Do you hear the people sing? There hasn’t been a more anticipated fight in France since Jean Valjean’s showdown with Javert. With MMA recently legalized, the UFC makes its first trip to France with UFC Fight Night: Gane vs. Tuivasa. Frenchman Ciryl Gane enters this fight coming off a loss for the first time in his career. He recently came up short against Francis Ngannou as the two men met to unify the heavyweight title. Now he takes on Tai Tuivasa, who has rattled off five straight victories and each one has come by knockout. This fight has barnburner written all over it, as two of the most entertaining strikers in the heavyweight division clash.
The co-main event pits top middleweight contenders against each other as former titleholder Robert Whittaker takes on former title challenger Marvin Vettori. Each man has twice squared off against reigning champion Israel Adesanya and they have come up short a grand total of four times. With Adesanya slated to take on former kickboxing rival Alex Pereira at UFC 281, the winner of this co-main event matchup will still have some work to do, but will move a bit closer to another crack at capturing the middleweight belt.
The main card also features another middleweight clash as Alessio di Chirico squares off against Roman Kopylov. di Chirico has struggled mightily as of late, losing four out of his last five. His lone win in that stretch was an impressive head-kick knockout over Joaquin Buckley, who will fight on the prelims. Kopylov is also in need of a win, having dropped both of his UFC bouts.
UFC Fight Night: Gane vs. Tuivasa will be held in the Accor Arena in Paris, France. The event airs live in its entirety on ESPN+ starting at 12 p.m. ET. Combat Press writers Andrew Sumian and Matt Petela preview the action in this week’s edition of Toe-to-Toe.
Ciryl Gane’s only professional loss came in a title unification bout with Francis Ngannou; does he bounce back by defeating a surging Tai Tuivasa?
Sumian: I have been excited for this fight since it was announced. To make it even better, these two towering heavyweights headline the first-ever UFC event that takes place in France. Surely, the home favorite Ciryl Gane is expected to outclass power-puncher Tai Tuivasa. However, many will be surprised by the outcome on Saturday’s main event.
Gane has proven he is probably the second-best heavyweight currently on the UFC roster. His rise to a top contender was nothing short of impressive, and he has consistently defeated the best heavyweights put forth against him. He fell short against heavyweight kingpin Francis Ngannou, but is still more than capable of bouncing back and earning a second title shot. To do so, he will have to defeat the most exciting heavyweight in all of mixed martial arts.
It is hard not to be excited when Tai Tuivasa is fighting. The Sydney native is a prolific power puncher who entertains from start to finish. It is crazy to think that he was on a three-fight losing streak not so long ago. However, he has since bounced back and rattled off five straight wins by knockout, and, most recently, defeated longtime contender Derrick Lewis. Tuivasa will have his toughest test to date this coming Saturday.
Putting money on Tuivasa to win by knockout is one of the most profitable bets of this card. That is literally the only way he can win when facing a complete and calculated striker such as Gane. Despite Gane being considered a heavy favorite, Tuivasa will shock the world by finishing Gane in the second round. This is a bold take, to say the least, given the obvious skill difference between the two. However, fortune will favor Bam Bam as he makes it six-in-a-row and likely earns himself a title shot at some point in 2023.
Petela: Ciryl Gane is going to beat Tai Tuivasa like he stole a loaf of bread. There is no doubt that Tuivasa is a heck of a threat to finish the fight with a single fight, but he won’t get the chance to do so, because Gane is so far technically superior. This will be one-sided from the jump. Gane is going to be fleet of foot throughout and work behind a stiff jab to keep Tai Tuivasa from spending much time in boxing range.
Tuivasa is a very entertaining fighter and personality, but, as it stands right now, he is not a title threat. He needs to round out his game to become more than just a hard-charging, beer-chugging fan favorite. He will look puzzled throughout the contest, and, by the late rounds, he will be exhausted from chasing the elusive Gane around the cage. A well-placed jab late will be the straw that broke the camel’s back, and Tuivasa will crumble as Gane does his part to try and earn another shot at the heavyweight strap.
Robert Whitttaker and Marvin Vettori have both come up short twice against Israel Adesanya; which man comes out on top when they square off against each other?
Petela: Robert Whittaker is one of the most well-rounded mixed martial artists on the planet. His rematch with Israel Adesanya was ultra-competitive and a subset of folks believed he deserved the nod in that fight. For Marvin Vettori, the rematch with Adesanya wasn’t as close as the pair’s first meeting, and his offensive wrestling was nullified by Adesanya’s footwork.
While Whittaker doesn’t have the elusive footwork that Adesanya has, he has stellar takedown defense and can score a takedown of his own if necessary. The perfect example of that was his fight with Kelvin Gastelum. Gastelum is a far more credentialed wrestler, yet Whittaker’s MMA wrestling proved to be incredibly effective. That will be the case against Vettori as well, as Whittaker is able to use his pinpoint striking accuracy to chip away at Vettori and will be able to stifle the takedown attempts early on until Vettori begins to slow down. By the third and final round, Whittaker will be able to throw with almost reckless abandon without the fear of what’s coming back his way from Vettori. It will be a late TKO stoppage win for Whittaker, and there will be no doubt who is more deserving of a potential third fight with “The Last Stylebender” sometime in the future.
Sumian: My colleague broke this fight down in the most perfect manner. Whittaker and Vettori are the two best middleweights after Izzy. However, Whittaker is just better all around. He will use his crafty footwork and speed to outpoint Vettori and earn himself a unanimous decision victory.
William Gomis, Jarno Errens, Abus Magomedov, Ailin Perez, Michal Figlak, and Gabriel Miranda — do we need to know these names?
Sumian: Abus Magomedov and Gabriel Miranda are the only two that deserve considerable attention going into Saturday night. They have both established impressive records outside the UFC and will find themselves in favorable positions if they are victorious on Saturday night. Like all debutants, only time will tell.
Petela: I’m always less optimistic than my colleague, and this week is no different. I am not sold on any of the newcomers debuting on this card, but I’ve certainly been wrong before trying to pick the best prospects.
What one fighter’s UFC career is on the ropes at this event?
Petela: Probably Nasrat Haqparast. He has dropped two in a row and it looks like the hype that he built up in his early UFC run is largely gone. He might not get cut with a loss, but, if he doesn’t pull off an impressive performance, he is at serious risk of becoming just another guy in the UFC who falls into the what-could-have-been category.
Sumian: The loser of Marvin Vettori versus Robert Whittaker is absolutely finished when it comes to title aspirations after Saturday night. This is the last call for both men who combine for 0-4 against the champion. The loser will find themselves entering gatekeeper status for the remainder of their UFC career.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
Sumian: Charles Jourdain and Nathaniel Wood could have headlined a fight night on the right card. These two are pure entertainers and combine for 26 finishes. This main-card opener will get the crowd roaring and deliver the fight of the night.
Petela: Nassourdine Imavov vs. Joaquin Buckley. This has fun written all over it. Imavov comes in having won two straight in devastating fashion. Buckley will always be best known for his spinning back kick knockout over Impa Kasanganay and that type of magic is seemingly only one strike away. This fight steals the show early.
Who takes home the “Performance of the Night” honors?
Petela: Benoit Saint-Denis. I still can’t get over his performance in his short-notice debut against Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos. That was a level of toughness that is rarely ever on display, even in the world of combat sports. He picked up a submission win in his sophomore performance, and he will pick up another stoppage in front of a friendly hometown crowd.
Sumian: Nassourine Imavov. Jouain Buckley is fun to say the least. However, this is a huge mismatch in both size and skill. Imavov will do as he pleases and finish Buckley before the end of the second round. Imavov is one of the best middleweight prospects and is only getting better.
Pair this card with…
Sumian: Ordering in from one of your local French restaurants. This card is an epic slate to kick off the UFC’s arrival to France. It will deliver in more ways than one and make fans who tuned in thankful that they did. Bonus: The rap group Sniper has some of the most hype French rap I have ever heard. Tune in to get extra pumped and enjoy a night that is sure to entertain!
Petela: Les Miserables. It’s probably the best piece of literature to come out of France and the musical is unparalleled. So on Friday night, kick back and watch your favorite version of the musical and let it get you fired up for the fight card to follow on Saturday.
|Fight||Sumian’s Pick||Petela’s Pick|
|Main Card (ESPN+, 3 p.m. ET)|
|HW: Ciryl Gane vs. Tai Tuivasa||Tuivasa||Gane|
|MW: Robert Whittaker vs. Marvin Vettori||Whittaker||Whittaker|
|MW: Alessio Di Chirico vs. Roman Kopylov||Kopylov||Kopylov|
|LW: John Makdessi vs. Nasrat Haqparast||Haqparast||Haqparast|
|FW: William Gomis vs. Jarno Errens||Gomis||Gomis|
|FW: Charles Jourdain vs. Nathaniel Wood||Jourdain||Wood|
|Preliminary Card (ESPN+, 12 p.m. ET)|
|MW: Abus Magomedov vs. Dustin Stoltzfus||Magomedov Pick||Stoltzfus|
|LW: Fares Ziam vs. Michal Figlak||Ziam||Taha|
|MW: Nassourdine Imavov vs. Joaquin Buckley||Imavov||Buckley|
|LW: Benoit Saint Denis vs. Gabriel Miranda||Saint Denis||Saint Denis|
|BW: Christian Quinonez vs. Khalid Taha||Taha||Taha|
|Women’s FW: Stephanie Egger vs. Ailin Perez||Perez||Perez|