can also lead to the type of contests where fighters worry about their opponent knowing them too much. Given the infrequency of finishes from Haqparast and Makdessi, it’s fair to look back in hindsight and say we should’ve expected this.
We all know about fighters improving their stock in a loss. It’s only natural that there would be fighters who lessen their stock with a win. It looks like Imavov may fall victim to that phenomenon. Not that Imavov didn’t deserve the win or that he didn’t have some bright moments either. Hell, I’d even say it was ultimately a fun fight. But, for someone in the official UFC rankings, there were a few things that didn’t bode well for Imavov.
For one, he gassed hard down the stretch, leaving him in survival mode. He also didn’t have the control from the outside that’s supposed to be his signature strength. Perhaps a more realistic view should be that Imavov is still only 26 and this was just his fifth UFC contest. Perhaps his stock was elevated a bit too soon. I’d still expect him to be a longtime fixture in the middleweight rankings, but it may be that expectations should be tempered slightly.
Technically, it’s the only return, as Ziam was the only fighter who has re-signed to the organization for this event after a previous stint. But it deserves kudos nonetheless. For many, it was a surprise when the UFC didn’t re-up the young Frenchman after his loss to Terrance McKinney this past winter. After all, many see McKinney as a rising star and Ziam was only 24 at the time of the loss. Regardless, the UFC let him loose, only to bring him back for this event—when more French talent was required. It proved to be a wise move. Ziam turned in what was easily his best performance, showing improved wrestling to go with his sniping outside striking. If the wrestling improvements aren’t a fluke, Ziam looks like he could be major force in a short time.
While no one will be surprised Tuivasa had a decent amount of Performance bonuses entering the event—he picked up his fifth in 13 appearances here—I get the feeling many will be surprised to learn it was Gane’s third given his reputation as a boring fighter. Magomedov and Saint-Denis both picked up the first bonuses of their UFC careers, Magomedov doing so in his debut and Saint-Denis in his third appearance.
Imavov, Stoltzfus, and Ziam remain the fighters with the most appearances from this card without a Performance Bonus to date, bringing their total to five showings without an extra $50K. Outside of those without bonuses, John Makdessi has officially gone the longest without picking up the extra money, going back to July of 2018, ironically that being the only bonus in his 19-fight UFC career. However, in terms of appearances, Makdessi’s inactivity leaves Jourdain with the most appearances since his last bonus with eight.