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Jon Jones makes it look easy in heavyweight debut at UFC 285

Updated March 5, 2023 - 6:53 am

Jon Jones said he would not only win the heavyweight title in his return to the cage after more than three years away from competition, but that he would make it look easy.

He was right.

Jones took down Ciryl Gane in the opening minute, sat him against the cage and locked in a choke that forced a submission at 2:04 of the opening round to claim the vacant belt in the main event of UFC 285 on Saturday night at T-Mobile Arena.

The co-main event was an absolute stunner, as 6-1 underdog Alexa Grasso submitted Valentina Shevchenko in the fourth round to capture the women’s flyweight title.

It’s the first time Shevchenko has lost at 125 pounds and her first loss in any division since 2017.

Jones was a slight favorite, but the longtime light heavyweight champion had never competed at heavyweight. He abandoned the belt in 2020 and worked on bulking up his body for the challenge of conquering the organization’s biggest weight class because he believed winning the belt would solidify his status as the greatest fighter in UFC history.

“I’m so excited,” Jones said. “I’ve been working for this for a long time. I kept reading I was never coming back, but I’ve been faithful to my goal and to the mission.”

Jones ended his post-fight interview by doing an impression of a goat, as in GOAT — greatest of all time.

Gane landed a kick to the groin in the opening seconds, and the fighters exchanged some awkward kickboxing moments after the fight restarted. The bout turned into a mismatch once it hit the mat.

“I’ve been wrestling since I was 12 years old,” Jones said. “I feel stronger and more comfortable on the ground than ever. I actually felt a little goofy on the feet because it’s been awhile, but once I got my hands on him, I felt like it was my fight.”

After a slow start in the first round in the other title bout, Shevchenko took control in the second and appeared to be on her way to yet another victory when a strategic mistake cost her the belt she has held since 2018.

Shevchenko whiffed on a spinning back kick, and Grasso immediately rushed in to take her back, quickly snatching the champion to the ground and locking in a choke.

It was only a matter of time until Shevchenko tapped out in resignation.

“I trained for that exact thing every single day because I knew she liked those spinning kicks,” Grasso said. “I trained it so, so hard, and I’m truly thankful for that.”

A gracious Shevchenko congratulated the new champion before suggesting she would seek an immediate rematch.

The most anticipated nontitle fight on the card went as expected for overwhelming favorite Bo Nickal in his UFC debut.

Nickal, a three-time NCAA champion wrestler from Penn State, improved to 4-0 as a pro with a first-round submission of Jamie Pickett.

It was the longest fight of Nickal’s short career as Pickett lasted 2:54 before succumbing to an arm-triangle choke.

“I felt right at home,” Nickal said. “I’ve been preparing for this my whole life. I feel like I was born and bred to come out here every day, train and dominate.

“I’ll be the No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter in the world before I’m done.”

Also on the main card, Shavkat Rakhmonov remained undefeated and salvaged his streak of finishes in the final minute with a late submission of Geoff Neal.

Rakhmonov had stopped all 16 opponents in his pro career but appeared on his way to the scorecards for the first time before locking in a standing rear-naked choke and forcing the submission 43 seconds before the final bell.

The bout was contested at a 175-pound catchweight because Neal came in 4 pounds over the welterweight limit.

Lightweight Mateusz Gamrot snapped Jalin Turner’s five-fight winning streak by taking a split decision.

Former bantamweight champion Cody Garbrandt returned from a 15-month layoff to win for the second time in his past six fights, scoring a unanimous decision over Trevin Jones in the featured preliminary card bout.

Garbrandt, a Las Vegas resident, said he found stability in his personal life during his time away and believes he is ready to return to top form. His biggest issue has been his chin, but he fought a strategic bout and mitigated the damage he took from Jones.

Middleweight Dricus du Plessis extended his winning streak to seven by landing a series of punches and elbows late in the second round that prompted Derek Brunson’s corner to throw in the towel.

Irish welterweight Ian Garry remained undefeated in 11 fights, including four UFC appearances, with a third-round knockout of Song Kenan.

Contact Adam Hill at ahill@reviewjournal.com. Follow @AdamHillLVRJ on Twitter.

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