French Invasion: Benoit St. Denis Signs with the UFC

By: Tudor Leonte
Oct 13, 2021

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A few days ago, Combate revealed that the Ultimate Fighting Championship had signed up-and-coming French talent Benoit St. Denis. According to the report, the "God of War" will take on Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos in a welterweight affair on the preliminary card of UFC 267. St. Denis, 25, joins the UFC ranks with a record of eight victories and one no contest. All of those wins have come inside the distance — all but one by submission — against a slate of opponents boasting an 89-54 combined record. St. Denis is the seventh French fighter to compete under the UFC banner at the moment, joining Fares Ziam, Nassourdine Imavov, heavyweight titleholder Francis Ngannou, interim heavyweight champion Ciryl Gane, Manon Fiorot and Zarah Fairn dos Santos.

The former French Special Forces member made his mixed martial arts debut on Feb. 16, 2019, after training under Daniel Woirin, a coach that has worked with Ricardo Arona, Anderson Silva, Lyoto Machida and Vitor Belfort, among others. His professional debut was almost a walk in the park. That night, he faced Marc Domont in a middleweight clash on the Lions FC 8 event held by historical Swiss promotion Lions Fighting Championship. After assailing his opponent with a few body kicks, St. Denis went for a successful takedown. After passing Domont's guard, the Frenchman worked from side control to set some submission attempts, but lost position and allowed Domont to jump back to his feet. Even though Domont had a longer reach, St. Denis ducked his opponent's shots before reaching his neck and trapping it in a powerful guillotine choke. After St. Denis adjusted his position and squeezed, it appeared that Domont had passed out, leading the referee to intervene, only to see the Swiss fighter complain immediately about an early stoppage. The official end came at 3 minutes, 29 seconds of the opening frame. Domont has not competed again since that night.

In the second fight, the 5-foot-11 Frenchman dropped down to welterweight, where he earned a third-round submission of Artur Szczepaniak. Poland’s Szczepaniak was only 22 at the time, but had already acquired plenty of experience after competing in several promotions across Europe, including Cage Warriors Fighting Championship. St. Denis met his foe's experience with tenacity and rare grappling finesse for a fighter who only had just one professional fight under his belt. Szczepaniak put up solid resistance to his opponent's aggressive grappling and even scored a few heavy elbows in ground-and-pound, but he was generally overwhelmed before tapping to a rear-naked choke at the 3:00 mark of Round 3.

The Szczepaniak fight showed that St. Denis still had to learn to waste as little energy as possible in his grappling transitions. He had the chance to implement his game against Antoine Bensimon at Vic Fight, but his opponent was hardly a challenge. After it became clear that St. Denis was on another level, Bensimon went into brawler mode and intentionally dropped his mouth guard several times before the "God of War" put an end to the pantomime with a guillotine choke in the first stanza.

In his last welterweight fight before dropping to 165 pounds to join the Brave Combat Federation super lightweight division, the Frenchman scored his first armbar submission, finishing Ibragim Baisarov at European Beatdown 7. St. Denis’ debut in the Bahraini promotion didn't go as planned, as he lost his Brave CF debut against Pawel Kielek. Both competitors went back and forth in a battle with no quarter until the Pole opened a deep cut on his opponent, forcing the cageside physician to call the stop at the end of Round 2. However, footage showed that the cut had been caused by an accidental clash of heads, and the Romanian Athletic Commission overturned the decision to a no contest shortly afterward.

The Venum Training Camp representative took on two European MMA veterans, Ivica Truscek and Mario Saeed, in his next couple of fights. He overcame Truscek with ease thanks to a first-round kneebar at Brave CF 34, but wanted to prove he was more than just a one-dimensional grappler that can only submit his opponents when he faced Saeed. St. Denis stepped into the cage at Brave CF 38, vowing to bring the war to his opponent, and he hit Saeed with vicious body kicks before knocking him down with a knee and forcing the referee's intervention following some ground-and-pound. The stoppage came at 1:49 of the second frame.

The Frenchman felt no pressure in headlining Brave CF 49, and submitted former 155-pound titleholder Luan Santiago. "Miau" resisted only one round before capitulating to an arm-triangle choke at 3 minutes, 51 seconds of Round 2. In his latest appearance, St. Denis landed his seventh submission after defeating Arkaitz Ramos Gudari with an arm-triangle choke 3:09 into the first frame of their 165-pound bout at Brave CF 52.

When he spoke to Sherdog, St. Denis said that he might consider dropping to lightweight in the future. His next opponent, "Capoeira," has never been submitted in the UFC, but it's almost sure that St. Denis wants to be the first.

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