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Three things to watch at UFC Paris

The UFC heads to Paris this weekend in a show that marks its debut in France, with MMA only legalised in the country in 2020.

In keeping with the recent pattern of UFC Fight Night events, this one is top-heavy, headlined by Tai Tuivasa taking on Cyril Gane in a heavyweight contender fight. In the co-main event Robert Whittaker takes on the perpetually angry Marvin Vettori in a middleweight clash.

Let’s dive in and look at the key stories to keep your eye on at UFC Paris.

1. Really Dana White? This is what you want to do with Tai Tuivasa?

Tai “Bam Bam” Tuivasa is the definition of a fan favourite. A hard hitting, shoey-chugging, Spice Girl-loving Aussie who delivers as much excitement outside the cage as he does in it.

He has finished his last five fights by KO/TKO and won Performance of the Night in his last three. Just as importantly, he has walked out to songs by the aforementioned Spice Girls, Aqua and Cyndi Lauper. Clearly, Bam Bam just wants to have fun.

So why on earth would you put him in there with Cyril Gane? Gane is arguably the most technical striker the UFC heavyweight division has ever seen. In his most recent fight against champion Francis Ngannou, the champ struggled to lay a hand on him on the feet. Only Ngannou’s ability to shift gears and take the fight to the ground allowed him to walk out of there with his belt. We have never seen Tuivasa show any hint of a ground game and the last time he fought an agile, technical striker in the same league as Gane was in 2018 against a declining Junior Dos Santos – a fight Tuivasa lost by TKO.

I get that these two were probably destined to meet at some point but with the heavyweight division in such a state of limbo right now, it would have made sense to ride the shoey-train for a few more stops and see where it took us. Which leads to my next question…

(Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

2. What’s really going on in the heavyweight division?

Heavyweight champ Francis Ngannou has given every indication that he has no intention of signing another contract with the UFC unless his terms change drastically. With UFC president Dana White’s steadfast determination to keep as much of the money as he possibly can, a significant change seems unlikely.

What then are the stakes of the Tuivasa vs Gane fight? With a headline spot in his home country in a fight which is his to lose, it seems to me that the UFC is positioning Gane as the likely heir to the throne if Ngannou walks (what’s that saying about best laid plans?)

This doesn’t make a lot of sense when the logical fight for Gane would be number two ranked Stipe Miocic – an elite wrestler who would be a nightmare match-up for him. With Jon Jones still busy in the weight room and a steep drop-off in talent outside the top four, the heavyweight division seems to be running low on options.

3. Danger for Bobby Knuckles

Before the meteoric rise of Alexander Volkanovski, middleweight Robert “Bobby Knuckles” Whittaker carried the banner as the best Aussie MMA fighter we’d seen. After an up and down stint at welterweight when he first entered the UFC, Whittaker found a home at middleweight and has beaten everybody not named Israel Adesanya since.

Now he faces Marvin Vettori in a fight which has the makings of a trap for the Aussie. Since his middleweight debut in 2014, Whittaker has fought primarily strikers (or wrestlers who choose to strike such as the weird and wonderful figure that is Yoel Romero). In fact, Whittaker has spent just over three minutes on his back out in over three hours of fight time. The man who will stand across the cage from him averages 2 takedowns per fight and has spent a total of 33 minutes in top position.

You would have to think that Vettori’s team will be planning to take the Aussie down and test out his wrestling chops.

Bobby Knuckles is a deserved favourite over the irate Italian but there is reason to think this could be a tough night at the office. Vettori is no joke and if Whittaker can’t defend the take-downs, this one could end in an upset.

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