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The Weekly Takedown: Tai Tuivasa thirsts for French beers after headliner at UFC Paris

'Bam Bam' plans to shake up the shoey, but oddsmakers favor Ciryl Gane on Saturday at UFC Fight Night 209.

Welcome to The Weekly Takedown, Sports Illustrated's in-depth look at MMA. Every week, this column offers insight and information on the most noteworthy stories in the fight world.

Tai Tuivasa has yet to try French beer. He plans to indulge Saturday following his bout against Ciryl Gane, which headlines UFC Fight Night 209 in Paris.

"I've heard there are some great French beers in Paris, and I'm thirsty," Tuivasa said. "I'm looking forward to trying them after the fight."

Those alcoholic beverages likely won't be to celebrate, but rather to console Tuivasa after defeat. His plan to kick off a raucous weekend with a shoey – a uniquely distinct victory celebration where Tuivasa drinks beer out of a shoe – is unlikely to happen, as he fights an opponent in Gane with a style perfectly engineered to rip apart power punchers.

Gane (10-1 MMA, 7-1 UFC), a former interim UFC heavyweight champion, possesses far superior technical ability. He has the capability to swing with Tuivasa (15-3 MMA, 8-3 UFC), where it would be anyone's fight, but it is much more likely that he will smolder Tuivasa's fire by forcing him to the ground and wearing him out.

Tuivasa's power gives him a shot in any fight. He has been on a tear in the heavyweight division, winning five in a row – four of those via knockout and the other a TKO. Most recently, Tuivasa turned Derrick Lewis' lights out in February, dropping Lewis with a vicious elbow and taking his No. 3 ranking.

"I have a lot of respect for Derrick," Tuivasa says. "He's 'The Knockout King' for a reason, and he earned that nickname. But that fight was everything I expected it to be. It was a great fight, it was entertaining and I showed I can knock him out, too."

Unfortunately, for Tuivasa, this isn't Lewis that he'll be facing Saturday, and he's not in Houston, where big fights have been a house of horrors for Lewis. Gane stands as an exponentially more challenging test, the kind that Tuivasa has yet to defeat.

"I know he's very skillful, and maybe he's even better than me," Tuivasa says. "But the moment I wake up, I'm ready. We'll see who shows up to fight."

Tuivasa will seek to cause problems by doing what he does best. That means moving forward aggressively, biting down on his mouthguard and attacking. No heavyweight is untouchable, and Tuivasa has a chance if he can land his shots.

"One punch can put anyone's lights out," Tuivasa says. "That goes for me, too. If I dink him, I sink him. That's the plan."

As unlikely as it is that Tuivasa will emerge victorious, uncertainty and unpredictability are sewn into the UFC's fabric. Remarkably, if Tuivasa lands a shot and knocks out Gane, then he will likely have punched his ticket into a heavyweight title bout. His next opponent would be unknown, as it could be reigning champ Francis Ngannou, who is still recovering from a knee injury, or an interim title bout against Stipe Miocic or even Jon Jones.

"This fight against Ciryl, it is for the top contender spot," Tuivasa says. "Whether it's Francis next, or an interim belt, that's all politics and not my decision. But the winner of this will get a shot at the belt.

"My main focus is a bigger payday, and all three of those guys are all great fighters, ones that are in the history books. Francis, Stipe, or Jones, I'd love to fight any of them. That's what I want, to have a crack with the best of the best."

In an overwhelming fashion, oddsmakers have Gane positioned to win this contest. Tuivasa is quite familiar with being overlooked and underappreciated, but he will rewrite his narrative the moment he finds a way to put Gane to sleep.

If Tuivasa unveils the first Parisian shoey on Saturday, he will likely attain a shot at UFC gold.

"A title shot, that's the carrot at the end of the road," Tuivasa says. "That's what I'm heading toward, but I'm not overlooking the challenge in front of me on Saturday."

* * * * *

Raufeon Stots and Danny Sabatello don't agree on much, minus this one exception

With all due respect to the five winners from Dana White's Contender Series Tuesday night, when each victorious fighter earned a UFC contract, there was another impressive performance that took place earlier this week.

This one, however, wasn't a fight in the cage, but rather a skirmish on the set of "The MMA Hour." That was where reporter/on-air personality Ariel Helwani displayed fortitude by standing in between rising Bellator stars Stots and Sabatello as they were about to come to blows.

Stots defends his interim bantamweight championship against Sabatello this December at Bellator 289 in the bantamweight world grand prix semifinals. Stots and Sabatello have been on a media tour all week to promote the upcoming bout, and their insults toward each other on "The MMA Hour" escalated to the point where it started to get physical – until Helwani stepped in to break it up.

"If it wasn't for Ariel, I would have beat the sh-t out of Sabatello," Stots says. "The only thing bringing me back was the respect I have for Ariel."

Stots and Sabatello are both phenomenal wrestlers, but they were at odds about practically everything else this week. The lone exception was a mutual respect for Helwani and his gumption to break up their skirmish.

"I didn't think Ariel was that quick," Sabatello says. "I was up fast and in Raufeon's face after he said some stupid sh-t, but Ariel got in there quickly. I think he expected something was going to happen, and he was right about that. If I'm in a room with that motherf-cker, I want to kick his ass. But I was impressed with Ariel's reflex. He's quicker than you think."

The Stots-Sabatello bout adds further excitement to the end of the year for Bellator, and the winner of the world grand prix will also earn himself a million-dollar prize. The two bantamweights did outstanding work building interest for their fight, particularly while on the air with Helwani.

"The only reason I stopped before I kicked his ass is because Ariel asked," Stots says. "That's his show, and I respect that. But come December, there won't be anyone stopping me from kicking the sh-t out of Sabatello."

The Pick 'Em Section:

UFC Fight Night heavyweight bout: Ciryl Gane vs. Tai Tuivasa

  • Pick: Ciryl Gane

UFC Fight Night middleweight bout: Robert Whittaker vs. Marvin Vettori

  • Pick: Robert Whittaker

UFC Fight Night middleweight bout: Alessio Di Chirico vs. Roman Kopylov

  • Pick: Alessio Di Chirico

UFC Fight Night lightweight bout: Nasrat Haqparast vs. John Makdessi

  • Pick: Nasrat Haqparast

UFC Fight Night featherweight bout: Nathaniel Wood vs. Charles Jourdain

  • Pick: Charles Jourdain

Last week: 3-1

2022 record: 96-58

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