UFC Paris was a throwback event in ways both big and small. It’s understandable and borderline commendable how the promotion navigated the COVID era restrictions, but the ripple effect of those innovations resulted in budget Apex events notable for their pipes & drapes convention center decor events, populated with unfamiliar faces. On paper, UFC Paris wasn’t that much different from an Apex show. It featured a solid main and co-main event followed by a collection of fighters of which more than half lacked a wikipedia page.
UFC Paris was a change of scenery
As a resident of Denmark I was thrilled to have UFC Paris start at 9 p.m., reminiscent of my previous life in New York City. Denmark is a lot of quiet farmland interspersed with the occasional city and regional train station which is how the UFC has felt for a long time. Long stretches of repeating Apex events puntuated by a stellar PPV or solid on-location Fight Night. But on Saturday night in Paris the people turned out and transformed a card into a event. We forget that the fans in attendance can have a transformative effect on the fights themselves.
Were you not entertained?
I’ve been to a fair number of MMA events, from local fight nights to UFC PPV’s and the atmosphere at its best is a combination of live sporting and a rock concert. While individual fights contain the highs and lows of most stick and ball sports, there’s an added dynamic as the card moves toward its main event. Like a rock concert, you’re getting closer to the hits.
Midway through the concert the hipster picks come out and this weekend Benoit Saint-Denis was the UFC Paris show stealer. The Frenchman showed off a bit of everything: control in the wrestling grappling department versus a dangerous opponent in Thiago Moises, and a willingness to play with fire trying to finish Moises against the fence in round one (showing off a granite chin in the process).
Finally, the requisite discipline to get the finish upon being admonished by his corner not to brawl. Along with his fighting performance, Saint-Denis had a touch of showmanship after the stoppage striking a pose for the fans and generating the kind of cheers that likely stole Fight of the Night honors away from Ange Lossa and Rhys McKee. Go back and watch this fight if you haven’t seen it.
Rising star, setting sun
There was a rough spot for lots of fans outside of the arena when Rose Namajunas made her return to the octagon at UFC Paris, this time as a flyweight. 31-years-old and decade into her professional combat career, Namajunas has been a fan favorite for most of that time albeit one known for her precarious attachment to the fight game. I suspected that the larger Fiorot might be able to bully Rose, but Namajunas’ broken finger injury in the first round derailed any semblance of how an even matchup might have gone.
We’re left to wonder what the future holds for one of the best women to ever fight in the UFC, which is a strange situation. It’s so common for fighters to maintain a myopic attitute towards their career, often long after their best years have come and gone. Fiorot on the other hand appears to be a worthy title contender. Undefeated in the UFC and on an eleven fight win streak, the one hurdle between Fiorot and a date with destiny could be a trilogy bout between Alexa Grasso and Valentina Schevchenko. In that case I’d love to see the French fighter paired up with the streaking Erin Blanchfield.
Ciryl Gane was supposed to be the next generation of heavyweight champion. The UFC leaned heavily on him during the Francis Ngannou negotiations, and when he couldn’t deliver versus the champ, stumbling again versus Jon Jones it felt like the MMA community did a collective double take. Wait, can this guy wrestle… at all? In the heavyweight division that’s only a concern some of the time. A good chin and some athleticism will get you within striking distance of the belt; it worked out twice for Derrick Lewis.
UFC Paris proved that the talent pool at heavyweight remains shallow enough that Gane can bounce back from his white belt peformance against Jon Jones, looking like the sharpshooting bully who rattled off seven straight wins en route to an interim championship. Does this mean he’s on his way to facing Jones again? Not a chance. While I make my betting picks via coin toss, rest assured Ciryl Gane will never share the octagon again with Jon Jones.
Final Thoughts on UFC Paris
UFC Paris was a delight and it had as much to do with the atmosphere around the cage as what happened within its confines. MMA is a global sport and bringing it to the people is a component we may have taken for granted. I sat down with the fights and live sketched with charcoal and one of those moments, where Benoit Saint-Denis played to the crowd, could have never happened in the Apex.
There’s an intangible membrane that connects the fans and the fighters, a reicprocal relationship that data cannot quantify. We saw it earlier this year when Canada embraced Charles Oliveira after defeating Beneil Dariush. Conor McGregor’s legend was born out of his ability to connect with people and connecting with the crowd during the Dublin and Madison Square Garden fights cemented a legacy. It takes two to make a fight special. Usually it’s the combatants in the cage, but sometimes it’s the fighter and the crowd.
I’ll be back at the bloodyelbow substack on Thursday with The Fine Art of Violence column, a new art gallery of Saturday’s finest moments. Keep an eye out for the women’s flyweight division, it’s heating up. Take care of yourself and I’ll be back here next Monday. Chris
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