See who we are picking to be the next UFC heavyweight champion.
There will be a new UFC heavyweight champion this weekend (unless something weird happens), and though their will be debates about the ‘undisputed’ nature of the title, that won’t change the fact that someone is likely walking out of the T-Mobile Arena with a shiny new belt.
On Saturday night Jon Jones and Ciryl Gane will clash for the title that was last held by current free agent Francis Ngannou. Jones is of course making his heavyweight debut, having spent the entirety of his UFC career to date as the best light heavyweight on the planet. Gane has been here before. He beat Derrick Lewis for the
spite interim version of the belt and then lost a unification bout with Ngannou.
The fight itself is a fascinating and compelling match-up, with plenty of question marks about how well Jones’ game will translate to a heavier division (and a heavier body). These questions have likely lead to Jones, for the first time ever, being on the losing side of our staff picks.
As a team we are 5-4 in favour of Gane. Check out below to see our reasoning and please add your own predictions in the comment section.
Jon Jones vs. Ciryl Gane
Anton Tabuena: Whether or not it works is up in the air, but I think Jones crawls to the center and immediately tries to wrestle from the the get go, employing a similar approach to his old fight with Sonnen. With the glaring holes in Gane’s game, I’m guessing he will at least try to dust off his wrestling early, but it’s worth noting how a lot of Ngannou’s takedowns took Gane off guard, and was also built on power and explosiveness. Also, Jones’ takedowns hasn’t really worked much in recent years even against smaller strikers like Reyes and Santos, so I’m not sure if his 2023 version can consistently bring a much stronger guy in Gane to the mat and keep him there. I’ve always believed the best part of Jones’ game is his ground and pound, not his striking. So if this stays as a kickboxing bout for the most part, I believe Jones will struggle in spots as Gane will be one of the worst match ups on the feet at heavyweight. Some might consider this is blasphemy, but I think a lot of Jones’ kickboxing and ability to control distance isn’t as good as people think, especially in 2023. At 205, he relied more on natural length to keep his distance rather than elite technical skill, and for the few that figured out how to get past front kicks and frames, Jones also had the durability to keep him safe long enough to cover those gaping holes in his boxing defense. Against a kickboxer who also likes to move and pot shot from the outside, and with his strength, athleticism and length mostly negated, I think Jones will struggle with the vast power difference. Gane isn’t a boxing whiz by any stretch of the imagination either, but both men will land shots and it will be Jones that will feel the worst of it. His counters and kicks will likely cause Jones problems as well. Gane’s low output plus Jones’ toughness and heart might just make this reach 25 minutes, but I really don’t think Jones will find constant success if he can’t keep this on the ground. Ciryl Gane by late TKO.
Tim Bissell: I just have doubts that Jones is physically strong enough to compete with the big boys. I know he’s bulked up, but Gane is the biggest and most powerful opponent he’s ever faced (by a long shot). And I think Jones is going to feel that in the clinch and in the wrestling exchanges. I think he’ll still be too smart and too evasive to feel the difference when it comes to striking, I doubt Gane will be able to land a KO blow on him. I also can’t get his fight with Ovince Saint Preux out of my mind. That happened after he had the title stripped for a drug test failure and saw him on the sidelines for over a year. He looked rusty and tenative in that fight, a fight where he heralded how much muscle he had put on. I have a feeling the physical change, and the occasion, might affect Jones more than he would be willing to admit. For me that means this might play as a dull plodding heavyweight bout, with Gane pushing his opponent around enough to get the nod. Ciryl Gane by unanimous decision.
Eddie Mercado: Just how I couldn’t bring myself to pick Bisping over GSP, I just can’t pick Gane to beat someone as complete and exceptional as Jon Jones. I think this fight will be an odd sort of mirror match on the feet, but on the ground it’s hard to ignores Jon’s advantages. I’ve seen Gane be a bit too cavalier with his grappling, which worked well against lower level competition, but completely backfired in his title fight with Francis N’Gannou. You just can’t make those sort of mistakes against Jones. N’Gannou was able to out-wrestle Ciryl. Jon is going to out-wrestle him, too, but he’ll be beating his ass at the same time. Jon Jones by TKO, Rd.3.
Zane Simon: It’s not unreasonable for fans to feel like this fight should really show something different for Jon Jones. For the first time in his career, he’s moving up in weight. For one of the only times in his career (perhaps other than the OSP fight) he won’t be the obviously bigger man inside the Octagon. He’s been gone for 3 years; by all means something should have changed. Either Jones has gotten better or he’s gotten worse, right? But, what if he just hasn’t? What if he’s the same? And what if heavyweight isn’t as dynamic, or well rounded even as light heavyweight? Ciryl Gane is very good. He moves well, his output is consistent, he’s got a great jab and powerful kicks. But his game gets pretty messy beyond that layer. Even as a pocket puncher he gets notably wild and off balance. He can be pushed back pretty easily, and makes terrible mistakes in grappling tie-ups. If Jones’ durability is as great at 265 as it was at 205, it’s not hard for me to envision a five round fight where Jones eats some kicks, gets to push forward most of the time, lands some solid punches, and maybe gets a round of top control, and is the far fresher man late to grab a controversial decision. Jon Jones by decision.
Staff picking Jones: Chris, Kristen, Eddie, Zane
Staff picking Gane: Lucas, Stephie, Dayne, Anton, Bissell
About the author: Tim Bissell is a writer, editor and deputy site manager for Bloody Elbow. He has covered combat sports since 2015. Tim covers news and events and has also written longform and investigative pieces. (full bio)