By the time Jon Jones makes his walk to the cage Saturday night at UFC 285, it will have been 1,121 days since fight fans last saw the polarizing mixed martial arts marvel compete.
The 35-year-old former longtime light-heavyweight champion is finally set to make his anticipated heavyweight debut after spending the past few years bulking up and preparing to compete against the sport’s biggest athletes.
Jones is set to face Ciryl Gane with the vacant heavyweight title on the line because the organization decided in January to cut ties with Francis Ngannou due to a contract dispute. Ngannou was the No. 1-ranked heavyweight in the sport and undisputed defending UFC champion at the time of his release.
Jones shone in the UFC’s 205-pound division from 2009 to 2020. He became champion in his seventh UFC bout and over the years accumulated multiple divisional and organizational records on his journey to becoming the No. 1 pound-for-pound talent in MMA.
Two of his most notable performances were against Daniel Cormier, his biggest rival who’ll be on the call during Saturday’s broadcast. Cormier later went on to become heavyweight champ, but how Jones does in his new weight class will be a mystery until he and Gane clash.
Jones’s most difficult opponent over the years proved time and time again to be the man he sees in the mirror.
The only blemishes on his professional MMA record are of his own volition – a 2009 disqualification for illegal elbow strikes and his second win over Cormier was overturned to a no-contest due to a failed drug test – and has no one but himself to blame for several reputation-damaging incidents that have occurred outside of the cage.
So much about the UFC landscape has changed in the 129 events during Jones’s absence.
Alexander Volkanovski’s and Valentina Shevchenko were the only champions that didn’t lose whilst Jones was away. Amanda Nunes’ seldom-defended featherweight title is the only other belt not to change hands at least once since Jones narrowly defeated Dominick Reyes at UFC 247.
Stipe Miocic was the heavyweight kingpin at the time and Gane was only 3-0 in the UFC the last time Jones was active. The 32-year-old from France knocked out former heavyweight champ Junior dos Santos, won five-round main event unanimous decisions over Jairzinho Rozenstruik and Alexander Volkov, and earned an interim title by stopping Derrick Lewis in 2021.
Gane bounced back from a decision loss to Ngannou in January of 2022 by knocking out Tai Tuivasa this past September in the most electric performance of his UFC tenure.
Jones has never been defeated in MMA and if Gane is going to become the first to earn an asterisk-free victory over Jones, his best chance will be if this fight stays mostly a striking battle.
Gane is just as tall as Jones, spry for a heavyweight, possesses fast hands with knockout power, and Jones’s typical reach and length advantage could be nullified with effective distance control from Gane.
Jones landed an average of 4.30 significant strikes per minute at 57 per cent efficiency in the 205-pound division; he absorbed 2.22 significant strikes per minutes with 64 per cent defence. Gane, meanwhile, lands 5.11 significant strikes per minute at 59 per cent efficiency and has similar defence at 2.25 significant strikes absorbed per minute at a 62 per cent rate.
If Jones has difficulty closing distance and/or taking Gane to the canvas, we may end up seeing Jones’s toughest striking matchup style-wise to date.
The only issue with that if you’re leaning towards or cheering for Gane? Jones has tremendous wrestling prowess and Gane’s takedown defence has only been 55 per cent effective against UFC opponents.
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JONES VS. GANE BETTING ODDS
Jones -200 | Gane +155 | Draw +5200
Jones by decision +165 | Gane by decision +315
Jones by KO/TKO/DQ +260 | Gane by KO/TKO/DQ +375
Jones by submission +365 | Gane by submission +1300
Over 4.5 rounds -135 | Under 4.5 rounds +105
The last time Jones wasn’t at least a two-to-one betting favourite was before his rematch with Cormier in 2017, so he’s back in familiar territory. His four most recent bouts? Jones was roughly -300 chalk in his rematch with Alexander Gustafsson, approximately -700 facing Anthony Smith, -500 versus Thiago Santos, and longer than -400 against Reyes in a fight he won on the judges’ scorecards, but not the public’s.
Gane opened as the underdog yet closed as a slight favourite when he met Ngannou for the unified championship at UFC 270 in January 2022. This time around he opened as a slight favourite over Jones but that line quickly swung in Jones’s direction.
The pay-per-view event taking place at Nevada’s T-Mobile Arena also features Shevchenko defending her belt, the official UFC debut of top prospect Bo Nickal, plus plenty more action.
UFC 285 MAIN CARD (moneyline odds):
— Jon Jones (-195) vs. Ciryl Gane (+150)
— Valentina Shevchenko (-985) vs. Alexa Grasso (+585)
— Geoff Neal (+370) vs. Shavkat Rakhmonov (-630)
— Mateusz Gamrot (-250) vs. Jalin Turner (+170)
— Bo Nickal (-1440) vs. Jamie Pickett (+800)
— Cody Garbrandt (-175) vs. Trevin Jones (+135)
— Derek Brunson (+170) vs. Dricus du Plessis (-225)
— Viviane Araujo (+100) vs. Amanda Ribas (-130)
— Julian Marquez (+125) vs. Marc-André Barriault (-160)
— Ian Garry (-765) vs. Song Kenan (+535)
— Cameron Saaiman (-295) vs. Leomana Martinez (+210)
— Jessica Penne (+225) vs. Tabatha Ricci (-315)
— Da’Mon Blackshear (+335) vs. Farid Basharat (-445)
— Esteban Ribovics (+195) vs. Loik Radzhabov (-265)
Jones has the opportunity to join Cormier, Georges St-Pierre, Conor McGregor, Henry Cejudo, Amanda Nunes, B.J. Penn and Randy Couture as the eighth multi-weight UFC champion. He would join Cormier and Couture as the third fighter to win both the light-heavyweight and heavyweight titles.
Sergei Pavlovich was named the official main event backup opponent in the event either Jones or Gane are forced to withdraw from the event at the eleventh hour.
(Listed odds via Sports Interaction as of Friday and subject to change)