Ranking UFC 285 fights: What’s the No. 1 reason Jones vs. Gane is a can’t-miss?
Jon Jones is back this weekend.
Let me repeat it with due emphasis and enthusiasm: Jon Jones! Return! This weekend!
I had to resist the urge to write everything in capital letters because it BIG. Jones will fight for the first time in over three years when he enters the octagon at the main event of UFC 285 on Saturday night in Las Vegas (Sportzshala+ PPV, 10 p.m. ET).
Jones’ meeting with Cyril Gein for the vacant heavyweight title isn’t just the biggest fight on the T-Mobile Arena paycard this weekend, it’s the biggest fight the sport has seen in years. This is the return of the avowed MMA GOAT, and he’s not just coming back to take back what he left behind. The seemingly eternal light heavyweight champion is entering a new realm by making his debut in the big boy world.
The importance of Jones being back in the cage is clear to longtime MMA fans, but for those who didn’t follow the sport back in the pre-pandemic days of February 2020, when Johnny Bones last competed, here’s the primer:
Jones won the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship in March 2011 at the age of 23 by stopping Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, becoming the youngest champion in the history of the fighting company. He then proceeded to mow down the procession of former champions and future Hall of Famers, head and shoulders above the crowd at 205 pounds. Jones built and strengthened the iron body to be recognized as the greatest fighter in the history of MMA.
Among a long list of superlatives, Jones holds the UFC record for most title fight wins, with 14. These were achieved during a three-reign unbeaten streak with the belt, a discrepancy that brings us to the dark side of Jones’ story.
Jones never lost a cage championship, but he was stripped three times for bad behavior, making him the only fighter to have the title taken away from the UFC more than once. He served three bans for doping violations, as well as one due to his arrest following a traffic accident in which a pregnant woman was injured. Jones was arrested several more times, including on charges of domestic violence and twice on suspicion of drunk driving.
So yes, Jones’ career path has been a tortuous one, filled with dizzying adventures and unexpected twists and turns. But one thing about this career is undeniable: when Jones got to the cage to fight, he was great. Mostly. His last two defenses at 205 weren’t as overbearing as we’re used to, adding to the intrigue of his comeback. Jones struggled a bit because the game caught up with him? Or, after almost a dozen title defenses, did he just get bored? This weekend may answer that question. As Jones turns the page and begins a new, more important chapter, will he be able to resume his command of the game?
Jones’ Quest Heavyweight Champion V weekend story, but that’s not the only story. His fight isn’t even the only title fight at UFC 285, as Valentina Shevchenko defends her flyweight title against Alexa Grasso in the co-main event. And there are other potential highlights scattered throughout the night.
Here is a ranking of the most important fights worth watching.
1. Jon Jones vs Cyril Gein
Having already laid out why Jones’ return is a must, it’s time to point out that this is not Jones vs. Just some guy. Gein is about as good as it gets in the heavyweight division right now. He knocked out Tai Tuivasa, Derrick Lewis and Junior dos Santos, and in the only defeat of his career, Gein caused problems for Francis Ngannou. He has the size (6’4″, 247 pounds) and the elite striking skills to control this fight, even finish it. However, in last year’s fight with Ngannou, who is nowhere near a fighter like Jones, Gein was knocked down four times and controlled on canvas. This may be the deciding factor.
2. Valentina Shevchenko vs. Alexa Grasso
Shevchenko will make his eighth defense of his 125-pound title. That’s twice as many defenses as any other reigning UFC champion. Shevchenko has been the flyweight queen since 2018, and for over a decade she hasn’t lost to anyone other than women’s GOAT Amanda Nunes, champion at 135 and 145 pounds. Can Grasso shake this dominance? She is from Mexico and two of her compatriots, Brandon Moreno and Yair Rodriguez, recently won UFC belts. Grasso has the opportunity to help usher in a new era of Mexican champions.
3. Shavkat Rakhmonov vs. Geoff Neal
Rakhmonov is 16-0 at the end of every fight, a perfectly balanced mix of eight knockouts and eight submissions. He is #10 on Sportzshala’s welterweight rankings, which puts him one spot behind Neil, who has won two fights in a row and most recently gave the tough Vicente Luca the first knockout of his career last August. This fight should be hot.
4. Bo Nikal vs. Jamie Pickett
Fans who love the hype can look forward to this middleweight fight as much as the title fights. Nickal, a three-time NCAA Division I national champion from Penn State wrestling center, is the most pompous prospect the UFC hasn’t seen in years. His debut in the octagon will tell us a little about him: how he handles bright lights and how he survives competition at the UFC level. But this is just a small step for Nikal. If he gets past Pickett, the tests will become even more difficult.
5. Vivian Araujo vs. Amanda Ribas
Flyweight has been the domain of the co-main champion for so long that it has become difficult to enlist the support of anyone fighting Shevchenko for the title. But in recent months we’ve seen great champions from Kamaru Usman to Israel Adesanya fall, so this gives hope to the rest of the 125-pound division. Erin Blanchfield made a bold statement last weekend by defeating Jessica Andrade, and now it’s time for Araujo or Ribas to shine.
A couple more things worth seeing (or not)
Cody Garbrandt is a former UFC men’s bantamweight champion. But he hasn’t fought since 2021 and, even while active, has lost five of his last six fights, with all but one knocked out. It was a brutal fall. Can Garbrandt hold his own against Trevin Jones, who has lost his last three fights? Or should we close our eyes again?
Is Derek Brunson in the game or not? After being knocked out by Jared Cannonier a year ago to end his five-fight streak, Brunson posted on social media that he planned to fight again and then retire. However, in December, the middleweight tweeted a plan for “4 fights in 2023”. Brunson had better decide on his level of commitment before stepping into the cage with Dricus du Plessis, winner of six in a row, including five finishes.
Full UFC 285 fight map
Sportzshala+PPV, 22:00 ET
Heavyweight Championship: Cyril Gein vs. Jon Jones
Women’s Flyweight: Valentina Shevchenko (c) vs. Alexa Grasso
Welterweight: Shavkat Rakhmonov vs. Jeff Neal
Lightweight: Mateusz Gamroth vs. Jalyn Turner
Middleweight: Beau Nickle vs. Jamie Pickett
Sportzshala/Sportzshalanews/Sportzshala+, 20:00 ET
Men’s Bantamweight: Cody Garbrandt vs. Trevin Jones
Middleweight: Derek Brunson vs. Dricus du Plessis
Women’s Flyweight: Vivian Araujo vs. Amanda Ribas
Middleweight: Julian Marquez vs. Marc-André Barrio
Sportzshala+, 5:30 pm ET
Welterweight: Ian Garry vs. Song Kenan
Men’s Bantamweight: Mana Martinez vs. Cameron Saiman
Minimum Weight: Jessica Penne vs. Tabata Ricci
Men’s Bantamweight: Da’Mon Blackshire vs. Farid Basharat
Lightweight: Camuela Kirk vs. Esteban Ribovich
(c) = current champion