Las Vegas, NV — Jon Jones makes his long-awaited return, and long awaited move to the heavyweight division, at UFC 285 this Saturday.
A move years in the making is suddenly upon us, with Jones set to face Ciryl Gane for the vacant UFC heavyweight championship.
With time and a change in division, there are a lot of unknowns ahead of “Bones'” return, and the former light heavyweight champion admits to feeling just a little bit of nerves.
“I can’t say that I’m afraid. There’s some nervousness. Doing media makes you feel a little nervous, you just want to put your best foot forward. Seeing the fans again, being kind of the center of attention again,” Jones (26-1, 1NC) told media outlets including Cageside Press at Wednesday’s UFC 285 media day. “I’m from Albuquerque, I live a pretty simple lifestyle. Shooting guns, hanging out with my dog, taking care of my family. I’m just a low-key guy. So this is like, it’s a nice reality check, being out here in front of everyone again.”
“I’m just doing my best with it, and trying to have fun with it. Share some light and love, and just enjoy the process,” Jones added.
The intrigue of Jones at heavyweight is the selling point of UFC 285. How will he look? Will he still have the same speed? What sort of power will a heavyweight Jon Jones possess? These questions are almost more tantalizing than the match-up with Gane itself, and Jones feels he already has the answers.
“I believe I know the answers to these questions. I feel awesome, I feel awesome. I feel like I move really well, I have great pride in my endurance,” said Jones, adding that he does a lot of endurance training, from the bike to the pool to sparring and beyond. “I work really hard. I feel great. Honestly, I feel like a stronger version of myself.” There is a visible difference that tells Jones he’s a heavyweight now, however. “I’m not super-lean, I don’t have a six-pack like I used to. That took me a while to get used to.”
Asked if he believed his fight with Gane would be his toughest test, Jones couldn’t say.
“It’s hard to say, it’s hard to say whether it will be the toughest challenge or not. I can’t predict the future. My first [Alexander] Gustafsson fight, I wasn’t expecting him to put on the fight he did, and it was an absolute war. I am ready for whatever, I’m ready to dominate, but if I don’t dominate, and the fight goes five rounds, I’m ready to press forward. I’m ready for a dog fight, I’m ready to bleed and sweat and leave my heart out there. I’m ready for however it goes; I’m pretty prepared for victory.”
The reality of Saturday night’s UFC 285, however, is that it serves as a reminder of how fast MMA moves. “Wild” is one way Jones put it, but regardless, there are now fans who missed out on Jones’ dominant run at 205lbs. Then, on the other hand, there are fans who approach him to say they started watching him at 10 years old.
“I’m honored to still be here. It’s great to still be here. I’ve been inactive over the last three years when it comes to the UFC space. I’ve been living a total martial arts lifestyle for the very first time in my life though,” noted Jones. “In the past, I would train only right before fights. Now, I have my own team, and they hold me accountable. I have to be there.”
That light heavyweight run — one not without turmoil, through personal trials, legal struggles, and failed drug tests — traversed a full eleven title defenses through Jones’ multiple title reigns. Yet as his performances tapered off somewhat towards the end, in fights with Thiago Santos and Dominick Reyes that were closer than many expected, a theory arose that Jones, frankly, was bored with fighting. Playing with his food, as it were.
Jones addressed that suggestion Wednesday.
“It’s not that I was bored and playing with my food, it was just that, I wanted more. I wanted greater challenges,” he explained. “These guys were relatively unknown, a lot of these guys, and I really wasn’t happy with my pay, either, that was a really big thing. And I was at a place where I was just like, ‘how can I spike the interest of the fans?'” Case in point, Jones believes that despite how good Dominick Reyes was, no one knew him, and “no one respected him.”
“I was just stuck in this place of ‘how can I get to a certain level as an athlete,'” Jones added, citing heavyweight boxer Deontay Wilder as an example. “How can I get there, you know what I mean? I just started to realize I needed to bump up. That’s what the fans wanted to see the whole time.” Jones recognized that heavyweight was where his big money fights would be, “and I just decided to make the leap.”
Watch the full UFC 285 media day appearance by Jon Jones above. Jones faces Ciryl Gane in the main event of UFC 285 this Saturday, March 4, 2023 at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.