The last time we saw Jon Jones, he was the UFC light heavyweight champion, the consensus No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter on the planet, and for all intents and purposes, the king of the combat sports world.
Though it’s fair to say his crown was a little crooked by the end of his Dominick Reyes fight.
That was three long years ago and to give you an idea how fast the landscape changes in the hurt business, consider that Henry Cejudo was still champion of both the flyweight and bantamweight divisions, while Khabib Nurmagomedov was ruling the roost at 155 pounds.
Yeah, it’s been a minute.
Jones (26-1, 1 NC) will finally make good on a promise he made over a decade ago when he takes center stage as a heavyweight contender against top-ranked bruiser and former interim champion Ciryl Gane atop the UFC 285 pay-per-view (PPV) card, locked and loaded for this Sat. night (March 4, 2023) at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.
There’s a lot to dislike about Jones the person, who spent a good chunk of his UFC career bogged down by positive drug tests — from cocaine to picograms — along with drunk driving arrests, domestic violence charges, and that bizarre strip club incident that involved ... well, better off just reading the gory details here.
As an athlete, there’s no denying his place among the MMA greats.
But one of the most compelling aspects of his UFC 285 return is less about what we already know and more about what we don’t know. Jones has never competed at heavyweight and will now be tasked with facing the No. 1-ranked heavyweight in the world.
How will his cardio hold up in the championship rounds?
“I believe I know the answers to these questions,” Jones said at the UFC 285 media day. “I feel awesome. I feel like I move really well. I have great pride in my endurance. I feel great. I feel like a stronger version of myself. I’m not super lean, I don’t have a mean six-pack like I used to. That took me a while to get used to back in the day. I would judge my fitness level by how I look in the mirror. I’m a heavyweight now. It’s not about what you look like. It’s about how you perform.”
“Bones” also told reporters that he plans to enter the cage around 245 or 250 pounds on fight night, significantly heavier than his light heavyweight contests, even when you factor in rehydration after previously making the 205-pound limit. That excess weight could effect his overall speed, or his ability to utilize an effective jab or teep kick.
Or it could not.
We don’t know for sure but here’s the thing: Jones doesn’t either. He also doesn’t know how long it will take to readjust his timing after being out of the cage for three years, the longest break of his career. In fact, Jones has competed at least once per calendar year for the last 15 years, dating back to his professional debut for Full Force Productions in early 2008.
Hard to believe when you consider how many times he’s been benched.
It’s also important to note that Jones turns 36 in July, so it’s not like his 2016 return against Ovince Saint Preux, when “Bones” was coming off a long layoff at age 28. On top of that, Jones was tossed from Jackson-Winkeljohn MMA after the aforementioned domestic violence incident in Las Vegas, relegating Jones to an affiliate gym where he trains with Brandon Gibson and a couple of unranked heavyweights.
Yet another major change ahead of his UFC 285 return.
If Jon Jones, who once bragged that he was talented enough to beat Daniel Cormier after a weekend of cocaine, is truly one of the most talented fighters to ever lace up the four-ounce gloves, then his extra weight, advancing age, change in camps, and extended layoff are nothing more than minor inconveniences.
And opponent Ciryl Gane is not without his weaknesses.
“I know that at the end of the day, I have a dog in me,” Jones continued. “I have a lion in me. I have a vicious warrior inside of me. It’s who I am. Losing’s not an option because it’s not just a sporting event to me. This is my life. This is my image. This is my legacy. This is me. My reasons why are really big. I don’t know if his energy matches mine when it comes to the seriousness of how I take this fight and game.”
“I can’t predict the future,” Jones said. “I speak very confidently. I have a lot of belief. I have a lot of faith. But I can’t predict the future. This fight could be an absolute war, or it could be like, ‘Wow, he just blew through Gane.’ I don’t know how it’s going to look. I think I’m just going to base it on how I’m performing, how I’m feeling. I take it one fight at a time and my goals for myself personally is to make this look easy and to fight at least two times this year, and then we’ll just take it from there.”
The future of Jones — and the heavyweight division — will be decided at UFC 285.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 285 fight card right here, starting with the early ESPN+ “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6:15 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard on ESPN/ESPN+ at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+ PPV.
To check out the latest and greatest UFC 285: “Jones vs. Gane” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here. For the updated and finalized UFC 285 fight card and PPV lineup click here.