This Saturday, the UFC Octagon will be set up at Accor Arena, in the 12th arrondissement of Paris, France, for the company’s first event in the French capital.
It’s an historic event many years in the making, but the timing also couldn’t be better as the collection of French fighters on the roster has never been greater, with several of them slated to compete this weekend.
Former interim heavyweight champ Ciryl Gane headlines opposite streaking West Sydney representative Tai Tuivasa, while his MMA Factory teammate Nassourdine Imavov takes on Joaquin Buckley in a critical middleweight matchup. Benoit Saint Denis makes his third trip into the Octagon looking for a second straight win, and fellow lightweight Fares Ziam looks to rebound from a loss to Terrance McKinney before a partisan crowd in Paris.
Joining all the local talent and their opponents are a collection of emerging competitors looking to use this weekend’s event in “The City of Light” as their chance to step into the spotlight and make a bigger name for themselves as the UFC begins the push towards the end of the year.
Here’s a closer look at three of those athletes.
This is the UFC Paris edition of Fighters on the Rise.
Top Finishes: Nathaniel Wood
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Top Finishes: Nathaniel Wood
After spending the whole of his career competing at bantamweight, Wood returned from a near two-year hiatus in July to make his featherweight debut, collecting a unanimous decision win over American veteran Charles Rosa.
It was a quality showing from the 29-year-old from London, England; technical and patient for the most part, with little flecks of his willingness to brawl mixed in for good measure, and a good reminder of why the Brad Pickett protégé was considered someone to pay close attention to after he transitioned from Cage Warriors and started climbing the ranks in the bantamweight division.
Wood arrived with a 13-3 record, the Cage Warriors bantamweight title draped over his shoulder, and promptly won his first three appearances inside the Octagon by stoppage, submitting Johnny Eduardo, Andre Ewell, and Jose Quinonez before running afoul of John Dodson at the start of 2020. He split his next two fights but spent the whole of 2021 recovering from a hand injury before his return bout at March’s London event was scuttled at the last minute, leaving him crestfallen.
He came back in July, up a division, and very much looked like he belonged, both physically and in terms of his skill set. He out-worked Rosa throughout, and his reach helped make up for the inches he gave up in height, allowing him to still work from range and control distance well.
Saturday’s pairing with Jourdain is an exciting test for “The Prospect,” as the French-Canadian is coming off a banger with Shane Burgos in July. He’s aggressive, dangerous, and willing to take more risks than most competitors, which means the potential will be there for Wood to be drawn into a dogfight.
Featherweight has a wealth of promising, young talent climbing the ranks, but Wood can instantly establish himself as a person of interest just outside the Top 15 if he’s able to secure a second consecutive win this weekend, especially if he does it with style points.
Undefeated through the first eight fights of his professional career, Figlak goes searching for “Victory No. 9” on Saturday as he makes his promotional debut opposite Fares Ziam.
Born in Poland and fighting out of Worcester, England, the 26-year-old lightweight has faced quality competition all the way along his road to the UFC, competing exclusively under the Cage Warriors banner for his last six fights. He defeated Welsh talent Oban Elliott in his third outing and beat former lightweight champ Agy Sardari in his most recent bout in July, all of this coming after an extensive amateur career where he posted a 10-2 record where one of those losses came to UFC bantamweight standout Jack Shore.
Figlak has good size for the division and quality conditioning, as exhibited by his ability to go three hard rounds in each of his last three outings, and profiles as someone that should make a smooth transition into the UFC ranks.
In Ziam, he faces a hometown favorite that has made four previous trips into the Octagon who will be looking to bank on that experience edge and the backing of the partisan crowd. After losing his promotional debut, Ziam earned hard-fought wins over Jamie Mullarkey and Luigi Vendramini before getting submitted by Terrance McKinney last time out.
This is a perfect initial pairing for the unbeaten “Mad Dog” — a date with a fellow young talent with a little UFC seasoning, on his home turf, which will likely saddle him with the “unwelcomed visitor” role on Saturday as he heads into the Octagon for the first time.
Winning on the road is essential in all sports, and it would be a great way for Figlak to begin this next chapter of his professional career.
The most important thing to know about Perez as she readies to make her promotional debut this weekend is that she is brimming with confidence.
“How confident?” you ask.
In June, shortly after her signing and matchup with Zarah Fairn was announced, Perez, who is 7-1 in her career and shifting back to featherweight after making seven of her first eight starts at bantamweight, declared the following on Twitter:
“Featherweight is my division. September. Zarah Fairn. December. Amanda Nunes.”
Not only did she tag each of her would-be opponents, but she also made sure to “at” Dana White, the UFC matchmakers, and fellow Argentinians Santiago Ponzinibbio and Gaston Reyno as well.
Less than two months later, she was at it again, offering the following advice to then bantamweight champ Julianna Pena:
“@VenezuelanVixen you may not know me, but trust me, you don’t want to. But you will soon. I dare you to come to 145 anf prove that there is “nobody” in MY division #UFC277. Make sure you don’t lose your title in 135 instead of talking s*** about the big girls, querida”
Now, all of that is well and good, but big talk doesn’t mean anything if you can’t succeed in the Octagon, and we’ll find out Saturday night if she can back up her words with a strong outing against Stephanie Egger, who makes a quick return to action following her submission loss to Mayra Bueno Silva, filling in for Fairn.
Thus far, Perez has dominated mostly overmatched competition, with her one setback coming as a result of illegal knees in the third round of a November 2021 defense of her Samurai Fight House bantamweight title. She’s earned finishes in five of her seven victories, but will be giving up a couple inches in both height and reach to the Swiss judoka, who already has two stoppage wins inside the Octagon on her resume.
Saturday is a big moment for the Argentinian prospect — she’s talked a big game, and now it’s time to see if she can follow through and collect a victory in her debut.