Make no mistake, the UFC is giving Paris the highest quality card it can. Cyril Gane entered the year with the interim heavyweight championship around his waist. He squares off with the one man that can squeeze an entertaining fight out of anyone at heavyweight in Tai Tuivasa. In the co-main event, former middleweight champion Robert Whittaker faces recent title challenger Marvin Vettori as the UFC looks to sort out the hierarchy of those whom Israel Adesanya has already disposed of.
It’s been rare when Fight Night cards have a main event of the quality of either of these contests. Paris gets two of these fights. Plus, Charles Jourdain has been developing into one of the more consistent action fighters on the roster. I’ll admit the depth of the card isn’t superior, but it’s meaty where it needs to be.
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Cyril Gane vs. Tai Tuivasa, Heavyweight
This contest presents one hell of a conundrum. Gane is no doubt the attraction for the live audience, being the first native-born Frenchman to hold any sort of UFC gold. However, his tendency to point fight doesn’t excite audiences and he didn’t accomplish the job the UFC set out for him when he fell to Francis Ngannou earlier this year. Given Tuivasa is about as entertaining as it gets in the heavyweight division – and has one of the most likeable personalities to go with it – you better believe the UFC would love for him to knock the block off Gane.
Obviously, that’s going to be easier said than done. Gane has faced all the other notable heavy-handed punchers in the division this side of Tuivasa and none of them have come close to putting him away. Perhaps some will say his chin hasn’t been tested yet, but that in itself is proof of just how good he is. One thing fight fans tend to forget about fighting is a large part of it involves not getting hit in return. Gane’s knowledge of angles, distance, timing, and footwork make him the most defensively sound heavyweight in the world. Well, his striking defense is awesome at the very least….
Ngannou exposed Gane’s inexperience on the mat. None of Gane’s previous opponents made a point of putting the former kickboxer on his back, though it seems obvious in retrospect it should have been an emphasis. Of course, does anyone believe Tuivasa might be willing to take that route? Given the Mark Hunt protégé has yet to secure a single takedown in the course of 11 fights, it seems highly unlikely.
Where would Tuivasa win the fight? Yes, I know he’s always one punch away from victory. I wouldn’t say Tuivasa is quite on par with Ngannou’s power, but he isn’t far off. Plus, he has the chin to endure a hell of a beating himself. The question is whether Tuivasa has the discipline or savvy to lure in Gane into a brutal connection. To be fair to Tuivasa, he has matured a LOT since his three-fight losing streak, evolving beyond just being a brawler. But has he evolved to the point where his bullish style will find success against the matador that is Gane?
The guess here is he doesn’t. Like I previously stated, Gane has been able to avoid the power of some of the division’s hardest hitters already and most of them have been more effective at setting traps. Perhaps Tuivasa continues to improve and shocks us all by lulling Gane to sleep, but a lucky shot seems more likely. Given Gane’s track record, I can’t count on that. I can see Tuivasa having limited success in pushing Gane into the clinch and hoping to put his close distance power to good use, but Gane is a skilled clinch fighter himself. Throw in questions about Tuivasa’s ability to effectively go five rounds and that he’s flying halfway around the world to touch down in France and I feel confident in picking Gane to return to his winning ways. Gane via decision
Robert Whittaker vs. Marvin Vettori, Middleweight
The only way this contest has any immediate impact on the title picture is if Alex Pereira stuns the world and dethrones Adesanya given both Whittaker and Vettori have suffered losses to Adesanya not once, but twice. It’s unfortunate as it takes away from what would normally be an even more hyped contest.
Regardless of the potential lack of consequence from the result of this contest, this is still about as good of a co-main event as will be found on a Fight Night card. A former champion, Whittaker enters the contest as a sizeable favorite. In fact, I’d say it’s that he is a former champion that has the odds as wide in his favor as they are. There wasn’t a lot that separated the performances of Whittaker and Vettori in their most recent contests with Adesanya. Vettori was the more aggressive fighter, constantly moving forward, looking for takedowns, and exercising more control when comparing their performances against the champ. Whittaker was able to use his savvy to score timely offense, allowing him to take at least one round in each of the judges’ cards. Well, that and Whittaker made a reasonable effort to avoid Adesanya’s return fire.
For all the improvements Vettori has displayed as he made his march up the middleweight ladder, defense has been the one thing that hasn’t made any major leaps. That said, it would be dishonest to call him a brawler who absorbs insane amounts of damage. Always burly for the division, Vettori has made excellent strides in his wrestling to translate his physical strength into a positive when it became apparent KO victories weren’t going to be a regular part of his record. Not that he doesn’t have power, but the finishes weren’t coming. In the process, Vettori also began focusing more on being the aggressor, rarely taking a step back and pushing an insane pace. Sure, Vettori does begin to look tired in the waning stages of the fight, but it’s only his appearance that indicates fatigue as he continues to push a pace. It was the fifth round of his fight with Jack Hermansson he landed his most significant strikes, 54 to be exact. That’s a high number for any round, let alone the final round of a five-round contest.
Aside from the constant pressure, much of the same could be said about Whittaker. While he doesn’t pursue takedowns as aggressively as Vettori, Whittaker has made them a consistent staple of his arsenal in his last couple of fights. Plus, Whittaker has never looked tired down the stretch of a fight and he himself has had his fair share of five round contests. What separates Whittaker from Vettori is Whittaker is far more content to let the fight come to him than Vettori. Not that Whittaker isn’t willing to be the aggressor, but his natural feel for the standup – his boxing to be more specific – is amongst the best in the business.
This is one of the hardest fights for me to pick in quite a while. I have no idea how in the hell this could be anything other than a pick ‘em in the betting odds. I’d slightly favor Whittaker in a five round fight as he does a better job of absorbing information and utilizing it over the course of a fight. However, in just three rounds, Vettori’s aggression could give him the edge on the scorecards in the shorter contest. Even with that, I’d probably still lean towards Whittaker, but for questions about Whittaker’s fire. Whittaker was fighting to get back to the top during his recent stretch. Now, he’s talking about moving up to 205. I’m not so sure Whittaker’s focus is entirely on Vettori. If it isn’t, I think it will cost him. Vettori via decision
- For someone as credentialed as Roman Kopylov is in sambo and hand-to-hand combat, you’d expect him to be tearing things up in the middleweight division. Instead, he still finds himself without a win within the organization more than two years after his debut. Much of that is due to inactivity, but for someone who appeared to have such a rock solid, technical foundation, it has been a bit of a surprise. It appears jitters has gotten the better of him as he hasn’t allowed his physical gifts to shine through the way they did on the regional scene. If he fights to the capabilities he has shown in Russia, he should easily be able to overcome Alessio Di Chirico. Not that Di Chirico is a bum. The Italian has snuck up on several opponents who have underestimated him. He’s not considered to be a KO artist, but half his UFC wins saw him put his opponent to sleep. He isn’t considered a wrestler either, but the other half of his UFC wins came with a grinding approach against the cage and on the mat. However, the reason opponents have slept on Di Chirico is he is nothing special physically and tends to be outworked by those more talented than him. I wouldn’t put money on it, but Kopylov is the pick. Kopylov via decision
- It isn’t just that Nasrat Haqparast has lost his last two fights that has fans jumping off his bandwagon. MMA fans are forgiving of losses. It’s that Haqparast has lost both those fights in a non-competitive manner. As much respect as Dan Hooker and Bobby Green have earned, neither one has established themselves as the type of fighters who can deconstruct Haqparast without him losing some credibility. Haqparast is a model of excellent technique, his jab in particular being an effective weapon. However, there’s a lack of creativity to his game that keeps him from breaking through his current level. The UFC still appears to like him as they appear to be giving him a step back in hopes of him regaining his footing, pitting him against John Makdessi. There are few in the division with a more expert level of angles, technique, and distance than Makdessi. He has to be at his size and somehow managing to be an outfighter at heart. However, he’s always been one-dimensional – he has never secured a takedown despite being on the UFC roster for over a decade – and is now 37 years old. Makdessi has a fantastic chance of pulling off the upset if the fight remains a kickboxing match. Given Haqparast’s wrestling record isn’t much better – just one takedown over five years – I expect it will be a kickboxing match. Unless Haqparast’s confidence hasn’t been shaken in the least, I expect the upset to materialize. Makdessi via decision
- Perhaps not the most hyped prospects to be touching down in the UFC, that doesn’t mean there isn’t potential staying power for William Gomis and Jarno Errens as they make their official debuts. At 25 and 27 respectively, youth is on their side and both are also large for the division. That leaves open the question of how long they might be able to continue to fight at 145. In terms of raw talent, Gomis appears to have the edge, showing the ability to fire kicks at the drop of a hat with the power to make a serious difference. However, the Frenchman also shows enough of an identity crisis in how he wants to fight, resulting in some serious inconsistency within a single fight, much less from fight to fight. While the variance in the level of performance from Errens isn’t as severe, it has cropped up as well, leaving hesitancy on my part to pick the Dutchman. If Errens can close the distance and utilize his judoka skills to wear Gomis down in the clinch and maybe flip him to the mat frequently enough, the win is most likely his. Even with his problems in consistency, I see enough in Gomis’ movement and grappling to ensure his offense stands out more. Gomis via decision
- It’s a quick turnaround for both Nathaniel Wood and Charles Jourdain, both having competed less than two months ago. It seems particularly quick for Jourdain given the back-and-forth he had with the since departed Shane Burgos, but the French-Canadian striker has never been accused of being anything other than ballsy. Leaping and spinning attacks have been a central part of his attack, but he’s been anchoring his attack with more fundamentals as of late. Combine that with a mean streak and he’s really turned a new leaf over the last year. It’s hard to say where Wood is at. Tired of requiring an entire camp to cut down to 135, Wood made the move to 145 and looked like a million bucks in disposing of Charles Rosa. Then again, anyone who has proven themselves to be a UFC talent has walked all over Rosa the last few years. Wood is well-rounded, but he isn’t nearly as explosive as Jourdain. Perhaps more worrisome, it’s unknown how well his wrestling game is going to translate to a heavier weight class. Not that wrestling is central to his attack, but wrestling has been central to every one of Jourdain’s losses in the UFC. If I was convinced Wood’s body was optimized for featherweight, I might be willing to take a flyer on a Wood upset. Given his decision to transition to 145 was on the quick side, I’m sticking with the favorite in this one. Jourdain via decision