How MMA broke free in France ahead of first UFC visit, Gane vs Tuivasa

MMA was seen as ‘being like a barbaric bar fight’ in France and the government even BANNED it just six years ago – but homegrown hero Ciryl Gane will headline the country’s historic first UFC event on Saturday… here’s how the sport broke free

  • Ciryl Gane is the UFC heavyweight looking to ‘inscribe his name in history’ 
  • He will have the backing of Parisian crowd in massive clash with Tai Tuivasa 
  • MMA in France has struggled for acceptance and was even banned in 2016
  • The French government only allowed certain rules and training times 

MMA has fought for acceptance all over the world and France was one of the last battlegrounds. 

Brutal? Absolutely. Barbaric? Only to the uninformed. But that was the prevailing wisdom across the channel. 

Ciryl Gane, the country’s best hope of a first French-born UFC champion, will headline the promotion’s historic first visit this Saturday against fellow heavyweight contender Tai Tuivasa. 

Ciryl Gane will headline the first UFC card in France this Saturday evening 

MMA was banned until 2020 in France and perceptions in the country are changing 

The athletic and softly-spoken Frenchman is just about the perfect ambassador – with beautiful technique – to persuade those in his homeland who still have doubts that MMA is a legitimate sport. 

‘I’m the fighter with the French flag and I hope I help the sport. Just three years ago the people thought the sport was just in the bar and barbaric,’ he told UFC. 

‘Today with my image, with my profile, people understand that I’m very kind and I smile every time. I have value. 

‘For me it means a lot, I’m the headliner. I inscribed my name on my history and on the history of French MMA and I’m really happy about that,’ he said. 

To say France lagged behind the rest of Europe when it comes to MMA would be an understatement. 

It has always struggled for legitimacy, largely due to the power of powerful federations lobbying on behalf of other combat sports, particularly Olympic disciplines such as judo. 

There was a fear that talented young athletes would pick the shiny new thing, MMA, and their talent pool would dry up. 

Those dissenting voices held weight with the French government, who officially banned MMA and refused to recognise it as a real sport in 2016. 

 Gane lost his UFC title fight against Francis Ngannou (right) earlier this year 

The French Sports Ministry outlawed the use of an octagon and many of the key techniques involved in mixed-martial-arts fights. 

A statement at the time read: ‘Fights will take place on a carpet or in a ring with three or four ropes. The corners of the ring will be protected.

‘The following techniques are strictly outlawed and will lead to immediate disqualification.

‘Punches, kicks or strikes with the knees against a fighter on the ground; any strike with the elbow; headbutts; blows to the genitals, the spine, the back of the head or the throat; putting the fingers in the eyes, mouth or nose; pulling the hair; biting; throwing (the opponent) intentionally onto the head or neck; throwing the opponent out of the ring.’

Of course many of those techniques such as biting and blows to the genitals have long been outlawed by any reputable MMA organisation. 

Not only was the sport marginalised in terms of competition and training, but existing fans could not even watch broadcasts of events held abroad. 

It was only in 2020 that the Media Regulation Council in France (CSA) lifted a 15-year ban on televising MMA. The ‘dangerous nature of the sport’ was originally deemed too much for viewers. 

A post shared by Real.C “BON GAMIN” (@ciryl_gane)

Now there is a 10:30pm cut-off time for the sport on free-to-air TV and 8:30pm watershed on pay-per-view. 

Viewers have to be older than 16, though that is impossible to enforce, and the coverage has to issue a warning before the programme starts. 

Another of the major hurdles to overcome for MMA was the lack of specific regulatory body. 

This became a key component of acceptance by the government, who required there to be a central organisation to be held accountable. 

There was a breakthrough two years ago when Roxana Maracineanu, the French minister of sports, declared that the government would be taking applications from regulatory bodies of other sports to have MMA included in their bracket. 

The French Boxing Federation (FFB) won the tender and now has legal oversight of the sport, with the French Mixed Martial Arts Federation (FMMAF) playing a supporting role. 

The softly-spoken Frenchman is the perfect ambassador for MMA in France  

In spite of the ban and struggle for acceptance, France has not been immune to the rise of MMA and rapid growth of the UFC in particular. 

Le Parisien estimate that 40,000 people living in France train in MMA and there are hundreds of gyms at which the sport is practiced. 

In May this year Bellator 280: Bader vs. Kongo 2 became the first major MMA event to be held in the country at Accor Arena. Unfortunately the event underwhelmed, leading some to joke that the French will want to make it illegal again. 

But it was a landmark day and the UFC’s event this weekend will be another monumental step in the right direction. 

When the sport was made legal in January 2020, the UFC released a statement welcoming the move, saying: ‘This is the first step in officially recognising MMA and integrating the sport into the French sports ecosystem. 

Gane is looking forward to a special night in front of his home fans in Paris  

AccorHotels Arena usually hosts basketball but Gane is headlining an MMA event 

‘We will closely follow the progress of the consultation period and pay particular attention to the respect of the integrity of MMA and preservation of its rules by the host federation. We put our global MMA expertise at the disposal of the authorities to make this process a collective construction.’

History beckons for France and for Gane in Paris.  

‘The feeling and the atmosphere is going to be electric for the first event’, he promises. 

‘It’s going to be special. It’s not easy to go everywhere to see UFC fights so this will probably be the first time for a lot of people. I want a big win for me, of course, but also for all the French fighters.

‘This is not only a war this is also the first event in Paris – it’s a celebration. I want a good feeling for everyone.’

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