While a certain level of pomp and circumstance comes with every Jon Jones fight, his upcoming bout with Ciryl Gane at UFC 285 carries with it a certain air of unparalleled intrigue and mystery around it. The majority of that buzz is due to the fact that the battle is for the vacant heavyweight title, marking Jones’ debut in the division after more than a decade of dominating the light heavyweight ranks.
Should Jones win, he would become the third man in UFC history to capture light heavyweight and heavyweight gold (Randy Couture and Daniel Cormier being the other two). But the reason this challenge feels unique is in part because Jones is arguably the greatest to ever do it and because he spent the better part of the last three years deliberately and methodically building his body for the division.
Jones’ last fight – a unanimous decision defense of his title against Dominick Reyes at UFC 247 – was more than three years ago. Six months after that bout, Jones vacated the light heavyweight title (which has since passed from Jan Błachowicz to Glover Teixeira to Jiri Prochazka to Jamahal Hill) and made his next goal known: the heavyweight title. Nothing holds quite the same gravitas as becoming The Baddest Man On The Planet, and Jones intended to make the move the right way.
Although Jones could have competed at heavyweight immediately, he opted to increase his muscle mass and gave time for his body to adjust to the increased heft he’d need to carry for up to 25 minutes. From a handful of social media posts over the last few years, Jones appears to have done just that, but outside of those photos and videos, the general public has no clue what “Bones” will look like come March 4.
With that in mind, UFC.com sought out those who’ve worked with Jones during this time of transition to try to paint a picture of expectations regarding Heavyweight Jones ahead of his divisional debut at UFC 285.
Greg Jackson, who has cornered Jones for more than a decade, has seen virtually every stage of Jones’ metamorphosis from prospect to superstar, and believes this latest evolution falls right in line with the pupil he has gotten to know for years.
“I think it's been a very positive experience for him,” he told UFC.com. “He's been smart about how he's put on the weight. He's been smart about how he's been training and trying to improve his skill set. He hasn't been resting on his laurels.”
Given Jones’ longevity at the top of the game, few question marks really surround “Bones” when it comes to the skills he is bringing to the Octagon. His length, Fight IQ and technical ability are well-documented, with hours of tape to break down.
How he will look with added size in a division where he won’t always have the outright physical advantage, however, is a question mark with real weight, which only builds the fascination surrounding the build-up to this bout. Jackson, however, more or less laughs off the mystery, joking that people always build some sort of questioning narrative around each of Jones’ fights. He admits, though, there is a significant difference in Jones now versus his light heavyweight days.
“He’s like a grizzly bear,” Jackson said. His creativity is there. His speed is there. Everything else is there, but now, he’s like a grizzly bear. He feels faster. I'm not sure if that's accurate or not, but he certainly feels faster. I think he's improved. He has improved his technique and really has been working out, as well.”
UFC 285 COUNTDOWN: Jones vs Gane | Shevchenko vs Grasso | Full Episode
Periodically, Jones would saunter west of his New Mexico home and spend time at Fight Ready MMA in Scottsdale, Arizona, to work with former two-division champion Henry Cejudo and their stable of coaches and bodies on the mat.
While there, Jones impressed Cejudo and head MMA coach Eddie Cha with his work ethic, Fight IQ and willingness to learn. What also popped out, of course, was the general ability he brought every day to the room.
“He's just different, man,” Cejudo said. “He’s got light heavyweight speed, heavyweight power, (and) he’s got length. It's absolutely ridiculous - his ability to be light on his feet and still be tricky. I think that's the biggest thing with Jon. What makes Jon Jones Jon Jones is the fact that he's got tricks up his sleeve.”
Cha recalls Jones’ first week there in late-2021. After their usual hour-and-a-half workout, Jones kept asking for more work, more drills. Eventually, Cha had to call it for the day, but the former champ’s work ethic left an impression.
Moreover, Cha was regularly impressed with Jones’ ability to take something he learned the day before and implement those skills the next day with great proficiency.
“We were all kind of in agreement that Jon is the guy,” Cha said. “We could see why. His work ethic is second-to-none. As a heavyweight, most guys kind of gas out hitting pads and working out. He’s got a gas tank.
“I think he's going to surprise people. I think he probably still might have the longest reach at light heavyweight to heavyweight. But I think his Fight IQ is second-to-none. His distance, decision making, he knows how to win rounds. If you look at the Reyes fight, which was really, really close, the guy just knows how to win rounds, and I think that's what every great fighter and champion does.”
Cejudo appreciated getting to pick the brain of Jones and provide some reassurance and perspective to Jones, as well. Lauding his humility when he and the Fight Ready brass taught the 35-year-old a certain technique, Cejudo enjoyed seeing Jones’ drive up close.
“Jon doesn't want to be considered one of the greats. Jon wants to be the greatest of all time,” Cejudo said. “He's taking out anybody and everybody that's in his path. He doesn't want any (debate). I think this is why he's moving up to the heavyweight division, because he doesn't like not being called the G.O.A.T.”
One Moment From Every Jon Jones Fight
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One Moment From Every Jon Jones Fight
Throughout his preparation for the move, Jones worked with various big bodies regularly, such as Walt Harris and former UFC heavyweight Maurice Greene, who got to know Jones when Greene helped with Jones’ C.A.R.E. Project in 2020.
Training with one of the greatest to ever do it makes Greene privy to any and all of the things that make Jones a problem in a fight, and he is eager for people to find out what he has gotten to know in-depth for years.
“It won't be a surprise to us because we've been in the room with him for so long,” Greene said. “But to the fans and the people who haven't seen him in three years, I think they're going to be very, very, very shocked. And he never missed a beat.”
According to those involved, it seems like the same old Jon Jones is going to show up in Las Vegas – just a little heavier and maybe even a little better.
Although Jones might look a bit bigger, Jackson made a point to say Jones didn’t just spend the last few years lifting weights. The three years off allowed Jones to take a breather, work on his skills and fall in love with the sport all over again. Cejudo echoed the same sentiment when pondering the ways this new challenge invigorated Jones.
On March 4, all questions are answered against a modern monster in the heavyweight division. It’s up to Jones to both remind people why he is touted so highly as well as show that he is very much a part of the sport’s future.
“We're expecting a heck of a battle,” Jackson said. “We know how tough this guy is, and I think that if you're going to watch it, it's going to be a battle. I don't think it's going to be an easy fight. I don't think we're going to walk right through the guy. I mean, he could. I could be wrong, but I think it's going to be a real war. My guess would be that you're going to get to see an exciting back and forth fight.”
UFC 285: Jones vs Gane took place live from T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada on March 4, 2023. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass!