Jon Jones, arguably the greatest mixed martial artist of all time, has had a career full of elite triumph and public controversy. Yet, Jones is only 35 years old and arguably still in his prime.
This article will focus on his historic MMA career while touching on outside factors that have tainted his legacy — all before he makes his return at UFC 285 this Saturday, March 4, airing live on ESPN+ PPV.
Before Jones became the youngest champion in UFC history, he cut his teeth on the wrestling mats where he won an NJCAA national title at Iowa Central Community college. Jones transitioned to MMA in 2008 where he made his professional debut for FFP. He won his first six fights inside the distance, largely relying on a substantial wrestling advantage. Then, still in 2008, Jones joined the UFC. Jones won his first UFC fight via decision, the first decision of his young career. Then, in only his second UFC and eighth professional fight, Jones was matched up against future UFC Hall of Famer, Stephan Bonnar. Jones landed 7 of 10 takedowns in the fight en route to a unanimous decision win. If he wasn’t on the UFC’s radar at this point, this win put him on the radar and fast track as a budding superstar.
Jones continued his career over the next two years racking up a 4-1 record, including a win over now-Bellator champion Ryan Bader. Jones’ only loss came via a controversial DQ due to illegal elbows against Matt Hamill in 2009. After Jones’ win over Bader, he got his first title fight. Jones faced Shogun Rua at UFC 128. “Bones” continued with his wrestle-centric style and landed three of three takedowns while landing 102 total strikes in only 2.5 rounds before finally finding the TKO finish in round 3. At only 23 years old Jon Jones became the youngest champion in UFC history. This was not the only milestone he’d reach or record he’d break during his UFC tenure; but, as stated above, his career is riddled with controversy and drama as well as triumph.
After Jones won the title at 23 in 2011, he defended his belt 8 consecutive times, breaking the previous light heavyweight record. Following a title defense over Daniel Cormier in 2015 Jones was stripped of his title and removed from the UFC rankings after he was arrested for hit-and-run charges. Then, over a year later, Jones rejoined the UFC and won the interim belt over OSP but was stripped of the gold again after testing positive for a banned substance. Over a year later again, Jones reentered the cage and won the belt again after beating Daniel Cormier. However, he was stripped of the championship again following another failed drug test. In December of 2018, Jones returned yet again to the UFC and won the vacant title over Gustafsson in a fight that will go down in history. Following Jones regaining the belt for the 4th time, he defended it 3 more times. Each defense was a closer contested fight than the previous defenses in Jones’ career. He’s attributed his struggles during these defenses to apathy and disinterest in the competition. Then, in 2020, Jones vacated the title and walked away from the UFC.
After over three years away from the UFC, Jones again is set to make his return to the octagon. However, for the first time in his tumultuous career, he will be returning in a new division: heavyweight. Jones’ career has been formed by his wrestling, range kickboxing, and ability to force opponents to fight his fight. He has typically been the bigger, more athletic, and stronger man in the cage. Come March 4, those previously assumed advantages are no longer automatic. He is set to take on one of the most athletic, skilled, and well-rounded fighters on the entire roster: Ciryl Gane.
Some people hate him for his out-of-the-cage history. Yet, some people still love him for his in-the-cage dominance. One thing is for sure, whenever Jon Jones crawls into the octagon, the whole MMA world watches.
Jon Jones makes his return this Saturday, March 4, against Ciryl Gane in the main event of UFC 285. The only way to watch the fight live in the United States is on ESPN+. Order the PPV now.