Forums Dancehall Reggae Jon Jones' remarkable comeback to a familiar place: on top of the world

Posted March 5, 2023 03:02 PM

It was inevitable that Jon Jones would end up as the heavyweight champion of the world. When Jones choked out Ciryl Gane in just 2 minutes and 4 seconds on Saturday in Las Vegas to capture the vacant UFC belt, it fulfilled a prophecy -- right? Long ago, the foreshadowing began that Jones was bigger than light heavyweights could handle.

Jones' larger-than-life supremacy was evident when he first stepped into the Octagon nearly 15 years ago and began tossing around his fellow 205-pounders, including a long line of former champions and future Hall of Famers. He stood taller than almost all matched against him, and his wingspan stretched to inescapable lengths. Jones' fights often looked like matchups of athletes from different weight classes.

At UFC 285, though, Jones picked on somebody his own size -- or at least very close to it. Jones weighed in the day before at 248 pounds, a half-pound more than Gane, a career-long heavyweight. That meant Jones, returning to the cage after three years away from the sport, was 43 pounds heavier than the weight at which he had stepped on the scale before all of his record 11 title defenses in the 205-pound division. It was like he'd evolved into a whole new man.

And yet one thing about Jones has not changed. The measure of his immensity at 205 pounds has never been confined to his physical stature. He has always expressed it even more emphatically in a metaphorical sense, in how he seizes upon big moments and thrives within them. The swagger of Jones was and still is massive enough to swallow up the whole sport. And in this weekend's return, he did not shrink from his latest monumental moment.

Jones put on a performance that was stunning in both its dominance and brevity. Walking out to a hero's welcome back from an adoring (and forgiving) crowd at T-Mobile Arena, Jones took time to soak in the moment, stopping at cageside to hug his father, brothers and fiancée. He then stepped inside the cage for the first time in 1,121 days and cartwheeled across the center, just like old times. After being introduced by Bruce Buffer as "the one and only," Jones showed why those words were not hyperbole.

The fight was not a minute old before Jones had Gane wrapped up and under control, and within another half a minute, he had the Frenchman on the canvas. Jones then straddled a seated Gane against the cage, rendering him helpless before sinking in the guillotine choke that made "Jonny Bones" a champion once more.

"Man, I'm so excited," Jones said after leaping on top of the cage to celebrate, then climbing down to lift up his father and carry him around, both wearing huge smiles. "I've been working for this for a long time. A lot of people thought I wouldn't even be coming back. I've been reading it all the time: 'This dude's never coming back.' But I've been faithful to my goal."

Winning the heavyweight championship in the way he did, after a long run of supremacy at light heavyweight, will reinvigorate the case for Jones being considered the greatest fighter of all time. Many already consider him the GOAT, but some observers -- myself included -- have leaned differently because of Jones' multiple performance-enhancing drug violations. However, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency has since moved the goalposts regarding acceptable levels of some substances, to the point where Jones' drug test results would not have earned him bans in today's regulatory environment. Factoring that in, on top of this championship in the sport's marquee weight class, it sure is difficult to disqualify Jones from GOAT talk.

Along with the discussion over who's the greatest ever, there's also the matter of who's the greatest right now. Saturday's victory over Gane makes Jones the UFC heavyweight champion, which typically carries the designation of "baddest man on the planet."

But it's complicated in this case.

Francis Ngannou, who recently surrendered the UFC belt and left the company after a contract dispute, also has a strong claim, based on his long run of knockouts, including the one over Stipe Miocic that made "The Predator" the champ. However, Ngannou's final Octagon appearance was a five-round decision over Gane, the same man Jones finished in two minutes. Jones wins that comparison and soon might have another with which we can judge him against Ngannou. The UFC has indicated that Jones' first title defense will be against Miocic, so let's see how the new champ performs against the old champ.

What we can say now is that, at age 35, Jones is bursting with upside.

Of course, there are downsides as well. Just as Jones has always had a way of taking our breath away, he also has made us hold our breath in anticipation of his next instance of bad behavior. Three times he was stripped of his UFC title. He served three suspensions for doping violations, plus one in connection with an arrest following a hit-and-run accident that injured a pregnant woman. Jones has been arrested several times, including on a domestic violence charge and twice for suspicion of driving under the influence. Throughout his career, Jones has shown himself to be a virtuoso in the fine art of self-inflicted career sabotage.

At this point, when a fight card headlined by Jones is getting underway, the arena sound crew should set aside the UFC's usual "Baba O'Reilly" kickoff. As a public service to fans who continually fall for Jones' repeated assurances that this time he's a new, better, grown-up man, the show should open with a different Who song: "Won't Get Fooled Again."

But this is not the time to dwell too gloomily on a future potentially soiled by a Jones downfall, even if his shadowy past suggests it is as inevitable as was this weekend's rise to the top of the heavyweight division. Instead, this is a night to stand in awe of Jones' comeback and his ability to not simply pick up where he left off but to raise his game. Who would have guessed that was possible?

Jones has reestablished himself as a champion among champions. He is indeed the one and only, and for as long as he can keep his balance at the top of the hill with the spotlight shining down on him, the sport of MMA will be richer for his presence.

Jon Jones submits Ciryl Gane to win UFC heavyweight title

LAS VEGAS -- In mixed martial arts, there has been Jon Jones and then everyone else for more than a decade. After a move up in weight and three years away, absolutely nothing has changed.

Jones defeated Ciryl Gane with a guillotine choke at 2 minutes, 4 seconds of the first round Saturday night in the main event of UFC 285 at T-Mobile Arena. Jones is now the UFC heavyweight champion after owning the light heavyweight division for years. He already was regarded as the greatest MMA fighter, and this victory left zero debate.

"I've been working for this for a long time," Jones said in his postfight interview. "A lot of people thought I wasn't coming back. I've been faithful to my goal. I've been faithful to the mission. There were days I didn't want to train, and I was always there."

Frankly, Jones made the whole thing look easy. He took Gane down, got him in a seated position against the cage and locked in the choke. It was unorthodox; Gane seemed safe. But Jones put on the squeeze, and Gane had to tap.

The submission was the third fastest in a UFC heavyweight title bout. Andrei Arlovski submitted Tim Sylvia in 47 seconds at UFC 51, and Frank Mir submitted Sylvia in 50 seconds at UFC 48.

"I've been wrestling since I was 12 years old," Jones said. "I feel stronger and more comfortable on the ground than ever. ... Once I got my hands on him, I knew that's where I'm most comfortable and I can take control."

Jones had not fought since February 2020. He relinquished the light heavyweight belt in August 2020, prepping for a move up to heavyweight. Jones wanted time to move up the right way -- and he got it. He packed on more than 25 pounds of muscle, weighing in at 248 pounds Friday after being a 205-pound fighter his whole career.

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