Nobody ever knows what to expect from Jon Jones. The return of one of the most talented and polarizing fighters in UFC history takes place this Saturday night at UFC 285 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. Jon Jones versus Ciryl Gane is the main event of a stacked pay-per-view card that also features a women’s flyweight championship bout between Valentina Shevchenko and Alexa Grasso. All the fight nights at the Apex make massive cards like this one feel so much bigger.
Jones’ highly anticipated move to heavyweight has been literally years in the making, with potential opponents ranging from Stipe Miocic to Francis Ngannou and, finally, Gane. There was certainly a time when fans like myself wondered if Jones’ return to fighting would ever materialize. Now, after a three-year hiatus, he has a massive opportunity to become champion in his heavyweight debut and add to a legacy that started 12 years ago when he became the youngest title holder in UFC history. The gaps from then until now tell one hell of a story and are a big reason why Jones isn’t unanimously considered the greatest of all time.
However, inside the Octagon, Jones hasn’t been beaten. The lone loss of his career was a suspect disqualification when he mauled Matt Hamill unmercifully. The former light heavyweight champion opened as +130 underdog in mid-January but quickly emerged as the favorite, with his odds currently at -165 at BetMGM. Nobody disputes Jones’ talent in his prime, but at 35 years of age and three years away from fighting, is Jones worth a bet this Saturday night?
Jon Jones (-165) vs. Ciryl Gane (+140)
We know what we are getting with Gane. The former interim heavyweight champion holds an 8-1 record in the UFC, with his first and only blemish coming via decision against Francis Ngannou. Gane has outstanding footwork and effortlessly mixes in kicks at all three levels with solid boxing. He likes to be light on this feet, piling up damage with high output. His activity at range helps his striking defense (2.25 strikes absorbed per minute), and surviving five rounds without ending up unconscious against Ngannou is a feat few men have accomplished. However, there are a few flaws previous opponents haven’t been able to exploit in a way Jones can.
The concerns about Jones are never related to the things he is capable of inside in the Octagon. It’s the unknown that makes this fight so intriguing. Bettors either want to see it, or see the data behind it, and they aren’t getting either with Jones at heavyweight. I’m sure historical data doesn’t paint a pretty picture of fighters taking three-year layoffs and returning to the sport at 35 years old. But, in more ways than one, Jones is a case of his own.
Here’s what I do know about Jones: He is very intentional when the cage door closes. He has spoken at length in interviews about Gane’s wrestling defense, which was the Frenchman’s Achilles heel against Ngannou. Jones has always used his wrestling as an ancillary weapon, but he was able to secure five takedowns in his last three fights. I get that Jones is likely past his athletic prime, but if you are telling me that the guy who took down Daniel Cormier three times isn’t going to get Gane to the mat, that’s something I will need to see to believe. But Jones’ advantages don’t end there.
I’m backing Jones because the versatility in his striking will keep Gane off balance enough to allow him to get the fight to the mat when needed. Jones isn’t a power puncher, but he has always excelled at maximizing his length, and he will still hold a three-inch reach advantage versus Gane. He has good knees in the clinch and lethal elbows that can change the complexion of the fight in seconds. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a big dose of his oblique kicks early to disrupt Gane’s timing while Jones finds his range. Jones landed 40-plus kicks in two of his last three fights and will use his legs to help him crash distance. Once he is inside, he can tie up Gane, unload with elbows, or trips and sweeps, nullifying Gane’s offense by getting him on his back.
There is a possibility the last few times we saw Jones in the Octagon, it was a glimpse into a fighter entering the downside of his career. While I admit he is probably there now at 35, challenges have always brought out the best in Jones. Whether winning the title from Shogun Rua, leaving Lyoto Machida unconscious, dominating Daniel Cormier, or finishing Alexander Gustafsson in the rematch, Jones is a different fighter when truly challenged. This Saturday night is the biggest challenge of his career. I bet Jones at -165. His clear path to victory through his wrestling is enough to convince me to get involved at this price.
Stats provided by ufcstats. com.