How France went from banning MMA to hosting Ciryl Gane vs. Tai Tuivasa for UFC Fight Night

MMA has fought for acceptance around the world and France has been one of the last battlegrounds.

Brutal? Absolutely. Barbaric? Only to the uninformed. But it was the wisdom that prevailed across the Channel.

Ciryl Gane, the country’s hottest prospect for a first French-born UFC champion, will headline the promotion’s historic first visit this Saturday against fellow heavyweight Tai Tuivasa.

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

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

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

The athletic, soft-spoken Frenchman is pretty much the perfect ambassador – with great technique – to convince those in his native country who still doubt MMA is a legitimate sport.

“I am the fighter with the French flag and I hope I help the sport. Just three years ago people thought the sport was bar-fair and barbaric,” he told the UFC.

‘Today with my image, with my profile, people understand that I am very nice and I smile every time. I have value.

“For me it means a lot, I’m the headliner. I wrote my name in my history and in the history of French MMA and I’m really happy about that,” he said.

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

It has always struggled for its legitimacy, largely due to the power of powerful federations lobbying for other combat sports, including Olympic disciplines like judo.

It was feared that talented young athletes would choose the shiny new thing, MMA, and their talent pool would dry up.

These dissenting voices carried weight with the French government, which officially banned MMA and refused to recognize it as a real sport in 2016.

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

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

The French Ministry of Sports has banned the use of an octagon and many key techniques involved in mixed martial arts fighting.

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

‘The following techniques are strictly prohibited and will result in immediate disqualification.

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

Of course, many of these techniques such as biting and hitting the genitals have long been banned by any reputable MMA organization.

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

It wasn’t until 2020 that France’s Media Regulatory Council (CSA) lifted a 15-year ban on MMA telecasting. The “dangerous nature of the sport” was originally seen as too much for viewers.

There is now a cut-off time for sport at 10:30 p.m. on free-to-air TV and 8:30 p.m. on pay-per-view.

Viewers must be over the age of 16, although this is not enforceable, and coverage must issue a warning before the program begins.

Another of the main obstacles for MMA to overcome was the lack of a specific regulatory body.

This became a key element of acceptance by the government, which demanded that there be a central organization to be held accountable.

Two years ago there was a breakthrough when Roxana Maracineanu, France’s sports minister, said the government would accept requests from other sports regulators to include MMA in their support.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When the sport was legalized in January 2020, the UFC released a statement welcoming the move, saying, “This is the first step in officially recognizing MMA and integrating the sport into the French sports ecosystem. ”

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

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

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

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

“We will closely follow the progress of the consultation period and will pay particular attention to the respect of the integrity of MMA and the 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 to France and to Gane in Paris.

“The feeling and the atmosphere will 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 it will probably be the first time for many people. I want a big victory for me, of course, but also for all the French fighters.

“It’s not just a war, it’s also the first event in Paris, it’s a party. I want a good feeling for everyone.