Jon Jones vs. Ciryl Gane | UFC 285 Staff Predictions
The wait is finally over. Jon Jones, arguably the greatest mixed martial artist of all time, will make his long-awaited return to the Octagon this Saturday at UFC 285 in Las Vegas. His opponent is none other than Ciryl Gane, the undefeated French phenom who has taken the heavyweight division by storm.
Jones (26-1-1) has not fought since February 2020, when he narrowly defended his light heavyweight title against Dominick Reyes. Since then, he vacated his belt and announced his move up to heavyweight, where he hopes to cement his legacy as the best ever.
Gane (10-0) has been on a tear since joining the UFC in 2019. He has won seven straight fights in impressive fashion, showcasing his striking skills, grappling abilities and cardio. He earned his title shot by dominating Derrick Lewis at UFC 265 last August and becoming the interim champion.
This fight is a clash of styles and generations. Jones is a master of adaptation and creativity, who can use his length, speed, and intelligence to exploit any weakness in his opponents. Gane is a physical specimen with power, agility, and technique, who can match Jones’ range and versatility.
Both fighters have shown great defense and durability throughout their careers. Jones has never been knocked out or submitted in MMA competition. Gane has never lost a round or been seriously hurt by any of his foes.
The stakes are high for this bout. The winner will become the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world and possibly face Francis Ngannou in a blockbuster unification fight later this year. The loser will have to deal with a setback that could affect their legacy and future prospects.
Fight fans can order the UFC 285 PPV now on ESPN+ to watch Jones vs. Gane and every other fight live on Saturday night, including Shevchenko vs. Grasso, and more.
The odds are relatively tight before the Jones vs. Gane main event at UFC 285.
Jones is currently listed as a -160 favorite whereas bettors can pick up Gane for +140 right now.
UFC 285 staff predictions
Jon Jones is largely an unknown variable in this fight. Although we all know how talented and skilled he is, we don’t truly know what he will look like as a heavyweight and we don’t know what his new mentality will be as he reinvents himself as a potential heavyweight champion. In terms of the latter, it is fair to speculate that we may see an improvement on what we last saw from the Lightheavyweight goat. In his last three fights at 205, Jones has been criticized for uninspired performances, but largely this could be attributed to a lack of change in his championship situations. The difference in legacy between 11, 12, and 13 Light Heavyweight is significant, but it’s not significant compared to a second belt and what Jones believes is a key to ending the “greatest of all time” conversation. Genuinely this leads me to believe we will see a more motivated and zeroed-in Jon Jones on March 4.
From a technical perspective, this is a very competitive fight from the outside between two chess players. Neither man is known for their one-punch KO power, but rather their accumulative striking, meaning from the opening bell they are going to be setting traps. Both men like to start low and work their way up, Gane tapping low calf and thigh kicks, and a solid left body kick, and Jones a combination of oblique and side kicks designed to break down the knees mid-section. Both men in the past have done so with the intention of drawing down the guard and setting up head kicks or punches later on.
In his latter 205lb fights, Jones began settling into a less mobile, more stalking approach but this should translate better to a heavyweight frame than his older more agile, and wild footwork. That being said, it also leads me to believe that Gane will be the quicker fighter on his feet, able to move around, in and out with his jab, which makes Jones’ use of sidekicks and oblique kicks even more important for him, to stop that linear mobility.
Gane tends to open up with everything at the range, hit, draw his opponents back into him and land a counter on top of his combination, Jones needs to stop this progression tactic in the middle with interception rather than get caught chasing him. Once he has established range, Gane tends to commit more to work inside confident in his ability to move and dodge between shots, but this becomes exponentially more dangerous with Jones. While Gane has been able to move between the hooks of heavyweights, Jones is likely the best elbow user in MMA history if not at least one of them. It’s far harder to slip a short elbow inside the pocket than the usual boxing, which Jones can use to throw Gane off, especially if Jones is the one pressing Gane into the cage.
Clinch work is far in the advantage zone of Jones with his Greco-Roman skills, and while MMA math is as far from solid, Jones is another step up from Francis Ngannou as a wrestler who took Gane down with some consistency just a fight ago. On the ground, Jones’ elbows from half-guard and submissions from the top are always a threat, but Gane does have a wild card submission game of his own. As much muscle as Jones could put onto his frame in his move to heavyweight, Gane could still look to attack Jones’ ankles to some effect, with the same roll under heel hook he finished on Don’Tale Mayes in 2019, but again this is a wild card. In any grappling exchange it is more than likely Jones is controlling the position and engaging on his own terms.
Oddsmakers opened up the fight with Jon Jones the underdog to the surprise of many. Betters who were able to capitalize on those odds are in the best spot going into UFC 285 but even as the line has flipped Gane still only sits around +140, not quite enough of a payout in a fig where Jones should have the advantage in the clinch, on the ground and is extremely close and competitive at a range where Gane wants to be.
Pick: Jon Jones to win (-160)
Arguably the greatest mixed martial artist of all time returns, again, to the UFC, this time up a weight class. Jon “Bones” Jones, now 35, is set to try and reclaim UFC gold Saturday night. Aside from his records for youngest champion, most title defense in the division, and winning the belt back 4 separate times after being stripped 3 times, Jones is widely regarded as the GOAT for his supremely high-level and completely well-rounded game.
Jones cut his teeth as an NJCAA national championship wrestler and used that same skillset to an impressive degree in the UFC. Jones’ timing, form, power, and violence while wrestling are well-documented. Once on the mat, a position Jones seems to be able to get whenever he chooses, Jones is able to hold opponents for long periods of time with heavy top control and vicious ground and pound. To put it into context, Jones out-wrestled Olympic Medalist and UFC Hall of Famer, Daniel Cormier.
On the feet, Jones is incredibly versatile, able to land kicks at range, a stiff jab, heavy hooks, and his famous elbows in the clinch. Jones is credited with bringing unique strikes that MMA hasn’t fully adopted to the biggest stage. The best example is Jones’ oblique kick. The oblique kick is interestingly named- it’s a push kick to the front knee of an opponent rather than the oblique. Jones uses this kick to frustrate opponents and control their distance. Once an opponent inevitably rushes in, Jones has the fight right where he wants it: all the way in. If Jones can get an opponent all the way, closer than the pocket but not quite the clinch, he can land slicing elbow, heavy knees, powerful hooks, or land takedowns.
At heavyweight, the expectation is that Jones follows the same strategy, but questions surround his style. Can Jones drag a bigger opponent down? Will his range striking match up against fighters with much more power? Also, in this fight specifically, Jones will likely be the slower striker, have the more plodding movement, and won’t be the bigger man. He’ll need to, yet again, showcase a high level of technique and ability to combine all aspects of his game if he hopes to win.
Gane is a massive, athletic, well-schooled, and highly skilled heavyweight who uniquely uses movement, technique, and fight IQ to win in the biggest and most powerful division. Gane is a Muay Thai striker who stands tall at range and is always on the balls of his feet. He moves like a much smaller fighter, able to bounce in and out of range with fluidity and ease.
At range, Gane, much like Jones, uses push and teep kicks to keep opponents at range and dictate their movement. Gane prefers to keep opponents away from him where he can outland with longer, straighter, and more precise strikes, especially against heavy hitters who swing big hooks. Once in tight, Gane is an expert clinch striker who can land knees, elbows, and body shots with real power despite the close proximity.
Gane is also a strong grappler, despite his most recent struggles when he was outwrestled by the enormous ex-UFC heavyweight champion, Ngannou. Gane’s movement makes him hard to trap on the feet, his size makes him difficult to out-muscle, and his technique makes him hard to drag down. Outside of his last fight, Gane not only was not taken down, but he was also able to dominate the clinch positon and reverse anytime he was vulnerable against the cage. Beyond his excellent striking, his fight IQ, his unique movement, and his solid defensive grappling, Gane also has fantastic cardio. His movement never seems to stop, his strikes still come with heat, and his mental focus stays sharp for the whole fight. Typically, beating Gane means fighting at a high level for 25 full minutes.
Jon Jones has the easiest path to victory in this one. Gane, who is a much better defensive grappler than he showed last fight, will still struggle to stay standing if one of the strongest and best wrestlers in the division, Jones, chooses to lace up his wrestling shoes.
However, Jones has a real ego and is already sharing in interviews that he can stand and trade with Gane. If Jones’ interviews are to be trusted, he will try to stand with Gane early. In this case, I like Gane to win an early round or two. He’ll be the faster and more polished striker. Plus, his movement should surpass Jones’ tendency to plot around the cage. Jones’ ability at range with his oblique kick should match Gane’s range striking; but, Gane’s hand speed should have the edge while boxing. In the clinch, Jones should be the more damaging fighter and can transition from the clinch to the mat.
I anticipate Jones’ ego getting the best of him early and dropping a round to Gane as he clears the ring rust. Then, as the fight progresses, I like Jones to find his rhythm and close distance. From here, Jones’ elbows and knees should overtake Gane’s technical boxing. Then, if the fight remains close on the feet, Jones should look to land takedowns late in rounds to seal them. Each round the fight goes on, I expect Jones to add more layers and find more ways to win.
Because neither man has massive power and both are so defensively aware, I also like the fight to go the distance.
Picks: Jones to win (-160) and Fight goes the distance (-130)
Jon “Bones” Jones is perhaps the GOAT of the UFC. Competing in the light heavyweight division, Jones had many elite competitors during his reign as the undisputed champion, and he passed every test barring a DQ back in 2009. Jones was able to dominate such elite competition because of his unique, well-rounded ability, where, he was able to maximize his impressive athletic frame to present significant problems on the feet and use impressive wrestling to win grappling exchanges. Altogether, Jones was a significant issue for any competitor to go toe-to-toe against, and, given he took a fair amount of time off to get his body ready for the move up to the heavyweight division, it serves to reason he will continue to be a problem for fighters to compete against.
While the credence given to Jones is more than justified and earned, there are causes for concern. Notably, Jones looked less than stellar in his last two fights in the light heavyweight division, having won close decision wins against Thiago Santos, who blew out his knee in the first round, and Dominick Reyes, who many scored for Reyes in their fight. The other main concern is the physical advantage Jones had over the lightweight division with his size, speed, and strength will not be present in this fight knowing Gane too has elite size, speed, and strength. Because of this, Jones may not be able to implement a similar game plan of long-ranging attacks on the feet, and then, dangerous knees and elbows thrown once his opponent rushes into the close distance. If this is indeed the case, the lack of striking differential in his favor accompanied by Daniel Cormier saying he doesn’t have elite power in his hands may result in Gane being able to have far more success than people think.
The disrespect Gane is receiving is quite odd given the elite prospect he was and the amount of affinity many had for him leading up to the Francis Ngannou fight. But, in that Francis fight, many people believe Gane was mildly exposed, specifically from the fact that Francis, a non-grappler, could wrestle his way to victory. So, the hypothesis surfacing across much of the MMA community is that if Francis can wrestle his way to a win against Gane, Jones will be more than able to do so as well.
This hypothesis, which has been formulated by very respectable, professional analysts/ex-fighters, is flawed in my opinion. My reasoning for this belief is twofold: first, Gane had to fear the power punching of Francis like no other man possesses, as such, Gane was worried about the right hand far more than he was cognitively fearful of the wrestling attack, and second, Gane has likely spent more time in his wrestling shoes following the grappling-attack driven loss than he has ever done before, so he will be best suited to stop takedowns once inevitably shot. This second point will be likely contested by oppositions as they would state that not only is Jones’ wrestling far too superior, but also, Gane has stated he does not train much outside of fight camp — a duration that starts once a fight is made. While Jones’ wrestling is too good to stop is a question I do not know the answer to until fight night, the notion that Gane does not train hard outside of camp seems completely overblown and a likely mental tactic Gane is putting out there to make Jones overconfident leading up to their fight.
Much weight has been placed on the grappling acumen of Gane in this fight because his striking is simply that good where Jones will not want to stand against him for long. From Gane’s elite movement, strong striking defense, and underrated power, he is considered one of the best pound-for-pound strikers across the UFC, as such, if he can keep the fight off the mat long enough in each round, he has more than enough skills to secure a victory on the feet.
To no surprise, the odds on this fight have been climbing in the direction of Jones. The reasoning for this is not only the casuals getting their bets on his name, but also, the widespread marketing of Jones being pushed out, and this marketing makes him seem unbeatable. While I would not be surprised whatsoever to see the 3-year layoff of Jones have the same success as Taitana Suarez’s 3-year layoff performance last week, I simply believe there are way too many question marks for Jones compared to Gane. Specifically, Jones will have to answer the unknowns of a long-duration layoff, new division, and if he can regain his dominance compared to the somewhat lackluster performances he put out in his last two fights against Santos and Reyes. Meanwhile, Gane needs to answer one question, can he prevent enough takedowns in this fight? Because Gane will be solely focused on this compared to worry about the wrath of Thor in the form of Francis Ngannou’s right hand coming his way, I do believe this cognitive awareness accompanied by technical footwork will allow him to do so, as such, I am taking him here in this spot.
Pick: Ciryl Gane to win (+140)