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Ciryl Gane targets Tai Tuivasa and a title shot at UFC Paris

Gane's goal Saturday is simple: Shut down the shoey and earn a potential heavyweight championship fight.
ciryl-gane

Ciryl Gane returns to action Saturday for the first time since dropping the heavyweight title, stepping back into the octagon in his home country of France.

Gane (10-1 MMA, 7-1 UFC) headlines a matinee edition of UFC Fight Night 209 tomorrow against Tai Tuivasa (15-3 MMA, 8-3 UFC), an exciting matchup of heavyweights who are both determined to be in the title picture.

A fascinating element to this bout will be the manner in which Gane responds after his last fight. Francis Ngannou defeated him by unanimous decision in January, the first loss of Gane's MMA career.

"It was a tough fight, and I was disappointed to lose," Gane says. "I needed a few months, then I came back to the gym with more motivation and more maturity. That fight added even more experience to my career."

While wrestling appeared to be a major advantage for Gane entering that bout, Ngannou wrestled with Gane – and held his own.

"Honestly, I was surprised by that," Gane says. "My coach said to be ready, and he made a great gameplan because he thought Francis would try to take me down. I dismissed that. It was my biggest mistake.

"Like I said, I learned from it. It's going to make me stronger."

Gane is an overwhelming odds favorite against Tuivasa. But the beauty of this domain, especially in the heavyweight division, is that one punch can change everything. Tuivasa enters on a blazing hot stretch with a five-fight win streak. He possesses soul-crushing power, which remains a constant threat despite Gane's history as the Kryptonite for power punchers.

"On paper, I'm the favorite," Gane says. "But it's 50-50 in the cage. I've trained a lot and I'm focused, but this is not going to be easy."

A victory in Paris will further amplify Gane's chance at another title shot. He is open to a rematch against Ngannou, as well as potential interim title bouts against either Stipe Miocic or Jon Jones.

"One hundred percent, that belt is my target now," Gane says. "I know what I want and what I must do to get it. I want to show I'm the most dangerous fighter in the world, and if I win this Saturday, then I'm ready for the belt or an interim title."

Tuivasa is a fan favorite whenever he steps into the octagon, but he is walking onto Gane's turf in Paris. Only time will tell how his victory celebration of drinking a beer out of a shoe – a shoey – will be received by the French crowd, but Gane is intent on making that a nonfactor by winning the fight.

"I don't like that, it's disrespectful," Gane says. "After I win this fight, I'm happy to drink something, but it will be out of a bottle. That's a lot better."

Whittaker and Vettori fighting for contention 

robert-whittaker

Robert Whittaker (23-6 MMA, 14-4 UFC) has won 12 of his last 14 bouts over the past eight years. The only two blemishes are losses to Israel Adesanya.

Marvin Vettori (18-4-1 MMA, 8-3-1 UFC) has lost only twice over 10 fights in the past five years, suffering defeat both times to Adesanya.

Someone is about to take another loss, as Whittaker and Vettori face off tomorrow at UFC Fight Night in Paris. Vettori is the third-ranked middleweight in the division, and he has a chance to elevate himself back into title contention by defeating top-ranked Whittaker. That is the exact same goal for Whittaker, who dropped a bout for a second time to Adesanya this past February – and desperately needs a victory against Vettori to restart his journey to the title.

"There is only one thing I need to do, and that's give everything to this fight," Whittaker said. "I have absolute respect for Marvin's skillset and the way he fights. He's been a speed bump for a lot of guys, but I'm not going to be one of them."

Whittaker's recent loss to Adesanya was closer than the unanimous decision indicates, though there was no doubt he lost the fight. While he didn't win the belt, his confidence remained high.

"I left that fight with undoubted confidence that I am the most dangerous man in this division," Whittaker says. "I'm not really worried about anything else right now, my only focus is on beating Marvin. I know I have a straightforward path back to where I want to go, and that's by winning."

Even without the title, Whittaker is an integral part of the middleweight division. Similar to how Colby Covington just couldn't get by Kamaru Usman for the welterweight title, Whittaker would be the best in the world if not for Adesanya. He adds value to a card every time he fights, and there is a reason he was put on the UFC's debut event in France.

"Paris is beautiful, and the history of the culture is amazing," Whittaker says. "To be part of this historic event is just the icing on top."

International bouts are high on Whittaker's list of priorities. A native of Auckland, New Zealand, Whittaker knows exactly what he wants following this fight against Vettori.

"There is a rumor of an Australian card, and I most definitely want to be on that," Whittaker says. "So one more fight before the end of the year and then another fight at the beginning of next year. That will make for a very busy Christmas, a very interesting season to be merry."

This story first published at SI.com/MMA.