Jon Jones’ dominant return leaves unanswered questions as Stipe Miocic awaits
As Jon Jones pressed a finger to his lips and strode across the cage, Ciryl Gane slumped his back against the fence and sat staring in disbelief – at his quick conqueror, at the shrinking sight of Jones’ hulking frame.
Three years in the making, Jones’ UFC return brought with it so many questions. Some would have required the full 25 minutes to answer; others were only answered because the fight lasted just two minutes.
So, when Jones slipped Gane’s straight punch, dragged the Frenchman to the canvas, trapped him against the fence and nearly decapitated him with a guillotine choke, these were the questions that were answered: Would the greatest light-heavyweight in MMA history know how to use his new, heavyweight body? Yes, all 247lbs of it. Would that same body show speckled red hints of ring rust? None whatsover. Would Jones, 35, display his old spitefulness and hunger for a finish, or the apathetic point-fighting approach of his last few outings? Well, the American devoured Gane like a lion feasting on an injured gazelle.
With that, “Bones” not only fulfilled a decade-long promise to move up to heavyweight, but the American also took the title that Francis Ngannou relinquished upon his UFC exit in January. Yet Ngannou still wears the crown of lineal heavyweight champion.
“Good job Jonny Boy,” the Cameroonian tweeted after Jones reduced Gane to a spectator in the main event of UFC 285 on Saturday. “Sincerely, the heavyweight king.” Jones, for what it is worth, was quick to respond in his post-fight press conference. It was a reply as brief and as mean as his in-ring performance minutes earlier: “Francis is a big old p***y.”
Yet Ngannou’s virtual arrival at UFC 285 raised some of the questions that Jones did not have time to answer on Saturday; and Stipe Miocic’s actual arrival at the T-Mobile Arena raised the rest.
Firstly, there is the enduring allure that maintained intrigue around Jones’ move to heavyweight for a decade: The question of whether a single heavyweight punch could erase all of Jones’ seemingly insurmountable assets – his reach, height, speed, creativity and versatility. Gane was as heavy and as tall as Jones in Las Vegas, and few would suggest that the 32-year-old is any slower than “Bones”; but a single missed strike was all it took for Gane to lose the opportunity to showcase any of his skills or test any of his opponent’s.
Perhaps the same would have happened if Ngannou had been standing across from Jones, yet there is certainly an argument that the Cameroonian might have had the strength to neutralise the American where Gane failed to. And then what? While Jones has beaten numerous champions over the years, Ngannou has done the same but with even less effort, thanks to the unparalleled punching power that the “Predator” possesses. There still exists an imagined scenario in which Ngannou touches Jones’ chin and the American simply ceases to exist as a competitor, like almost all who have stood before Ngannou.
Some still hold out hope for a super-fight between Jones and Ngannou, despite the latter’s UFC exit and pay dispute with Dana White. However, the UFC president said last week: “We negotiated with him for years. It’s over. He’ll never be in the UFC again. I never say ‘never’, but I’ll give you a ‘never’ on that one. We tried.” Interestingly, Jones had his own dispute with White over money, one that was resolved – but perhaps only after Jones conceded ground that Ngannou would not.
In any case, while Jones vs Ngannou might mark one of the most captivating contests never to come together, Jones vs Miocic is a very real possibility – one that could become a reality in July.
“Y’all want to see me beat up Stipe?” Jones said after beating Gane. “Stipe Miocic, I hope you’re training, my guy. You’re the greatest heavyweight of all time, and that’s what I want. I want you, real bad [...] There has never been a fight that means more to me than beating Stipe Miocic. I don’t think I’ve ever fought a GOAT.” Miocic, who is better known for his in-ring abilities than his oration, later told ESPN: “It’s a fight, he won. Good for him, hats off, but unfortunately he’s got to fight me in July.”
It may be then, on International Fight Week, that Jones is finally asked the question of how his chin will hold up against a heavyweight. American Miocic, 40, does not possess Ngannou’s power – no mixed martial artist does – but he hits harder than Gane, is one of the great heavyweight grapplers, and his experience eclipses that of Gane and Ngannou combined.
Miocic might also be able to pose the unanswered question around Jones’ endurance in his new division. Miocic, a former two-time UFC heavyweight champion, has rarely needed to go the distance over the years, but the part-time firefighter put on a wrestling clinic for 25 minutes to outpoint Ngannou in 2018, and he out-struck Jones’ old rival Daniel Cormier over five rounds in 2020.
Miocic has his own questions to answer, however. Heavyweights tend to have a later expiration date than most fighters, but Miocic would enter a fight with Jones at 40 years old, after two years out of the ring, and on the back of a devastating knockout loss in his rematch with Ngannou. In some ways, the questions around Miocic are similar to those surrounding Jones at UFC 285 – where “Bones” returned aged 35, after three years away, at a new weight, and following of a run of underwhelming showings.
As impressive as Jones’ win over Gane was, it left a lot to be unearthed. Gane failed to test Jones, and Ngannou may never get the chance to. Now, all eyes are on Miocic.
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