French promotion Hexagone MMA crowned its first heavyweight champion on Saturday night as Prince Aounallah captured the inaugural championship with a fourth-round TKO of Paul-Emmanual Gnaze in Reims, France.

After three hard-fought rounds, Aounallah made the crucial breakthrough in the fourth as he took the action to the mat and, after initially pursuing a choke, switched to ground and pound to force the finish and capture the title.

“I’ve worked hard. This belt goes straight to my heart after everything I’ve put in,” said Aounallah after his title-winning performance.

“(Gnaze) is a beast, he is powerful, he is tough, he does not let go! If I had gone head-on, I would have run into him, so I had to be cunning. I went for the choke and, in the end, it paid off.”

The promotion staged a nine-fight card at Reims Arena, with Aounallah’s championship-winning performance crowning a night that saw a number of notable performances.

In the co-main event, French lightweight star Anthony Dizy claimed the 15th win of his pro career with a unanimous decision victory over Peru’s Roger Garcia.

There was a shock result elsewhere on the main card, when Mehdi Ben Lakhdar was stopped in the first round by Venezuelan lightweight Kevin Pastran, who handed the Frenchman the first defeat of his professional MMA career in their catchweight matchup.

There was a tough return to the cage for English lightweight Tim Barnett, who returned from a near-four-year layoff with a unanimous decision defeat as he was beaten on the scorecards by France’s Abou Tounkara.

Earlier in the card, there were first-round finishes for French fighters Matthieu Letho Duclos (via TKO) and Alexis Fontes (via submission).

It was a particularly sweet moment for Fontes, who made a remarkable recovery from a severe staph infection to not just compete, but win in impressive fashion.

“I was under pressure, because I only had two weeks of full training,” he explained after his victory.

“Three months ago, I had surgery for staphylococcus aureus in my thigh. Within two days, I almost lost my leg, I had the beginning of sepsis. And five weeks ago, I caught a new staphylococcus aureus in my kneecap. Everyone told me to cancel the fight, but I held on and it was worth it.”

Hexagone MMA’s next event, Hexagone MMA 10, will see the promotion hold an event in the ancient Theater of Orange, a Roman theater in Vaucluse, France, on July 28.

Hexagone MMA 9: Official results

  • Prince Aounallah def. Paul-Emmanual Gnaze via TKO (strikes) – Round 4 – for heavyweight title
  • Anthony Dizy def. Roger Garcia via unanimous decision
  • Kevin Pastran def. Mehdi Ben Lakhdar via TKO – Round 1
  • Abou Tounkara def. Tim Barnett via unanimous decision
  • Eva Dourthe def. Andressa Romero via unanimous decision
  • Matthieu Letho Duclos def. Geison Santana Moreno via TKO – Round 1
  • Martin Horsky def. Chresus Mokima via unanimous decision
  • Alexis Fonres def. Kevin Del via submission – Round 1
  • Nicolae Bivol def. Jason Polydor via unanimous decision