French phenom Ciryl Gane will look to put on a show in front of his home crowd when he squares off against Serghei Spivac in a heavyweight headliner at UFC Paris on Saturday night, writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.
The co-main event at Accor Arena is another much-anticipated affair as local lass Manon Fiorot welcomes former two-time strawweight champion Rose Namajunas to the flyweight division.
Also set to fight on home soil is Benoit Saint-Denis, who takes on Thiago Moises, as well as William Gomis and Yanis Ghemmouri, who go toe-to-toe, while former light heavyweight title challenger Volkan Oezdemir battles Bogdan Guskov.
MAIN CARD (from 9 PM Saturday SA time):
Ciryl Gane (1.60) v Serghei Spivac (2.40) (Heavyweight)
Gane (11-2) rocked the Accor Arena when he headlined the first-ever UFC event in France last September, stopping Tai Tuivasa in the third round of a back-and-forth battle, and while he’ll be keen to thrill again, he’ll be plotting a cleaner performance this time around.
The win over Tuivasa earned Gane a shot at the vacant heavyweight title against Jon Jones, the consensus greatest mixed martial artist of all time, in March. It was a short and disappointing night for the Frenchman as he suffered a quick submission loss, which was just his second career defeat, and he’s determined to put that behind him in Paris.
A former interim champion and currently ranked second, Gane has established himself as one of the elite 265-pounders on the planet. “Bon Gamin” is a freak athlete, a muscle-bound behemoth who moves like a middleweight. Light on his feet, he bounces around the Octagon and tags opponents from all sorts of angles with sharp striking and superior speed.
He’s patient and disciplined, a cerebral tactician who quickly reads his rival’s rhythm and adapts accordingly, finding openings, setting traps and capitalising on opportunities. His tireless gas tank makes him that much more of a terror as he’s shown he’s as fresh in the last round as he is in the first.
Spivac (16-3) is a curious case of a fighter who’s flown under the radar and never looked like he’d break into the elite. Yet, the Moldovan has climbed up to eighth in the rankings, thanks in large part to his upset win over two-time title challenger Derrick Lewis in February, which stretched his win streak to three.
On one hand, the way he controlled and submitted Lewis in less than four minutes was ultra-impressive, but on the other, “The Black Beast” looked unmotivated ahead of and disinterested during the fight. Therefore, the jury is still out on whether Spivac is truly a top 10 calibre heavyweight. Gane is a major step-up in competition for him and if he can somehow pull off an upset, there would be no denying he belongs in the upper echelons of the division.
The reason why Spivac’s an overachiever in my eyes is he’s not exceptional in any department. He’s not a top athlete, a knockout artist, a powerful wrestler or a jiu-jitsu wizard. He’s simply solid and yet, he’s scratched and clawed his way to a main event showdown against a former titleholder.
His gameplan will undoubtedly be to grapple as much as possible, especially given how Jones was able to submit Gane. However, in the understatement of the decade, Spivac is no Jones.
Gane’s speed and movement should see him keep the fight on the feet for the most part, where his superior striking and three-inch reach advantage lead to him picking up a popular TKO win.
Manon Fiorot (1.54) v Rose Namajunas (2.54) (Flyweight)
Former two-time strawweight champion Namajunas (11-5) starts a new chapter in her career as she faces the formidable Fiorot (10-1) in her flyweight debut.
One of the greatest and most popular fighters in women’s MMA history, “Thug” has done everything there is to do at 115 pounds twice over and plans to conquer a second weight class.
Wasting no time at all, she’s jumping straight into the deep end of the 125-pound talent pool looking to fast-track herself into title contention by felling the No 2-ranked contender.
Fast with her strikes (see her lightning-quick head kick knockout of Zhang Weili) and footwork, she’ll have to maximise her speed advantage and be as elusive as possible against her bigger foe.
She’s the better grappler with slick submissions, however, legitimate flyweights struggle to take down the strong Fiorot, so it’s unlikely that Namajunas will be able to.
Fiorot will receive a hero’s welcome from her hometown crowd as she returns to action following knee surgery. A prolific, highly technical striker, “The Beast” is a perfect 5-0 in the UFC with her last three wins coming by decision.
In addition to having a power advantage, she’s a far more active striker than Namajunas, landing almost double the number of significant blows per minute as her decorated opponent, which in a fight destined to go the distance, should prove decisive.
Benoit Saint-Denis (1.64) v Thiago Moises (2.30) (Lightweight)
Lightweights riding waves of momentum collide in the featured bout. Saint-Denis (11-1) has won three on the bounce by finish, submissions bookending a TKO, while Moises (17-6) has claimed back-to-back tap-out victories.
Both men are excellent grapplers, which makes for an intriguing stylistic match-up. Often in such cases, it ends up being a striking battle, but wrestling is such a big part of Saint-Denis’ game that I expect plenty of scrambles in this one.
The Frenchman, whose lone defeat came by decision to Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos in his UFC debut, has a judo background and a mind for battle as a former special ops operative.
Moises is a fluid Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt. Serpent-like, he seamlessly transitions from one submission attempt to the next, so casual fans shouldn’t check out if the fight goes to the ground as he can clamp on a submission out of nowhere.
Having said that, Saint-Denis has the strength and top control to ground and safely control the Brazilian on the mat. He’s also the busier striker and will benefit from a two-and-a-half-inch reach advantage.
Add the fact that he has home advantage and “The God of War” should win a whirlwind of a dust-up.
Volkan Oezdemir (1.54) v Bogdan Guskov (2.54) (Light Heavyweight)
Originally scheduled to face Azamat Murzakanov, Oezdemir (18-7) will welcome Guskov (14-2) to the UFC instead.
A former title challenger, Oezdemir has mixed it up with the very best at 205 pounds, from ex-champions Daniel Cormier and Jiri Prochazka to Magomed Ankalaev, and holds wins over the likes of Aleksandar Rakic and Paul Craig.
As his nickname suggests, “No Time” is a lethal striker with a dozen knockouts to his name and while he’s past his prime, he remains a dangerous obstacle and a member of the light heavyweight top 10.
Coming in on short notice, Guskov is a largely unknown product of the Russian and European regional circuit. He’s primarily a striker and a natural finisher with all of his wins coming by stoppage, including 12 knockouts.
However, the level of competition he’s faced is worlds apart from Oezdemir, who’s ranked ninth in the world, so bank on the proven Swiss to outclass the newcomer.
William Gomis (1.44) v Yanis Ghemmouri (2.85) (Featherweight)
A switcheroo times two gets the main card underway as both men were slated to face different opponents.
After Lucas Almeida was ruled out of his fight against Gomis (12-2) on Monday, Ghemmouri (12-1) was pulled from his bout against Caolan Loughran and matched up with his fellow Frenchman instead.
Both men are on long winning streaks, Gomis having won 10 on the trot and Ghemmouri nine. The key difference is Gomis has invaluable Octagon experience. He debuted on the previous UFC Paris card and is 2-0 in the promotion, whereas Ghemmouri is making his UFC debut.
That experience, along with his superior striking, should see Gomis get his hand raised.