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Hot Tweets: After UFC Paris, where do Ciryl Gane, Tai Tuivasa, and Robert Whittaker go from here?

Ciryl Gane following UFC Paris
Ciryl Gane following UFC Paris
Photo by JULIEN DE ROSA/AFP via Getty Images

Howdy, y’all!

It was a big weekend in combat sports, what with the UFC making its debut in France at UFC Paris, so with so many important things having happened, let’s answer some questions.


Ciryl Gane

This is a really good question, because while Gane explicitly stated he doesn’t want Curtis Blaydes (smart man!), that is overwhelmingly likely to be his next fight.

The heavyweight division is in a bit of a quagmire at the moment, because for the past several years, the champion has not been particularly active. When it was Stipe Miocic, he basically spent three years fighting Cormier, and now Francis Ngannou is hurt. When you have so few title defenses over such a long stretch, that allows a bunch of fighters to put together title-worthy resumes, and if the title changes hands during that stretch, it only further muddies the water. That’s where we are right now, and the sad reality for Gane is he’s near the bottom of the totem pole in the interim title conversation. While Miocic vs. Jon Jones isn’t a done deal, it seems likely to happen near the end of the year, and the only other name that makes sense for Gane is Blaydes.

Now, there is a world where either Miocic or Jones could try to hardball the UFC and then have Gane step in for either — remember, Jones has already done that once — but that’s an outside shot.

As for Ngannou, I don’t think he’s coming back. I would certainly advise against it were I in his corner, because not only is it the most lucrative option available, it’s also the one with the most flexibility. If he re-signs with the UFC, Ngannou becomes beholden to the promotion for however long the terms are. That’s that. But if Ngannou doesn’t, then he’s free to do whatever he wants, for as long as he wants. He can box Fury and then, if there’s an appetite for it, box Anthony Joshua or something else entirely. Or he can return to the UFC. It’s not like they won’t re-sign him if he goes off on his own for a boxing match or two.

So given this, I simply don’t see why Ngannou would re-sign with the UFC at this moment. He bet on himself at UFC 270 and he won. The man should reap the full benefits of that.


Tai Tuivasa’s chin

Well, Ngannou couldn’t stand with Gane for very different reasons than you’re suggesting. Gane wasn’t seriously hurting Ngannou, he was just taking him to school — the same way Gane was doing to Tuivasa until that one big haymaker landed. Also, it bears mentioning, Ngannou had only one working knee in that fight, which may have played a role in his ability to stand effectively with Gane. That being said, I think Tuivasa has a better chance than most at unseating Ngannou because he hits so hard and is so damn durable. Would I favor him? No. But he’s got a shot.

The number of blows Tuivasa ate that would have felled a tree, much less a man, were too numerous to count. Gane is not the most powerful hitter in the division — not because he’s got pillow hands, but because he rarely sits down on his strikes for tactical reasons — but he absolutely hammered Tuivasa with some monster shots, and “Bam Bam” kept right on fighting. That head kick in the (I think) third round that landed flush and jolted Tuivasa upright should have decapitated him, and somehow Tuivasa had the wherewithal to still fire back heaters at him. If Ngannou rushes Tuivasa like he did Jairzinho Rozenstruik, there is certainly the chance the Tuivasa is able to hold up and land his own hammers back that Ngannou can’t take, but I wouldn’t bet on it for two reasons.

First, I don’t believe there is a man alive who can take a full power shot from Ngannou and stay conscious. It’s a matter of science. The human body cannot withstand blunt force trauma to that degree and remain upright. So if Ngannou lands on Tuivasa, that’s ball game.

Second, Ngannou himself has a damn good chin. The champ hasn’t had to eat too many big shots in his career, but you can go watch his first fight with Miocic and know this man is tough as hell, because Miocic hits hard and he couldn’t get and entirely gassed Ngannou out of there. That gives me pause in thinking Tuivasa could do it, and in the end that’s what cost “Bam Bam” against Gane. In the pre-fight build up, Tuivasa said, “If I dink him, I sink him,” but that wasn’t true. Tuivasa landed as well as he could have hoped on Gane, and while Gane was in a world of danger, he held up and overcame. That’s the dynamic here: Tuivasa has no margin for error, where Ngannou has some. At least, that’s how I see it.


Where does Tuivasa go?

No, which is a change from my earlier position.

Heading into UFC Paris, I was vocal in thinking that the clock was about to strike midnight on Tuivasa’s Cinderella run, and while it ultimately did, he showed me enough in this fight to believe that while he may not actually be a top-5 heavyweight, he’s not far off.

To be a successful MMA heavyweight, you need three things: durability, athleticism, and power (these things are important for any weight class, but you can be a good fighter without one of them in other weight classes – at heavyweight, you need all three, or you’re cannon fodder). Tuivasa has them all, which puts him in a great position, especially since he’s only 29 years old. If Tuivasa can continue to add wrinkles to his game, he probably will be a guy who hangs around near the top of the division for some time, especially since he’s already a fan favorite, which goes a long way in the favorable matchmaking department.

That being said, at this moment in time I don’t think Tuivasa is a Top-5 heavyweight, but he is firmly in the top-10. I would pick Ngannou, Gane, Miocic, Blaydes, and Tom Aspinall all to beat him, and probably even the two Alexanders, Volkov and Romanov. But he’s got a much higher ceiling than I previously thought.


Robert Whittaker

Man, that Bobby Knuckles is pretty good, huh?

Whittaker broke Marvin Vettori at UFC Paris, which maybe wasn’t a huge surprise to some but really took me aback. Vettori is not the best fighter in the world, but he’s an absolute hammer, and even Israel Adesanya didn’t take the will to fight out of him. The problem is, Whittaker is now firmly in the dreaded Rich Franklin Zone — the limbo of MMA. Actually, Whittaker is arguably in an even worse spot than Franklin was because at least Franklin could occupy himself with interesting superfights or catchweight bouts. But there aren’t really many of those available to Whittaker.

Truth is, Whittaker is sort of just stuck for the moment. But fortunately, it won’t be for long. Alex Pereira has a decent chance to unseat Adesanya and claim the middleweight title. If that happens, Whittaker is first up for a title shot (I know kickboxing is not MMA, but given the promotion for that fight is entirely about Pereira beating Adesanya twice, it’s hard to see them giving Izzy an immediate rematch if he gets bolted). He could find himself as the middleweight champion by as early as next spring. Even if Pereira loses, Whittaker still might have a shot at the title by next year, because Adesanya isn’t long for 185. He’s already said he wants to move up to 205, and if he beats Pereira, I think he does it. There will be nothing left for him to accomplish at middleweight, and then he can start his pursuit of champ-champ status, leaving Whittaker to reclaim the title.

And for those saying “I’d watch Whittaker fight Adesanya again!” I mean, sure, if it happens that’s fine, but I honestly don’t have much interest in it. They’ve fought twice, and I thought Adesanya clearly won them both. He’s a better fight, and the style matchup massively favors him. If they fought 20 times, Izzy wins 18 of them. I am less interested in seeing Whittaker try to high-roll against Adesanya than I am in getting fresh matchups for both men.


Superfights

While I kind of enjoy the idea of just pitting Frankin-Zoned fighters against each other, that would be an atrocious style matchup for Covington, and one I don’t think he’d take. Plus, with Leon Edwards having claimed the welterweight title, Covington’s path to the belt is actually pretty open right now. I see no reason for him to move up at the moment. However, there’s another welterweight I would love to see make the jump up: Kamaru Usman.

If Adesanya does vacate the middleweight division like I expect, then Usman is free to move up and chase a second title. Win or lose in the trilogy against Edwards, Usman vs. Whittaker for the vacant middleweight strap is something I am very much interested in watching.


Rankings

I’m unclear what rankings you’re talking about. In the MMA Fighting Global Rankings, Nassourdine Imavov is ranked No. 14, and Till is not ranked. Because why would Darren Till be ranked? He hasn’t won a fight since 2019, a split decision over Kelvin Gastelum who has also won one fight in the past four years. Like with Conor McGregor, having Till ranked is entirely indefensible, and any rankings that do so are obviously hogwash.


Paris and the UFC

It was hard for me to judge how good the crowd was, not being there in person, but the French crowd certainly seemed to be pretty good. European sporting crowds are all good, though. They’re just straight up better at sports fandom than Americans are. They have songs and chants and enthusiasm; America has the “woo” birds and “U.S.A.” chants, which are impossibly stupid unless it’s an actual international competition.

But I digress. I don’t know where the French crowd ranks except to say it was certainly behind the UFC’s London return in March. That crowd was one of the best crowds I’ve ever seen for a UFC event, so they’re tough to top. But France definitely held its own, and I would be stunned if the UFC didn’t make this a year stop.


One Non-UFC Paris Question

Sweden. Khamzat Chimaev should claim the welterweight title sometime next year.


Thanks for reading and thank you for everyone who sent in Tweets! Do you have any burning questions about things at least somewhat related to combat sports? Then you’re in luck, because you can send your Hot Tweets to me, @JedKMeshew, and I will answer them! Doesn’t matter if they’re topical or insane. Send them to me and I’ll answer the ones I like the most. Let’s have fun.

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