LAS VEGAS – While it's clear this weekend's UFC Fight Night 209 headliner will have a massive impact in the UFC's heavyweight title picture, UFC president Dana White stopped short of guaranteeing the winner will get a crack at reigning champion Francis Ngannou.
On Saturday, the UFC's famed octagon stops in France for the first time in company history, with Paris' Accor Arena playing host to a main event between former UFC interim heavyweight champion Ciryl Gane, a French native, and Australian slugger Tai Tuivasa. The card streams in the U.S. in its entirety on ESPN+ (12 p.m. ET).
Gane (10-1 MMA, 7-1 UFC) enters the matchup sitting at No. 1 in the UFC's latest official heavyweight rankings, with Tuivasa (15-3 MMA, 8-3 UFC) at No. 3. However, with Ngannou (17-3 MMA, 12-2 UFC) still on the mend from a knee surgery he underwent earlier this year, White was hesitant to guarantee anything for the winner.
"First of all, I don't make the fight before the fight," White told MMA Underground. "I mean, anything is possible. But, yeah, we don't know how any of this is going to play out because the heavyweight champ is still hurt anyway, so I don't know, but obviously whoever wins on Saturday is right there."
There are a few variables factoring into a slightly murky heavyweight title picture. First, Gane already faced Ngannou earlier this year, suffering a tightly-contested decision loss at January's UFC 270. Should Gane prove victorious, an immediate rematch might not necessarily prove the most intriguing matchup available considering there are a few other names that are also realistic options.
First, former UFC heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic (20-4 MMA, 14-4 UFC), whose three consecutive defenses of the belt between 2016 and 2018 remain a promotional record in the division, has remained steadfast in his position that he's deserving of a rematch with Ngannou, who took the title from him in 2021.
Second, former UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones (26-1 MMA, 20-1 UFC), widely considered one of the pound-for-pound greatest fighters of all time, has been packing on muscle in preparation for a move up to the heavyweight division. With 11 successful defenses of the promotion's 205-pound title and a career record that is marred only by a controversial disqualification loss in 2009, "Bones" has quite the case to call for an immediate title shot in his new division, despite the work of others in the weight class.
Of course, fan-favorite Tuivasa still has some say in the matter, as well. Currently riding a streak of five consecutive knockout victories, "Bam Bam" is a massive underdog at SISportsbook.com, but he possesses the power to end anyone's night, and a sixth straight knockout could certainly drive interest in seeing him challenge for a title.
Ahead of the promotion's historic debut in "The City of Light," White refused to guarantee anything but acknowledged the importance of the night's main event.
"I mean, that's how it works," White said. "I mean, if Tai wins, obviously he's next in line, and the Ciryl fight (with Ngannou) was close."
This story first published at SI.com/MMA.