Updated March 2, 2023 - 10:12 am
Jon Jones speaks about erasing all doubts as if there are any remaining.
The former light heavyweight champion is returning to the cage after more than three years with the intention of staking his claim as the greatest UFC fighter of all time.
He believes beating Ciryl Gane to capture the vacant heavyweight belt in the main event of UFC 285 at T-Mobile on Saturday will be the crown jewel on his résumé that cements that legacy.
“It would make it not debatable anymore. That’s what it would do,” Jones said in a phone call upon arriving in Las Vegas for fight week. “That means the world because I got into this to be the best. For the conversation of who is possibly the best of all time, I really want to be on everyone’s top position and on their Mount Rushmores. That’s why I’m still doing this and still here plugging away.”
It’s hard to make a case anyone else is in the running. Through all the legal issues and drug-testing controversies, Jones has been nothing but flawless inside the cage. He is 26-1 with his lone loss coming by disqualification in a 2009 bout he was dominating before landing an illegal elbow.
Now the 35-year-old is set to attempt what could be his biggest challenge. After relinquishing the light heavyweight belt following a February 2020 win over Dominick Reyes, Jones stepped away from competition with the intent of adding bulk to his frame in hopes of capturing gold in a new weight class.
“Fans have always wanted to see me at heavyweight,” he said. “They think that’s where I’d face the biggest challenge, so I want to see. I’m here. I do know that this next victory will solidify things in a lot of minds, and I’m excited for that. I’m grateful to just get this and end the argument once and for all.”
He says now, three years into the journey, that he thought it would be much easier. But after a few months of packing on good pounds, he realized he needed more time to prepare his body for the rigors of taking on the biggest, strongest athletes on the UFC roster.
So he retreated back into the COVID-era gym he constructed in his home in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and went back to his roots at the original Greg Jackson gym in town, assembling a team of veteran UFC heavyweights to help him prepare.
Jones was set to return throughout much of 2022, but then-champion Francis Ngannou was rehabbing from a knee injury. Ngannou has since left the UFC as a free agent, and former champ Stipe Miocic is unavailable to fight, so Gane became the logical choice.
Regardless of opponent, putting the heavyweight belt around his waist will provide him the validation he seeks as the best to ever step in the UFC octagon.
When informed most observers already have him in that spot, he joked he might pull out of the fight. But Jones conceded the possibility that he could go down as the best fighter of all time and still not have lived up to his potential.
The legal issues and multiple failed drug tests have forced several previous periods of prolonged inactivity and perhaps cost him the chance to run up an even more impressive resume.
Jones prefers to see it a different way, though.
“I’ve probably had maybe six years of inactivity right in the middle of my career, but who knows what would have happened if I had fought all the way through?” he said. “Maybe I would have suffered some terrible injury or some crazy defeat or some wild concussions. Who knows what could have happened? I believe in destiny. I believe in things just being divine. And I can’t cry over spilt milk. I just have to do the best with the time I have had and the time I have left.”
That begins Saturday in the main event of the 7 p.m. pay-per-view card.
Contact Adam Hill at email@example.com. Follow @AdamHillLVRJ on Twitter.
Main card bouts on Saturday’s pay-per-view card at T-Mobile Arena:
— Jon Jones (26-1, 1 no contest) vs. Cyril Gane (11-1), for the vacant heavyweight title
— Valentina Shevchenko (23-3) vs. Alexa Grasso (15-3), for Shevchenko’s women’s flyweight title
— Geoff Neal (15-4) vs. Shavkat Rakhmonov (16-0), welterweights
— Mateusz Gamrot (21-2) vs. Jalin Turner (13-5), lightweights
— Bo Nickal (3-0) vs. Jamie Pickett (13-8), middleweights