UFC 285: Can Jones Live Up to His Own Legend Against a New Dynamo in Gane?

Jon Jones and Ciryl Gane, UFC 285 ceremonial weigh-in Credit: Gabriel Gonzalez/Cageside Press

Pound-for-pound great Jon Jones returns to action for the first time in nearly three years to take on dynamic heavyweight Ciryl Gane for the vacant title at UFC 285.

For 25 minutes or less, everything else will be secondary in regards to Jon Jones.

The layoff, the controversies, the discussion, all of it will be suspended as the masses tune in to see if Jones can return from his latest layoff and overcome his literal biggest test to date.  At least competitively if not in pop culture, Jones’ resume of fourteen straight victories in title fights dating back to when he was 23 years-old has many considering him to be the Michael Jordan or Tom Brady of mixed martial arts.  Despite the sheer amount of talent that has emerged in the past decade as the sport has become bigger than ever before, Jones has staved off veterans and up-and-comers alike en route to being considered by many to be the greatest mixed martial artist of all-time.

Jones’ career has been fraught with incidents ranging from the personal to the professional, but he has always responded to the criticism and controversy with victories inside the cage.  Saturday, despite all he has faced and overcome before, may be his most difficult test.  He will be moving up to the heavyweight division at 35 years-old and after a three year layoff to attempt to win a championship in a second weight class.  But perhaps most telling, is that he is attempting to conquer a new division after the competition had seemingly closed the gap in his previous bouts at his optimal weight class of 205 pounds.  If his skills and abilities are still able to overcome the increased size and power of his new foes, then it would not be folly to suggest that it would set him head and shoulders above the rest of the participants in the GOAT conversation.

Ciryl Gane may have missed the deadline to become the youngest champion in UFC history, but he may well end his career as an all-time great when it is all said and done.  “Bon Gamin” had a career in Muay Thai but was only three fights into his professional MMA career when the UFC signed him in 2019.  The Frenchman quickly impressed with three victories in four months in his debut year with the company.  Gane went on to accumulate seven victories overall in the Octagon to set up a shot at then undisputed champion Francis Ngannou last year.  Despite a competitive effort, Gane suffered his first loss in the sport by decision that night and would not be seen until he returned to the win-column months later in the headliner of the UFC’s first event in France.

While it may be seen as hyperbole, Gane’s arrival to the elite level with so few MMA matches to his credit had many regarding him as the next big thing at not only heavyweight but perhaps the sport itself.  As fast and versatile a striker as the division has ever seen, Gane was promoted as the next evolution in the sport not unlike his upcoming foe was years ago.  At a time when so few of the big men are fast and dynamic, the athletic Gane was a breath of fresh air against the lumbering heavyweights.  Still in the prime of his career and with victories over top ranked opponents on his resume, a title victory over Jones would be a significant feather in his cap.  Should he continue his winning ways in the next year or so, it would be difficult to deny his resume compared to the rest of the heavyweight champions of the modern era.

The biggest questions entering the bout are the one’s pertaining to Jones’ age and size moving up to heavyweight.  Gane is a dynamic and natural heavyweight whose size and mobility would be on par to give a younger Jones’ trouble.  At this stage of his career, can Jones fend off a hungry up-and-comer eager to earn a historic victory?  The second biggest factor is expected to be the wrestling.  While Jones has not sought takedowns with frequency in his past several fights, they have been a part of his arsenal and could be the determining factor in a close bout.  Gane’s defensive wrestling was highlighted in his loss to Ngannou, but the size of the former champion and Jones could make it a different story in getting the fight to the mat on Saturday.

It would be difficult not to revisit the possibility of a unifier with now former champion Francis Ngannou.  Should Jones be victorious, the appetite for the bout with Ngannou would still be high and possible if both sides could come to an agreement for a bout by the end of the year.  UFC President Dana White downplayed that possibility on Friday however.  Should it not come to pass, a bout with former long-reigning champion Stipe Miocic figures to be next in what would be another stern test for the skills of Saturday’s winner.


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