After three years away from the sport, Jon Jones is set to return at UFC 285 on March 4, 2023, against Ciryl Gane for the Heavyweight title. Heavyweight is a division Jones has talked about for nearly a decade now, and in several short weeks we’ll finally see how he does a weight class up from the Light Heavyweight division he dominated since 2011.
For those thinking we’ll see the same “Bones” who barely edged out decisions in his last two 205-pound title defenses, think again. According to Jones, the mythical hungry and motivated “Bones” is back.
“I’m excited, I’m grateful. I feel humble. I feel appreciated by the company I work for. I feel like I’m in a really good place. MMA feels fun to me again,” Jones said in an interview with The MMA Underground. “Obviously with being out for three years and in a new division, there’s a lot of questions that caused me to stay up a few long nights. But it keeps me sharp, which is something I feel like I didn’t have at light heavyweight towards the end.
“Toward the end it just felt like another day at the office,” he continued. “This doesn’t feel like another day at the office. This feels very different. The nerves and the anxiety, it’s all back. And I do good when I’m under pressure. So I’m just really excited. Really excited, and grateful.”
Jones also revealed that he’s been working hard for this move up for a long time. Not only has he spent the past three years preparing physically for the move up to Heavyweight, he was specifically ready to fight in December.
“I felt my physical size and strength was ready to go about four months ago,” he said. “Dana says there was never a Stipe [Miocic] fight on the line. There was, they just couldn’t come to an agreement. I’ve been trying to prepare for Francis [Ngnanou], I did a whole training camp preparing for Stipe, and now we got Ciryl Gane. I’ve been ready for a long time, I’ve been training non-stop. Three years, twice a day, sometimes three times a day. And I’ve been waiting for this moment for a really long time. Glad to have an opponent.”
When asked just how big he was at the moment, Jones demurred.
“I want Ciryl to see me for the first time and it to be a nice surprise for him,” he said.
Asked if his championship fight being against Gane and not Francis Ngannou took something away from the event, Jones said, “Yes.”
“It does,” he admitted. “I feel like Francis is the more intimidating of the two. I feel like just as far as Americans go, I feel like he’s more known in America. Francis is this big, scary, intimidating man, where Ciryl is relatively unknown. And obviously Francis has the belt and taking it from him would have been nice. So yeah, it’s a different fight.... Stylistically, it’s a different fight.”
Interestingly enough, Jones said the fight he really wanted even above Ngannou was one with Miocic.
“I think the fight that meant the most to me was fighting Stipe Miocic,” Jones said. “That’s the fight that actually means the most to me because Stipe is the greatest heavyweight of all time. I’m not looking past Ciryl Gane at all. I’m very honored to fight Ciryl Gane and I knew it would be happening eventually. Inevitably. But yeah, that was the fight I was really bummed it didn’t happen.”
While Jones said he’d watched Ngannou vs. Gane in anticipation of a fight against Francis, he added he wished he had a bit more time to prepare for a tricky striker like “Bon Gamin.’”
“Now I’m focused on Ciryl Gane completely and it’s kind of a short time for me, I wish I had a bit more time to prepare,” he said. “But at the same time, I believe when I fought Ryan Bader, the UFC gave me six or seven weeks for ‘Shogun’ after that fight. So this idea of preparing for a new opponent in six or seven weeks frame, I’ve done it before. And I think it’s more than enough time. I would have liked more time, but this is a good amount of time. So I feel great. I feel great.”
And don’t expect Jones to win the belt and ride off into the sunset.
“My immediate goal is to beat Ciryl Gane and to beat Stipe Miocic,” he declared. “After that, it’ll be conversations with the UFC to see what makes sense. But, I am guaranteeing the fans at least two more fights out of me.”