Jon Jones returns this weekend.
Permit me to repeat that with acceptable emphasis and enthusiasm: Jon Jones! Returns! This weekend!
I had to withstand the urge to go all caps there, as a result of that is BIG. Jones will likely be combating for the primary time in over three years when he steps into the Octagon for the primary occasion of UFC 285 on Saturday night time in Las Vegas (ESPN+ PPV, 10 p.m ET).
Jones’ assembly with Ciryl Gane for the vacant heavyweight championship is not only the largest combat on this weekend’s pay-per-view card at T-Cellular Enviornment, it is the largest combat the game has seen in years. That is the return of the consensus GOAT of MMA, and he is not merely coming again to reclaim what he left behind. The seemingly without end gentle heavyweight champ is getting into a brand new area, making his debut on the planet of the massive boys.
The significance of Jones being again within the cage is apparent to longtime blended martial arts followers, however for many who weren’t but following the game method again within the pre-pandemic days of February 2020, when “Jonny Bones” final competed, here is a primer:
Jones gained the UFC gentle heavyweight title in March 2011 at age 23 by stopping Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, changing into the youngest champion within the combat firm’s historical past. He then proceeded to mow down a procession of ex-champions and future Corridor of Famers whereas standing head and shoulders above the gang at 205 kilos. Jones constructed and fortified an ironclad case for recognition as the best fighter within the historical past of MMA.
Amongst an extended listing of superlatives, Jones owns the UFC report for many title combat wins, with 14. They got here throughout an unbeaten run via three reigns with the belt — an incongruity that brings us to the grim aspect of the Jones story.
Jones by no means misplaced his championship contained in the cage however was stripped of it for unhealthy conduct thrice, making him the one fighter ever to have a title taken away by the UFC greater than as soon as. He has served three suspensions for doping violations, plus one in reference to an arrest following a hit-and-run accident that injured a pregnant lady. Jones has been arrested a number of different occasions, together with on a home violence cost and twice for suspicion of driving underneath the affect.
So sure, Jones’ profession path has been a twisty street protecting a dizzying route of thrills and spinouts. However one factor about that profession is plain: When Jones has made it into the cage to combat, he has been elegant. Largely. His previous couple of defenses at 205 kilos weren’t as domineering as we might develop into used to, and that provides a layer of intrigue to his return. Did Jones battle a bit as a result of the sport has caught up with him? Or, after practically a dozen title defenses, was he simply becoming bored? This weekend would possibly reply that. As Jones turns the web page to a brand new, weightier chapter, can he resume his command of the sport?
Jones’ heavyweight quest is the story of the weekend, nevertheless it’s not the one story. His combat shouldn’t be even the one title bout at UFC 285, as Valentina Shevchenko defends her flyweight championship in opposition to Alexa Grasso within the co-main occasion. And there are different potential highlights sprinkled all through the night time.
Here is a rating of probably the most important fights to look at.
1. Jon Jones vs. Ciryl Gane
Having already laid out why Jones’ return is a must-see occasion, it is now time to notice that this combat is not Jones vs. Simply Some Man. Gane is pretty much as good because it will get within the heavyweight division proper now. He has knocked out Tai Tuivasa, Derrick Lewis and Junior dos Santos, and in the one lack of his profession, Gane gave Francis Ngannou issues. He has the dimensions (6-foot-4, 247 kilos) and elite putting abilities to manage this combat, even end it. Nonetheless, Gane was taken down and managed on the canvas 4 occasions in final yr’s combat with Ngannou, who’s nowhere close to the wrestler Jones is. That might be a pivotal issue.
2. Valentina Shevchenko vs. Alexa Grasso
Shevchenko will likely be making the eighth protection of her 125-pound title. That is twice as many defenses as some other present UFC champion. Shevchenko has been queen of the flyweights since 2018, and it has been over a decade since she has misplaced to anybody apart from girls’s GOAT Amanda Nunes, the champ at 135 and 145. Can Grasso put a dent in that supremacy? She’s from Mexico, and two of her countrymen, Brandon Moreno and Yair Rodriguez, not too long ago gained UFC belts. Grasso has a possibility to assist usher in a recent new period of Mexican champions.
3. Shavkat Rakhmonov vs. Geoff Neal
Shavkat Rakhmonov knocks out Carlston Harris with assist of unbelievable kick
Shavkat Rakhmonov makes fast work of Carlston Harris with a formidable spinning wheel kick at UFC Struggle Evening.
Rakhmonov is 16-0 with finishes in each considered one of his fights — a wonderfully balanced mix of eight knockouts and eight submissions. He’s No. 10 in ESPN’s welterweight rankings, placing him one spot behind Neal, who has gained two in a row, most not too long ago handing the powerful Vicente Luque the primary knockout of his profession final August. This combat must be fiery.
4. Bo Nickal vs. Jamie Pickett
Bo Nickal wants simply 52 seconds to earn spectacular submission win
Bo Nickal pulls off the submission win over Donovan Beard in simply 52 seconds within the first spherical.
Hype-loving followers is perhaps wanting ahead to this middleweight combat as a lot because the title bouts. Nickal, a three-time NCAA Division I nationwide champion out of wrestling powerhouse Penn State, is as overvalued a prospect because the UFC has seen in years. His Octagon debut will inform us a little bit about him: how he handles the intense lights and the way he holds up in opposition to UFC-level competitors. However that is only a child step for Nickal. If he will get previous Pickett, the assessments will solely get more difficult.
5. Viviane Araujo vs. Amanda Ribas
Flyweight has been the fiefdom of the champion within the co-main for thus lengthy that it has develop into troublesome to generate assist for anybody difficult Shevchenko for the title. However in current months we have seen nice champs from Kamaru Usman to Israel Adesanya take a fall, so that offers hope to the remainder of the 125-pound division. Erin Blanchfield made a daring assertion final weekend by beating Jessica Andrade, and now it is time for both Araujo or Ribas to shine.
A few different issues to look at (or not)
Cody Garbrandt is a former UFC males’s bantamweight champion. However he has not fought since 2021 and, even when energetic, has misplaced 5 of his previous six bouts, with all however a kind of defeats coming by knockout. It has been a brutal fall to witness. Can Garbrandt stay standing in opposition to Trevin Jones, a loser in his previous three fights? Or should we cowl our eyes once more?
Is Derek Brunson in, or is he out? After he was knocked out by Jared Cannonier a yr in the past to finish a five-fight profitable streak, Brunson wrote on social media that he deliberate to combat simply as soon as extra, then retire. Nonetheless, in December the middleweight tweeted out a plan for “4 fights in 2023.” Brunson had higher determine on his stage of dedication earlier than getting into the cage with Dricus du Plessis, winner of six in a row, together with 5 finishes.
The total UFC 285 combat card
ESPN+ PPV, 10 p.m. ET
Heavyweight championship: Ciryl Gane vs. Jon Jones
Ladies’s flyweight championship: Valentina Shevchenko (c) vs. Alexa Grasso
Welterweight: Shavkat Rakhmonov vs. Geoff Neal
Light-weight: Mateusz Gamrot vs. Jalin Turner
Middleweight: Bo Nickal vs. Jamie Pickett
ESPN/ESPNews/ESPN+, 8 p.m. ET
Males’s bantamweight: Cody Garbrandt vs. Trevin Jones
Middleweight: Derek Brunson vs. Dricus du Plessis
Ladies’s flyweight: Viviane Araujo vs. Amanda Ribas
Middleweight: Julian Marquez vs. Marc-Andre Barriault
ESPN+, 5:30 p.m. ET
Welterweight: Ian Garry vs. Track Kenan
Males’s bantamweight: Mana Martinez vs. Cameron Saaiman
Strawweight: Jessica Penne vs. Tabatha Ricci
Males’s bantamweight: Da’Mon Blackshear vs. Farid Basharat
Light-weight: Kamuela Kirk vs. Esteban Ribovics
(c) = defending champion