PARIS — The city of love turned into the city of fisticuffs Saturday, and native son Ciryl Gane put an exclamation point on a historic event.
Gane, the former UFC interim heavyweight champion, knocked out Tai Tuivasa at 4:23 of the third round in the epic main event of UFC Paris, the promotion’s first card in France. MMA was banned in the country until early 2020. Fighters representing France went 5-0 at Accor Arena in front of a loud, raucous sell-out crowd.
When the main event started, the fans chanted and sang the French national anthem. Tuivasa dropped Gane in the second round. When Gane finished Tuivasa a round later, the crowd went ballistic, jumping and dancing and yelling at the top of their lungs.
“Nobody on the planet expected this from the fans of France,” Gane said in his postfight interview. “But, bro, look at this. I’m so happy.”
Coming in, ESPN had Gane ranked No. 2 in the world and Tuivasa No. 5 at heavyweight. Gane was coming off a loss earlier this year in a title unification fight with former teammate Francis Ngannou.
“I want the belt,” Gane said. “That’s all I want. I want that belt.”
Gane started off the fight going to Tuivasa’s body and legs with kicks in an effort to sap the massive power in Tuivasa’s hands. That strategy was working well until Tuivasa caught Gane with a right hook in the second round, dropping him to the canvas. Gane was clearly hurt, and Tuivasa went in for the finish, but Gane survived.
Seconds later, Gane was able to fire back with crushing kicks to the body that hurt Tuivasa. Gane followed with punches, but Tuivasa ate them without going down. Gane landed a knee to the body, a jab and a step-in knee to the gut. Then, a head kick near the end of the round.
The crowd gave Gane and Tuivasa a standing ovation at the start of the third round after the wild second. The third didn’t disappoint, either. Gane landed several hard jabs, a body kick and then a head kick. He followed with a front kick to the head, and Tuivasa, who was bleeding from several facial cuts, again weathered the storm. Gane hit two hard front kicks to the body and then rocked Tuivasa coming in with a counter right hand. A Gane left put Tuivasa down for good as the crowd came unglued.
“He knocked me out,” Gane said. “He put the lights out. I had to be a warrior, and that’s what I did. I came back even stronger and got the win.”
Gane (11-1) fell to Ngannou in an emotional title fight at UFC 270 back in January. A native of La Roche-sur-Yon, France, he is 8-1 in the UFC with five finishes. Gane, 32, is an excellent athlete who has a background in Muay Thai and before that basketball and soccer. Many feel like he represents the next generation of athletic MMA heavyweights.
Tuivasa (14-4) had a five-fight winning streak snapped. The Australia-born slugger has not gone to decision in any of his past seven fights. Tuivasa, 29, lost three straight between 2018 and 2019 and seemed like he would be cut by the UFC, but he has made major improvements to his game and is now a legitimate top-five heavyweight.
“It wasn’t my day, but I come to fight,” Tuivasa said. “[Gane] is a warrior. Good on ya, brother.”