LAS VEGAS (AP) — Jon Jones ended a three-year sabbatical from the UFC, rising to the top weight class and leaving no doubt about his place in the sport’s history on Saturday night.
Already widely regarded as the greatest UFC fighter, 35-year-old Jones took Ciryl Gane to the mat just over a minute into the first round and won by guillotine choke at 2:04 in UFC 285.
“I’m so excited,” Jones said. “I worked for this for a long time. A people thought I wouldn’t come back. I have stayed true to my purpose, true to my mission.”
Short as the fight was, Jones made sure to take his time entering the octagon and played to the sold-out crowd of 19,471. UFC president Dana White said the gate was $12.5 million, the highest for a heavyweight bout and the fourth highest ever.
This was Jones’ first fight in three years and his first in the heavyweight division. The former light heavyweight champion said it was important to embed in his own mind that he deserved credit as the greatest ever.
With another GOAT, Tom Brady, sitting nearby, Jones did just that. Brady flew in from Florida on the day of the fight and spent time with Jones’ brother, Las Vegas Raiders defensive side Chandler Jones.
“(Jones is) a total freak of nature,” White said, “and he’s the best thing ever.”
There were questions about whether that much time off would affect Jones’ effectiveness, and he spent time at his home in Albuquerque, New Mexico, preparing for the evening. His last fight was February 8, 2020, a unanimous decision over Dominick Reyes.
Jones didn’t look the same as he did before he took time off, and he acknowledged that the extra weight he put on took away his muscle tension. But all the while Jones insisted that looks can be deceiving.
He backed up his words.
“Ciryl Gane is a monster,” White said. “Jon Jones showed up and treated him like a kid.”
Jones believed the time he didn’t need to prepare for this evening would show that the weight gain was worth it. He hired a team in Albuquerque to get him into shape.
“I had to show up and get (Gane) on the ground,” said Jones. “I have been wrestling since I was 12 years old. I feel stronger than ever. Once I had it in my hands, I knew I could take control.
The win extended Jones’ record undefeated streak to 19 straight, and he improved to 27–1 with one no contest. He won a record 14 light heavyweight title fights.
Jones said he wants Stipe Miocic next, the second contender and whom Jones called the greatest heavyweight ever. White said the fight will take place, but did not know when it would take place.
32-year-old Gane from France was the top-ranked heavyweight contender. He fell to 11-2.
“This one is so painful,” Gane said. “This one is a lost win. So now this is over, and especially for what I see is in the future. I’m going straight back to the gym.”
In the co-main event in a women’s bout, sixth-seeded Alexa Grasso (16-3) from Mexico dispatched champion Valentina Shevchenko (23-4) to Kyrgyzstan at 4:34 into the fourth round to capture the belt. Grasso became the third Mexican champion.
“I feel like this is a dream,” said Grasso. “I dreamed of this moment.”
Shevchenko, 34, had won her previous eight title matches and controlled these three rounds by dictating the action and repeatedly taking Grasso to the floor.
Grasso, however, got Shevchenko on the mat late in the fourth inning when the now-former champion took a back kick. Then Grasso, 29, put Shevchenko in a position where she was forced to drain.
Shevchenko said she wanted a rematch, but White wasn’t sure if that would happen.
Middleweight Bo Nickal, 27, won his UFC debut by defeating Jamie Pickett, 34, with an arm triangle at 2:54 of the first round. Nickal won three NCAA wrestling championships at Penn State. He advanced to 4-0 overall; Pickett is 13-9.
Scenes from the 1989 remake of the movie “Road House” were shot in between the action in the octagon with actor Jake Gyllenhaal portraying an MMA fighter.
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