MMA Fighter of the Year #2: Benoît Saint Denis
With 2023 drawing to a close, it’s time to review some of the top MMA fighters of the year. Our second pick is the Frenchman, Benoît Saint Denis. Quite frankly, not enough people are talking about this European fighter who is 3-0 for the year.
Three Finishes in 2023
MMAfighting latest news would not be criticized should they give Benoît Saint Denis the moniker of the French fight finisher. He fought three times in the UFC this year, winning each of his fights by stoppage, never needing the judges. Is there a better way to endear himself to the fight fans than providing quality entertainment in the cage?
He was late to start his 2023, having fought for the first time in July when he took on Ismael Bonfim. The Brazilian didn’t last long, as he was forced to tap out to a face crank submission in the very first round.
Another Brazilian fighter awaited Saint Denis in September as he took on the much more rated Thiago Moisés, a man who had impressed for several years in the UFC, having made his name in the Brazilian Contender Series. Yet the French fighter would have had him reconsidering his career choice when he mounted his opponent from behind, landing with many punches, resulting in a TKO victory. This fight night event was actually held in Paris, France, meaning his win was exceptionally well received by the local fight fans.
Saint Denis managed to have a third fight in 2023 on the UFC 295 card in November, this time at Madison Square Garden. Now firmly on the main card, he took on the lightweight-ranked Matt Frevola. Despite the fight lasting just 91 seconds, it was a complete fight performance from Saint Denis. He was able to trade punches, defend, and show an exceptional ground game…that was all before the most devastating head kick of the year, which ended the fight as Frevola was sent into another dimension. The commentary team at the time said that he would have to be considered a divisional contender, given his winning streak and the nature of his victories.
What Does 2024 Have in Store for Saint Denis?
After his great success in 2023, there’s no limit to just how far Benoît Saint Denis can go in 2024. Affectionately named the ‘God of War,’ he’s now ranked as the #12 fighter in the UFC lightweight division rankings.
At the age of just 28, he’s still got a long road ahead of him in his fight career. While he could keep plugging away at the fighters around the top 10 rankings, there must be an inclination for Dana White to throw him in at the deep end. He’s already shown the ability to mix it up with the best the UFC’s lightweights have to offer, so why not throw him up against Dustin Poirier, Arman Tsarukyan, or even Michael Chandler to gauge just how good this French fighter is?
Proved Worth of other Promotions
Many French fighters have had to go outside their homeland in order to find fights. France had banned MMA in the country for a long time, meaning that no training or events could take place there. Even with it now being legal, it’s still new there and not up to the same standard as other nations that have embraced the combat sports discipline for a long time.
This led Saint Denis to fight all over the world as he started his MMA career. His first-ever fight took place in Switzerland and he traveled Europe, before signing a contract with Brave CF, a fight promotion based in Bahrain. He fought five fights with that company, going undefeated in the process.
A lot of fighters see the benchmark of success as walking out to the cage at a UFC event. While there is a lot of prestige in doing so, it is not the totality. If fighters can’t get into the UFC, there can be resistance to fight elsewhere. Saint Denis showed that fighting elsewhere does not signal the end of a fighter’s prospects in the UFC.
Will he Fight More in France?
The UFC has started to branch its operations far and wide beyond the United States. There are many international events planned for the promotion in 2024 already. Dana White has already hosted a few events in Paris, France, which have been considered successes. In theory, this will take the promotion back to his country of birth in the future, allowing him to potentially headline a show over there as he would be a major draw for the local fight fans who want to support their fellow countryman.
The French media and MMA news websites would be able to sell the story of a former French military paratrooper returning to France to help lift the stature of French combat sports, with the rich narrative being that the sport is dominated by other nationalities.
While fighting in France alone will be an exciting prospect for Saint Denis, Paris is still pretty far from his hometown of Nîmes, located in the south of France. The UFC is unlikely to host an event in his exact hometown as it is relatively small, with a population of just 150,000. Should there be enough interest from the lower regions of the country, Dana White could potentially host an event for Saint Denis in Marseille or Montpellier, two of the bigger communes close to his birthplace.
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