5 Fights We Need to See After UFC Fight Night 209
There are a lot of fun fights to be made after UFC Fight Night 209.
The event went down Saturday in Paris, France. It was the UFC's first visit to the country, and the promotion put together a solid card to celebrate the occasion.
In the main event, local hero Ciryl Gane posted a brilliant performance against the ridiculously tough Tai Tuivasa. Outside of a second-round knockdown, the French heavyweight was in control for the entirety of the fight and finally ended things with a ferocious attack to the body and head in Round 3.
The evening's co-main event easily could have headlined its own card, as former middleweight champion and No. 1-ranked contender Robert Whittaker took on No. 2 contender Marvin Vettori. Vettori showed impressive grit in the fight, eating several head kicks that likely would have stopped lesser fighters, but ultimately lost a clear-cut unanimous decision to his decorated foe.
Earlier on the main card, France's Nassourdine Imavov—the UFC's No. 12-ranked middleweight—picked up an impressive unanimous-decision win over Joaquin Buckley, who was unranked heading into the fight but proved himself as a worthy foe. England's Nathaniel Wood also impressed on the main card, moving to 2-0 at featherweight with a unanimous-decision win over the significantly larger Charles Jourdain of Canada.
It was a night fans will be chattering about for weeks to come—particularly those who attended live in France.
Keep scrolling for the fights we're hoping to see when everybody is healed up.
Ciryl Gane vs. Curtis Blaydes
It's hard to imagine UFC Fight Night 209 going much better for Ciryl Gane.
Not only did the Paris-based heavyweight score an impressive third-round TKO win over tough Australian Tai Tuivasa, but he survived a second-round knockdown to make it happen, adding drama to what would have otherwise been a pretty lopsided win. It was a thrill for everybody watching, particularly those inside the host Accor Arena.
The win comes after a January decision loss to reigning heavyweight king Francis Ngannou. It was exactly what he needed after that setback, but it's unfortunately very unclear what the next step will be for him.
In a way, his future seems to hinge on Ngannou's next move. The heavyweight champion is embroiled in a contract dispute with the UFC—one that could end with him leaving the promotion, in which case a new champion would need to be crowned. In that unlikely event, Gane would almost certainly be involved in the fight for the vacant title, be it against former champion Stipe Miocic, former light heavyweight king Jon Jones or somebody else.
But that's just one possible outcome of a very complex situation. There are a lot of ways Ngannou's contract situation could shake out, and only a few of them end with Gane fighting for the title next.
A more likely outcome is that the Frenchman needs to fight once more in the meantime, if only to allow a clearer pecking order to emerge. If that's the way things go, the best opponent for Gane is probably American wrestling specialist Curtis Blaydes.
Blaydes was last in action in July, when he picked up a disappointing but important win over Tom Aspinall, who went down after a leg kick gone wrong just 15 seconds into their fight. After that win, he's in a similar position to Gane: right on the cusp of a title shot but not quite there yet.
It only makes sense that the two heavyweights fight each other. The fact that the matchup would be an awesome style clash between the most technical striker and most successful wrestler in the division is just a bonus.
Tui Tuivasa vs. Tom Aspinall
Tai Tuivasa didn't get the win he sought in Paris, but his legend only grew in his losing effort to Ciryl Gane.
The beloved, beer-swilling Australian showed ridiculous toughness in defeat, weathering some massive shots before he finally hit the deck in Round 3. He also left the cage with the distinction of being the only man to drop Ciryl Gane in the UFC.
In other words, he's unlikely to lose much ground in defeat. He'll get another big name when he's ready to get back in there.
Our pick is a fight with England's Tom Aspinall, who—as we've already covered—suffered a disastrous injury-induced loss to Curtis Blaydes earlier this summer.
The fight, which was over in 15 seconds, left Aspinall with a torn MCL and meniscus. He's already undergone surgery to repair those injuries but will likely be out of action for some time.
That's actually one of the big selling points of this matchup: that it won't be possible for a while. Tuivasa probably won't like it, but after the punishment he endured against Gane, he needs a nice, long break.
When Aspinall is healthy and Tuivasa has given his brain and body a good rest, this is the fight to make. It makes sense from a rankings standpoint, and it seems almost impossible that it goes to a decision—particularly if it's a five-round main event, which it easily could be.
Robert Whittaker vs. Paulo Costa
Robert Whittaker reaffirmed himself as one of the middleweight division's truly great fighters in the UFC Fight Night 209 co-main event, picking up a breezy unanimous-decision win over Italy's Marvin Vettori. The Aussie, a former champion, was in control of the fight from bell to bell and landed several blows that likely would have stopped less durable fighters in their tracks.
Still, the win didn't do much to change his position in the division. We already knew he's the best fighter in the weight class outside of champion Israel Adesanya. We also knew that, after he suffered a second loss to Adesanya early this year, he'd have to move mountains to earn a third fight with the Nigerian-born New Zealander.
After beating Vettori, his only real option at middleweight is to keep grinding and hope he can put together a solid enough streak to make his claim to a title shot undeniable.
There are only a few Top 10 middleweights Whittaker has yet to fight. Several of them are occupied with other fights, like Alex Pereira, or nursing injuries, like Sean Strickland. Thankfully, there is one solid foe available: former title challenger Paulo Costa.
Costa is riding a hectic decision victory over former middleweight champion Luke Rockhold. Rockhold wasn't ranked at the time of their fight, so it wasn't a particularly valuable victory, but it put Costa back in the win column after a loss to Vettori and, more importantly, showed that he is capable of hitting the 186-pound middleweight limit when he takes the cut seriously.
He's once again in position for a big fight, and at middleweight, there is no bigger fight outside the champion than Whittaker.
It's not the perfect matchup, but it's the best option available for the ever-impressive Aussie.
Nassourdine Imavov vs. Dricus Du Plessis
Nassourdine Imavov was just too much for Joaquin Buckley at UFC Fight Night 209.
The French middleweight took a couple of big shots in the fight but controlled the bulk of the action with his rangy striking and footwork—more than enough to earn a unanimous-decision win.
As impressive as Imavov's win was, however, it was not particularly valuable as far as his standing in the division goes. Heading into the fight, he was ranked No. 12. Buckley, meanwhile, wasn't even ranked in the Top 15 and frankly wasn't that close, either.
It would be surprising if the Frenchman gains so much as one spot in his division when the UFC's official rankings are updated Tuesday.
The implication here is that he will probably not be offered a Top 10 foe in his next fight, but somebody on the outer edge of the rankings instead.
Our pick is a fight with South Africa's Dricus Du Plessis, who is currently perched at No. 13.
Du Plessis was last in action at UFC 276 in July, when he defeated longtime contender Brad Tavares by unanimous decision. That win put him in position for another tough test, but like Imavov, he is probably still a win away from a Top 10 opponent.
Pit these two middleweights against each other at an upcoming event in Europe or the famed "Fight Island" in Abu Dhabi, and trust that the winner is ready for a fight with one of the division's top dogs.
Nathaniel Wood vs. Nate Landwehr
Longtime bantamweight Nathaniel Wood appeared in his second featherweight fight at UFC Fight Night 209, taking on French-Canadian striker Charles Jourdain, and in the early moments of the fight, it looked like he might be in big trouble. He was simply much smaller than his Quebecois foe.
But in the end, the size difference didn't matter. Wood was the faster, sharper striker in the cage for the duration and bolstered his success on the feet with a quintet of takedowns—more than enough to sway all three cage-side judges.
The Brit's unanimous-decision win in Paris immediately asserted him as a fighter to watch at featherweight. It's a little early to talk about him like a contender, but he clearly has the goods to compete in the weight class, because Jourdain is no slouch.
A fight with Nate Landwehr should be next. The American has suffered two knockout losses since joining the UFC but has looked good in his three wins, defeating Darren Elkins, Ludovit Klein and, most recently, David Onama.
He's proved himself as a tough test for most featherweights outside the Top 15 and, with a growing fanbase, seems like a solid dance partner for Wood at this stage.