MMA

The Best French MMA Fighters: The Fighting French

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January 1, 2020, a historic month for French MMA fighters and combat sports fans alike. On this day, the French government made its long-awaited decision to legalize MMA events within the country. To celebrate the first major MMA events taking place on French soil, we will explore the best mixed martial artists to come from France: Here are the best French MMA fighters.

French MMA History

Despite the country’s all-out ban of the sport, France has produced some note-worthy fighters since the dawn of MMA. Forced to seek out opportunities on foreign soil, French MMA fighters have called many big promotions home. From the UFC to Bellator, the French have been gracing the cage way before France’s recent change in legislation.

As the major MMA promotions look to hone in on one of Europe’s last MMA frontiers, this has led to some highly anticipated events. With Bellator 280 taking place in Paris, France, and the UFC looking to host their own event with France’s Ciryl Gane as headliner, this is an exciting time for French MMA fans.

The Best French MMA Fighters

As stated above, France has given some great contributions to the sport of MMA, despite it being illegal within the country. Here are some of France’s top MMA fighters.

Ciryl Gane

Hailing from La Roche-sur-Yon, France, former heavyweight interim champion Ciryl Gane has burst onto the MMA scene. After achieving a 13-0 record in his first martial art of Muay Thai, the Frenchman looked to put his elite striking skills to use in MMA. It took only 3 fights in the Canadian circuit for Gane to be scouted to fight for the UFC. The fleet-footed Frenchman used his impressive speed and footwork to expand his 3-0 record to 9-0 within the promotion, taking out the likes of Junior dos Santos, Jairzinho Rozenstruik and Alexander Volkov. After outclassing the top-end talent within the UFC’s heavyweight division, Gane was given the opportunity to face the heavy-handed Texan slugger, Derrick Lewis in a bout for the interim title.

The fight was a one-sided masterclass with Ciryl Gane taking the lead easily against his slower, albeit more powerful foe. Using his snapping jab, whip-like body kicks, and evasive movement, ‘Bon Gamin’ was able to get a 3rd round TKO victory in Lewis’s hometown of Houston. With the interim belt around his waist, the only man ahead of Gane was the Cameroonian KO artist (and ex-training partner), Francis Ngannou.

Fuelled initially by the teammate vs teammate match-up, the lead-up for Gane vs Ngannou was a classy affair. The fight itself defied expectation, as despite his dominance on the feet the Frenchman was outwrestled by Ngannou. Ciryl would go on to lose the fight and Francis Ngannoumedov would keep his title. Despite this setback, Ciryl Gane is still highly regarded as one of the best French fighters in MMA.

Manon Fiorot

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French Flyweight striker, Manon Fiorot has been an electric addition to the UFC’s female roster. Coming from Nice, France, Fiorot started her martial arts journey in karate at age 7, earning her blackbelt at 18. Her success in karate turned her in the direction of kickboxing and Muay Thai, both of which she excelled at; earning several national titles.

Suffering a loss in her first MMA outing, Manon Fiorot has been a force to be reckoned with ever since. The French finisher has 6 KO/TKO victories out of her 9 wins. Her most notable win so far has been Jennifer Maia, and the French standout has been pegged as the division’s top prospect. One that may face Flyweight queen, Valentina Shevchenko in the near future.

Manon Fiorot has all the making to be one of the best French MMA fighters in the world.

Nassourdine Imavov

Though originally from Dagestan Russia, Nassourdine Imavov has lived in Paris, France since childhood. Still living and training within the ‘city of love’ Imavov has set himself aside as a top French prospect. With a record of 11-3, Imavov has looked impressive within the UFC. He is currently riding a 3-fight win streak, with his most recent victory over Ronda Rousey’s protégé, Edmen Shahbazyan.

‘The Russian Sniper’ has fast accurate hands, making him an exciting addition to the UFC’s middleweight top 15. Imavov is likely to break into the top 10 soon, so keep an eye on this French contender.

Cheick Kongo

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Still competing at 46 years old, one cannot mention French MMA without highlighting this man’s career. Hailing from Paris, France of Burkinabe-Congolese heritage, Kongo has gained fame for his career in the UFC and superhero-esque body. The Frenchman may not have lived up to the high expectations placed upon him, however, he does have some very notable wins, like the legendary Croatian head-kicker Mirko Cro-Cop, Matt Mitrione, Alexander Volkov, and Sergei Kharitonov to name a few.

Currently sitting at #2 in the Bellator heavyweight rankings, the 46-year-old is facing off against the champ Ryan Bader in a rematch at Bellator 280. The first ended in a disappointing NC due to an accidental eye poke. Kongo has long cemented himself as one of the best French fighters in MMA and a true pioneer for his fellow countrymen.

Francis Ngannou

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Heavyweight champ Francis Ngannou has lived a movie worthy life. Though not from France originally, it was within this country he would have his first taste of success. Forming his iron will and hulking physique in the punishing sand mines of his native country Cameroon, Ngannou embarked on a death-defying journey to leave his homeland.

After evading the law and surviving the horrendous journey to France, Ngannou found himself on the street of Paris. Aspiring to be a boxer, Francis joined a local gym; it was here that his coaches introduced him to MMA. The allure of fast money grasped the then homeless Francis Ngannou to pursue a career in MMA, compiling a 5-1 record before being scouted by the UFC. (Here is the more in-depth telling of Francis Ngannou’s life)

Knocking out everyone who dared sign the contract to fight ‘The Predator’, Francis met his first big name when he stood opposite the Dutch legend, Alistair Overeem. Whom he sent to the shadow realm with a thunderous uppercut. The noteworthy finish leads to a title shot against Ohio’s own, Stipe Miocic. Another pivotal moment in Ngannou’s life.

Much like his life before the UFC, Ngannou faced the lowest of lows. Miocic was able to drag Ngannou into the depths of exhaustion, putting on a grueling performance to halt the rise of the heavy-handed challenger. He would suffer another loss in his famously uneventful bout against Derrick Lewis.

Francis looked to be beaten by his own mind, stemming from his arduous defeat to Miocic. However, the soon-to-be champ wasn’t finished, cutting through elite competition with ruthless efficiency. Earning the right to rematch heavyweight GOAT Stipe Miocic in 2021. The fight was drastically different with both men having success on the feet, however, it was Ngannou’s improved wrestling that was the story of the night. With this weapon taken from Stipe, he was left striking with the division’s most prolific knockout artist. Ngannou struck the champ down with a sharp check hook to end the reign of Stipe Miocic; bringing about the Ngannou era.

His recent success against the aforementioned Ciryl Gane and his proposed venture into the square circle against ‘The Gypsy King’ Tyson Fury, has brought Ngannou into a new stage of his career. One that can see him rise again as a triumphant champion or pull himself back up from another mountainous trial.

Honourable Mentions

  • Cyrille Diabaté – French Kickboxer and MMA fighter. Complied an impressive 41-8-2 record in kickboxing. He fought greats like Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua and Alexander Gustafsson but wasn’t able to garner the same success in MMA.
  • Tom ‘Fire Kid’ Duquesnoy – Former French prospect Tom Duquesnoy is currently retired with a record of 16-2. Opting to dedicate his craft towards coaching, the French Bantamweight has been a huge advocate for legalizing MMA in France.

The Future of French MMA

The future looks bright for French MMA. No longer will young homegrown talent be cast away in search of competition in foreign lands, this should allow French MMA fighters to prosper within their country without constantly having to travel to other countries to compete. This along with stars like Ciryl Gane leading the charge, will help pave the way for a new generation of French MMA fighters and future champions.

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Life long martial artist and fan of combat sports, currently competing as an amateur Muay Thai fighter. Besides fighting, I love travelling the world and writing.

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