On March 4, 2023, the UFC will witness the long-awaited return of one of the undisputed greats, Jon Jones. The former Light Heavyweight Champion, who many regard as the greatest mixed martial artist of all time, has not fought a UFC bout in over three years, with his last fight dating back to February 8, 2020.
In addition to Jones’ highly anticipated return to the octagon, as he sets his eye on elevating his legacy to new heights, is the fact that he will be doing so as a Heavyweight for the first time, challenging the number one contender in the world, in Frenchmen Ciryl Gane, for the vacant Heavyweight Championship belt.
During his time as a Light Heavyweight Champion, Jones was practically untouchable, winning 14 straight championship fights, the most ever in Light Heavyweight history, over a nine-year span. Despite multiple disciplinary issues setting him back over the latter half of his career, Jones kept on coming back to the UFC and finding a way to defend his belt.
But after being away from the sport for so long, to going up in weight against one of the most dominant heavyweights in the world right now, does Jones still have what it takes to become a two-division title holder in the UFC? We break down that answer with our expert review and prediction on who will be the new heavyweight champion come the conclusion of UFC 285.
Ciryl “Bon Gamin” Gane:
Throughout the last four years, French native Ciryl Gane has risen the ranks in the Heavyweight division and has proven truly how special of a mixed martial artist he is. Setting foot in the UFC octagon for the first time on August 10, 2019, Gane won his first six bouts over the next two years, defeating the likes of Junior Dos Santos by TKO and both Jairzinho Rozenstruik as well as Alexander Volkov by unanimous decision.
Two months after his win against Volkov, Gane received his first shot at the belt, which was vacant, defeating Derrick Lewis by TKO to become the interim Heavyweight Champion. That said, Gane’s title run was short-lived. The at-the-time number one Heavyweight contender, Francis Ngannou, would take it from him on January 22, 2022, in what was a five-round unanimous decision loss.
Gane wouldn’t fight again until later that year on September 3, where he would bounce back with a big TKO win against Heavyweight knockout artist, Tai Tuivasa. A little while later, Ngannou and the UFC failed to reach a new contract agreement, making the Heavyweight title vacant once more and presenting Gane with a new chance to get it back against the one and only, Jon Jones.
Besides his matchup with Ngannou, Gane is currently facing his greatest challenge of his young career, taking on a former champion that can do it all. But Gane is also in his prime, making it a no better time for him to test his greatness than right now against a legend of the sport.
Gane, who’s a two-time France Muay Thai Champion, is an elite striker in his own right, known for his diverse striking combos that he delivers with remarkable precision (particularly with his kicks). In fact, Gane has a significant striking accuracy of 61.83% and lands an average of 5.11 significant strikes per minute. Mind you, five of his 11 UFC wins have come by knockout.
That said, Gane will need to come ready with much better takedown and submission defense if he stands a chance to defeat Jones. If you remember, two of the three judges gave Gane round one and all three gave round two in his first UFC 270 loss against Ngannou. But what essentially led Gane to lose that fight, was the final three rounds, where Ngannou dominated him on the mat and took the unanimous decision win.
Jon “Bones” Jones:
To this day, many fans and experts view Jon Jones as the greatest, if not one of the greatest, UFC mixed martial artists of all time. For those that think so, they certainly have a case and a good one. Aside from a sole disqualification loss he had to Matt Hamill back in 2009 for using 12-6 elbows (which is illegal), Jones never lost a single fight in his career, which so happened to include a light heavyweight record 14 title victories.
Entering the UFC in 2008, Jones was young but filled with potential, carrying that lanky-long yet sturdy-strong frame that helped mixed martial artists such as Anderson Silva dominate for years. Well, Jones went on to do the same thing but in his own way. After winning his first three UFC bouts, Jones received his DQ loss against Hamill in 2009, setting him back in his quest for a title run.
Following that loss, Jones made it his mission to get back on track and contend for a title. In his next three UFC appearances, Jones secured two straight KO/TKOs against Brandon Vera and Vladimir Matyushenko before submitting Ryan Bader. Shortly after his win over Bader, Jones was announced as the next light heavyweight contender, with his first title fight scheduled a month later against the champion, Mauricio Rua.
On March 19, 2011, Jones would KO/TKO Rua in the third round to become the youngest UFC Champion ever at age 23. The young sensation went on to defend his belt two times that same year, submitting both Rampage Jackson and Lyoto Machida. Over the next two years, Jones continued to reign and dominate. In 2012, Jones defeated Rashad Evans by unanimous decision and submitted Vitor Belfort before knocking out Chael Sonnen and enduring a tough unanimous decision victory against Alexander Gustafsson in 2013.
Come 2014 and 2015, Jones would only fight twice, once in each year, and both resulted in wins. Following a five-round unanimous decision win against Glover Teixeira in 2014, Jones secured his eighth straight title defense against Daniel Cormier in 2015 via unanimous decision. But 2015 also marked the first of many legal issues Jones would encounter over the next seven years. In fact, Jones would become the first champion in UFC history to be stripped of a belt twice.
Despite these reoccurring setbacks that have only tainted his legacy, Jones was fortunate enough to find himself reinstated back in the UFC roster throughout these seven years. In 2016, Jones came back to defeat Ovince Saint Preux for the belt before then re-staking his claim as the true Light Heavyweight Champion with a TKO win over Daniel Cormier in 2017, which was later ruled an NC due to a steroid doping violation from Jones.
From 2018 into 2019, Jones continued to defend his title, defeating Gustafsson again (this time by KO/TKO) and Anthony Smith and Thiago Santos as well by decision (though Santos had suffered a torn ACL, MCL, PCL, and meniscus early on in that fight). On February 8, 2020, Jones fought one more time as a light heavyweight against Dominik Reyes, pulling off his closest and most controversial title finish of his career.
Seeing this is Jones’ first time fighting in three years (his longest absence from the sport), and at Heavyweight as well, he’s facing a massive comeback story that is easier said than done. But with a 26-1-0 record in his mixed martial arts career dating back to 2008, Jones has always found a way to defy the odds. His purple belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and black belt in Gaidojutsu highlights his elite background on the mat and in the clinch, on top of an imposing striking game as is. How he will manage his new weight, though, is left to be determined.
Winner – Gane
Heading into this fight, Jones is unsurprisingly listed as the favorite (-160). Over a 12-year stretch, Jones cleaned out the Light Heavyweight division and continuously proved how great he truly was. And since his DQ loss to Hamill, Jones has been essentially untouchable. Even at 35, Jones still has the versatility and skill set to contend with anyone and can dictate the pace over five rounds with no problem.
But what makes this return for Jones so mystifying is not only how long he’s been away. But it’s also the step up in weight class he’s making. Though it’s easier to go up in weight, transferring that same efficiency he had at 205 can take time for him to get a feel for, as you’re working with more muscle mass as a heavyweight. Whether it’s delivering the same speed with ones strikes or developing the same endurance, this step up for Jones is much bigger than it looks and will test his greatness in a way he’s never been tested before.
This is why Gane will be the Heavyweight Champion once again. Over the last two years, Gane has fought five times, only coming up short once, which was via Unanimous Decision to Ngannou. Moreover, in the process of being so active, Gane has challenged himself with some of the best Heavyweights the UFC has to offer and has only gotten better with each fight he’s had. Even a striker like Ngannou, couldn’t stand with Gane, who simply brings a special level of quickness, agility, and movement than no other heavyweight in the division right now.
So unless Jones dominates Gane on the ground (and he might), it’s hard to envision Jones coming away with a win against a mixed martial artist who’s as strong and as elusive as Gane is, particularly since this will be his first fight in three years. Even on the ground, Gane is 3-0 with submissions in his MMA career and has a takedown defense success rate of 56%.
Don’t get me wrong, Jones has always found a way to pull off wins in the past. But even in his last fight in 2020 as a light heavyweight against Dominik Reyes (who’s now ranked 11th in the division), Jones showed signs of regression. And for him to come back at age 35 and take down someone who’s virtually in his prime and at the peak of his game, is a daunting feat that, this time, Jones will come up short in.