UFC 285: Jon Jones stuns Ciryl Gane to win heavyweight championship
Josh McNally

"I'll definitely move up to heavyweight," said Jon Jones in response to a question by UFC President Dana White during a fan chat. "But it'll probably be around 2013, maybe at the end of 2013."

A decade since that first confirmation, Jones finally made his divisional debut.

It's been a long time coming – in more ways than one. Jones kept defending his light heavyweight title until February 8, 2020, when he beat Dominick Reyes by the finest of margins. He then vacated the championship in August that year and many wondered if he would ever fight again.

Even while winning with ease, Jon's personal life kept spiraling out of control, with repeated failed drugs tests within the sport, and several arrests outside of it. This seemed to peak during the COVID-19 pandemic when Jones was arrested for DUI in 2020 and again in 2021 for domestic battery and tampering with a police vehicle.

It seemed like he had crossed a line and, with a record of 26 wins, one DQ loss and one No Contest, the man considered by many to be the greatest of all time was simply waiting out his UFC contract. Then, out of nowhere, on January 14, 2023, news leaked that UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou had left the company, vacated the championship and the new champion would be decided in a bout between previous contender Ciryl Gane and Jon Jones on March 5.

Jon Jones measures the distance with Ciryl Gane with a low leg kick. /Zuffa
Jon Jones measures the distance with Ciryl Gane with a low leg kick. /Zuffa

Jon Jones measures the distance with Ciryl Gane with a low leg kick. /Zuffa

Gane, who made his company debut in August 2019, is repeatedly referred to as a "new generation" of heavyweight. It isn't simply that he's among a new intake that includes fighters such as Tom Aspinall and Sergei Pavlovich, it's that he's totally different to what the 265lb division tends to specialize in.

Heavyweight is full of big guys who hit hard, and that's it. Stipe Miocic is considered the best UFC heavyweight of all time because he's the only fighter to win the belt twice and have four successful defenses. What's forgotten is this is generally down to him being the only man in the division at that time who was athletic enough to even fight often enough to maintain that schedule.

That's not the case for Gane. He's well-muscled with low body fat and fights a point kickboxing style off the balls of his feet. He's always bouncing around the cage and attacking from unorthodox angles.

If that sounds familiar, it's because it's how Jones fought a decade earlier and at 205lbs, and it made the Parisian the perfect foil for the returning Johnny Bones. Figuratively, the only person to ever beat Jon Jones has been Jon Jones, now, in reality, he had to face a guy who mirrored him in many key attributes – besides one.

Jon Jones applies a front choke on Ciryl Gane. /Zuffa
Jon Jones applies a front choke on Ciryl Gane. /Zuffa

Jon Jones applies a front choke on Ciryl Gane. /Zuffa

Gane's solitary loss, which came to former champ Ngannou, resulted entirely from his inability to wrestle. He had never needed it as a pro Muay Thai fighter, and only began learning in the build up to that bout.

Had Gane done anything to improve his most glaring weakness? "I love grappling, but, unfortunately, I'm lazy, that's the truth," was his response when interviewed for a French media outlet. His coach, Fernand Lopez, was quick to speak to to clarify the statement as a joke.

At UFC 285, it took only 30 seconds to find out Gane was actually dead serious, as Jones took him down effortlessly off a missed punch. He struggled back to his feet and Jones used this to reset position, take him down again and press him against the wall of the cage. As Gane moved to sit up, Jones leaned on top of him, sunk in a choke and forced his opponent to tap out.

It took a decade for Jon Jones to move to heavyweight, but only 124 seconds to arrive, and after three years away, he's already set up his first title defense against Stipe Miocic in July. Don't call it a comeback: this is business as usual.

[Header: Jon Jones celebrates with the UFC heavyweight championship belt following his first round submission win over Ciryl Gane in the main event of UFC 285 at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S. on March 5, 2023. /Zuffa]

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