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15 Jan, 2023 09:39

Return of controversial fight legend confirmed

Jon Jones will make his UFC comeback in March, it has been announced
Return of controversial fight legend confirmed

Jon Jones will face Ciryl Gane for the UFC heavyweight title in Las Vegas in March after promotion president Dana White confirmed that now-former champion Francis Ngannou has been released from the company.

Jones and Gane will face off in the main event at T-Mobile Arena at UFC 285 on March 4, marking the return of the man many consider to be the greatest MMA competitor of all time.

Former light-heavyweight champion Jones has not fought since defending his 205lbs title against Dominik Reyes in February 2020. The ensuing period has seen Jones consistently tease a step up to heavyweight in a bid to be crowned the UFC’s latest two-weight champion.

Jones, 35, will now get that chance – although it won’t be the bout many had clamored for against Cameroonian fighter Ngannou, after White confirmed that the UFC had been unable to agree contract terms with the hard-hitting heavyweight star.

White said Ngannou, 36, had been offered a deal to make him the “highest-paid heavyweight” in UFC history – eclipsing former superstar Brock Lesnar – but that he had turned down the contract proposal.

Ngannou last fought in January 2022, when he made a first title defense with a unanimous decision victory over Gane. Ngannou later announced he would undergo major knee surgery, although relations have been strained with the UFC hierarchy for some time, with the fighter complaining that he has not been paid his worth. The heavyweight giant has also touted a crossover to boxing to face the likes of Tyson Fury.

Announcing the Jones-Gane fight following the UFC’s event in Las Vegas on Saturday, promotion president White explained the circumstances surrounding Ngannou’s exit after seven years and 14 fights.

“I’ve told you guys this before, if you don’t want to be here, you don’t have to be,” White told the media. “I think Francis is in a place right now where he doesn’t want to take a lot of risk. He feels like he’s in a good position where he could fight lesser opponents and make more money. We’re going to let him do that, release him from his contract and give up our right to match.”

White said that Jones had been ready to fight anyone in the heavyweight ranks upon his return. Despite being involved in contract disputes of his own with the UFC in recent years, Jones has signed a new eight-fight deal with the promotion, according to White.

Jones regularly features in lists of the greatest MMA practitioners of all time. His only defeat in a 28-fight career has come via disqualification in a 2009 contest with Matt Hamill, while the other blemish on Jones’ record came in 2017 when his KO win against Daniel Cormier was later declared a ‘no contest’ due to a doping violation.

In addition to doping suspensions, Jones has faced notoriety for several run-ins with the law. In September 2021, he was detained in Las Vegas just hours after being inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame. 

Jones will be welcomed on his return to the UFC by Gane – the highly-rated French star who claimed the interim heavyweight title and was undefeated in 10 fights before suffering a decision loss to Ngannou in their title fight 12 months ago. Gane, 32, bounced back from that defeat by knocking out Tai Tuivasa in the third round of their main event at UFC Paris in September.

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