Last night (Sat., March 4, 2023), Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) remained in Las Vegas, Nevada, for UFC 285. Will there be a bigger main event in 2023 than Ciryl Gane vs. Jon Jones? It doesn’t feel particularly likely — “Bones” Heavyweight debut has been discussed for a decade ... and it finally happened (watch highlights). Another title fight in the co-main solidified the event further, and there were several absolutely elite prospects like Bo Nickal and Shavkat Rakhmonov building intrigue earlier on the pay-per-view (PPV) card.
It was a tremendous event, so let’s take a look at UFC 285’s best performances and techniques:
Jon Jones Makes It Look Easy
I’ll admit I scoffed at a lot of Jon Jones’ statements leading up to UFC 285. For him to struggle so heavily against Dominick Reyes, take three years off, then roll through a bonafide Heavyweight killer in Ciryl Gane? I just didn’t buy it. Not that Jones couldn’t win, but the idea that he would make it look easy seemed absurd until the moment it happened.
There’s really not much to break down here, as Jones executed masterfully. He pressured, kicked, and exchanged straight punches with Gane only until the French athlete committed on a cross. Immediately, Jones ducked beneath the shot with perfect timing, securing the back clinch and an easy takedown. From there, his movements were surgical, as he forced Gane to move all his weight in his attempts to stand up.
Jones slowed Gane on the canvas beautifully, opening up the option to step into mount. Gane seemed calm and ready to work back to his feet up until Jones wrapped his neck, and then it was instantly over.
Whatever your view on his legacy given all the various controversies, Jones is the most talented man to ever step into the cage.
End Of An Era
UFC 285 proved a perfect storm in ending Valentina Shevchenko’s title reign. “Bullet” appears to be slowing down a bit, and Alexa Grasso brought a perfect game plan into the cage with her, which proved just enough to score the fourth-round submission win to conclude a competitive fight.
Check out my full recap of that bout HERE!
The Streak Continues
Shavkat Rakhmonov has still never seen the judges’ scorecards.
Geoff Neal didn’t show up intending to get rolled over though. “Handz of Steel” landed some bombs, major left hand counters and a few glancing high kicks. He stuffed every takedown Rakhmonov attempted, demonstrating much improved defensive wrestling — which was already a pretty high bar!
Still, Rakhmonov’s onslaught continued, because he’s such a nasty offensive striker from every distance. At range, Rakhmonov’s jab repeatedly snapped Neal’s chin back, and his right high kick is thrown at a lovely angle that allowed it to sneak around the guard often. In the pocket, Rakhmonov was ripping power shots up and down, showcasing smart movement by pivoting around and closing into the clinch to avoid return fire. Of course, he did get clipped by a big left overhand after he went to the well too many times with his rear uppercut, but that’s merely the nature of being in a brawl!
Finally, there was the clinch. Rakhmonov may not have landed any takedowns from that position, but he absolutely hammered Neal’s body with knees. Just one of those knees forced the finish against Alex Oliveira, so credit to Neal for surviving a brutal number. Eventually, however, his defenses were broken, resulting in the standing submission finish.
The Welterweight title picture better get ready, because “Nomad” is coming.
The Hype Train Rolls On
Bo Nickal did what he was supposed to last night, strangling Jamie Pickett without any major issue.
Really, the only thing worth mentioning was that Nickal made a mistake or two. He slipped on a head kick, maybe got away with a knee to the cup, and had difficulty adjusting the arm triangle to finish the choke. That’s all pretty minor critiques, but it is evidence that the undefeated (4-0) uber prospect should perhaps take more than one fight before challenging the likes of Khamzat Chimaev or Alex Pereira.
Nickal remains remarkably talented, but he’s still just a human being and would benefit from a semi-reasonable rise up the ladder.
Ugly Middleweight Violence
There is strategy behind how Dricus du Plessis fights.
It may not look it. Sometimes, du Plessis flails so wildly one wonders if he’s every had even a single coach slap him with a pool noodle to keep his defense hand in position at any point in his 20-fight professional career. He has no regards for the fundamentals, commonly doing running charges of power punches to a point that seems reckless.
Yet, he wins. He wins a lot! Du Plessis is now 18-2 as a professional with 17 finishes, and he’s won the first five bouts of his UFC career. He’s not been fighting scrubs, and Derek Brunson has quite literally made a career out of turning away prospects, separating the wheat from the chaff.
The South African talent reminds me of World Series of Fighting (WSOF)-era Justin Gaethje. His goal is to create collisions and exhaustion, to force his opponent into ugly fights as quickly as possible. Du Plessis is in genuinely excellent shape, but he’s exhausted halfway through the first because he wants his opponent to be spent too. Then, he’s able to recover for bursts, bursts that still have massive power and carry fight-finishing potential.
Once du Plessis dragged Brunson down to his level, the wrestler was vulnerable. It didn’t matter that du Plessis was tired as well, because his haymakers was landing too, and Brunson could not hold up to those blows.
Phone Booth Brawl
Julian Marquez vs. Marc-Andre Barriault was never going to produce anything but a scrap.
Early on, Marquez was landing the bigger shots. Barriault seemed to have his mind set on forcing a more technical exchange, as he tried to maintain his distance with jabs and check hooks. Marquez was less concerned, loading up on big swings and heavy calf kicks to land the more impactful shots.
By the second, however, Marquez was slowing down a bit, and Barriault was more willing to play his usual game. The two met in the clinch repeatedly, trading carving elbows and digging body shots. The dynamic had changed beyond mere distance, as Barriault was the athlete pushing his opponent back and really applying pressure. He tore Marquez up in the clinch, and when Marquez needed space to recover, Barriault stayed on him and kept dropping volume until the referee was forced to intervene.
- Ian Garry defeats Song Kenan via third-round knockout (HIGHLIGHTS): Garry built a nice bit of hype in his victory to close the early “Prelims.” Kenan came out looking for the counter left hook, and it landed early to stun Gary. The Irish talent adjusted, really establishing his jab and then playing off the reactions from that weapon. His follow ups were really beautiful, as Garry was able to double up on body shots and stay just out of range of counters. By the third, he was really flowing just as the damage began to build, resulting in an onslaught of strikes just before the belt.
- Tabatha Ricci defeats Jessica Penne via second-round armbar (HIGHLIGHTS): This was a really strange fight. Being more than a decade younger and significantly stronger meant that Ricci was able to win wrestling exchanges without much issue, which created an odd dynamic. Penne’s guard work created some neat scrambles, but mostly, Ricci chose to stand above her opponent and kick the legs. She was winning that way, but when Penne tried to sit up on a sweep, Ricci countered by throwing her back down and jumping around the guard. As Penne tried to dig an underhook, Ricci caught the far side elbow, executing a perfect teacup armbar to score the finish.
For complete UFC 285: “Jones vs. Gane” results and play-by-play, click HERE.