France’s Ciryl Gane wowed the home fans as he knocked out Tai Tuivasa in their heavyweight contest at UFC Paris.
Gane, 32, overcame some heavy shots from Australia’s Tuivasa, 29, to stop him with a flurry of punches in the third round.
The event marked the UFC’s first show in France since MMA was legalised in the country two years ago.
“I want that belt now, that’s all I want,” said Gane following the hard-fought victory.
“Tai hit me so hard he knocked me out, put the lights out, but I’m a warrior. I had to come back and that’s what I did.”
The fight was billed as pitting Gane’s ‘Bon Gamin’ strike-and-move style against the brawling, one-punch knockout power of Tuivasa, and that’s largely how the bout played out.
The fight represented Gane’s first bout since defeat to heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou in January, while Tuivasa entered the octagon on the back of a five-fight knockout streak.
Gane, who is the former heavyweight interim title holder and France’s first and only UFC champion, navigated the first round well, hitting Tuivasa with jabs before using his footwork to escape danger.
The second round however, is where the fight sparked into life.
Tuivasa, who up until that point had struggled to hit Gane, landed a huge right hand which dropped the Frenchman, before Gane recovered to hit a series of crushing body kicks and knees, with Tuivasa wincing in pain.
As the round ended, with both fighters having come close to victory, the crowd roared in appreciation.
The third round followed a similar pattern as Tuivasa again rocked Gane but following a series of front kicks to the body and a flurry of punches to the head from Gane, the referee jumped in to end the contest after the Australian collapsed to the canvas.
The victory puts Gane in prime position for a rematch with Ngannou, who has been out of action since March after undergoing surgery on an injured knee.
Whittaker returns to winning ways
In the co-main event, Robert Whittaker earned a unanimous decision win over fellow middleweight Marvin Vettori.
Australia’s Whittaker, 31, outclassed his Italian opponent as he used his footwork to evade damage throughout the fight, while countering with a number of damaging high kicks.
As the bell rang signalling the end of the bout, Whittaker pounded his chest confident in victory, while Vettori, sporting a bloodied face, walked dejectedly over to his corner.
Former middleweight champion Whittaker, who like Vettori has suffered defeat to current title holder Israel Adesanya twice, suggested he has his eye on another title opportunity in the post-fight interview.
“I’m stoked with it [the win]. I was hurting him but he did not go away. Trust me I know I go to a lot of decisions but I hit pretty hard so credit to him [Vettori],” said Whittaker.
“Including the champion I’m the most dangerous man in the division. I’m always gunning for that top spot, so I am always going to be lurking there waiting.”
Elsewhere, Britain’s Nathaniel Wood beat Canada’s Charles Jourdain by unanimous decision in their featherweight contest.
The win was Wood’s second in six weeks after beating Charles Rosa at UFC London in July and extends his 100% record since moving up to featherweight.