Jon Jones is about to enter an entire new world.
Throughout his nine-year reign because the undisputed gentle heavyweight king (and arguably MMA’s greatest fighter, interval), Jones ran by legends of the sport whereas displaying mastery of each factor of fight, outwrestling wrestlers, outstriking strikers, and simply usually successful nevertheless he wished. He stays the youngest fighter ever to win a UFC title, doesn’t have a legit loss in 28 fights, and could be universally revered had been it not for the weak point he’s proven exterior of the cage time and time once more.
The magnitude of Jones’ return from a three-year layoff has put his myriad private failings within the rear-view mirror for now, with all eyes targeted on how he’ll carry out in a brand new weight class and on the heels of a trio of underwhelming championship defenses. Will the chance to grow to be a two-division champion invigorate him or had been his more moderen struggles indicative of how Jones will carry out Saturday night time (and probably for the rest of his profession)?
He faces Ciryl Gane for a vacant belt within the UFC 285 principal occasion, a former interim champion who’s the second-best heavyweight on the planet behind Francis Ngannou. Gane has the prospect to make historical past of his personal if he beats Jones, an achievement that would carry extra weight than Jones capturing a second UFC title. In any case, a number of stars have received titles in two divisions; Gane could be the one man to defeat Jones.
Within the co-main occasion, Valentina Shevchenko appears to be like to make it eight straight title defenses when she squares off with Alexa Grasso, who has gone 4-0 since transferring as much as the flyweight division. Grasso is understandably an enormous underdog as she appears to be like to cease Shevchenko from transferring right into a tie with Jones for the fourth-most consecutive profitable title defenses in UFC historical past.
Additionally on the primary card, Geoff Neal faces undefeated welterweight contender Shavkat Rakhmonov, top-ranked lightweights Mateusz Gamrot and Jalin Turner face off, and three-time NCAA wrestling champion Bo Nickal makes his extremely anticipated UFC debut towards Jamie Pickett in a middleweight bout.
What: UFC 285
The place: T-Cell Enviornment in Las Vegas
When: Saturday, March 4. The cardboard begins with a five-fight early prelims portion on ESPN+ at 5:30 p.m. ET, with persevering with protection of the four-fight prelim card on ESPNews and ESPN+ starting at 8 p.m. ET. The five-fight principal card begins at 10 p.m. ET and is obtainable completely on ESPN+ pay-per-view.
(Numbers in parentheses point out standing in MMA Fighting’s Global Rankings)
Jon Jones vs. Ciryl Gane (2)
I’ve flipped this coin in my head a couple of hundred occasions because the matchup was introduced two months in the past. Ultimately, it’s Jon Jones facet up.
Name me a sucker, however for essentially the most half I’ve purchased into the narrative that Jones steps up for “huge video games,” that the three years he’s been away solely helped him make a correct transition to heavyweight, and that his talent set mixed together with his bodily presents and in-cage intelligence current main strategic issues for Ciryl Gane.
You can even flip that narrative, which means that Jones’ forgettable performances towards Dominick Reyes, Thiago Santos, and Anthony Smith had been as a result of tangible decline, the three years that he’s spent on the shelf have solely additional dulled his skills (we all know for a incontrovertible fact that he hasn’t spent all of that point correctly), and it’s Gane who has the sting as a result of his athletic benefits.
That coin retains flipping.
Let’s concentrate on the components that I really feel strongest about: Jones’ wrestling and protection and Gane’s athleticism and placing.
Jones goes to take Gane down. It’s unlikely that he simply blast doubles Gane to the mat, however Jones excels within the clinch so he has to shut the space and push Gane to the fence. It’s there that Jones has quite a lot of methods to journey Gane up and acquire a bonus. We spotlight Jones’ protection as a result of no heavyweight has been capable of outstrike Gane but, so Jones has to concentrate on defending himself as he works his means in shut versus standing and buying and selling.
What makes Gane such an intriguing problem is that I consider he’s essentially the most athletic fighter that Jones has ever fought. Actually, he’s probably the most athletic heavyweights we’ve ever seen. The discuss surrounding Gane has all the time been that he strikes like a welterweight and he lived as much as that hype when he got here to the UFC. Jones has been the extra athletic fighter in each matchup he’s had, and whereas that’s hardly the only cause for his success, it’s one benefit he received’t have towards Gane.
One other factor I’m assured about is that the struggle will go the space. Each males have avenues to a end, with Jones doubtlessly making fast work of Gane as soon as the struggle will get to the bottom, and Gane having the velocity and energy to knock Jones out, however I’m foreseeing a tense, 25-minute chess match. Jones will get his takedowns, Gane will do sufficient to outlive, however not sufficient to get again into place to constantly put Jones at risk.
And as soon as the bell sounds, it’s Jones who will likely be headed to a win on the scorecards after a comeback efficiency to recollect.
Valentina Shevchenko (1) vs. Alexa Grasso (8)
Valentina Shevchenko simply finds methods to win. We noticed that in her most up-to-date title protection towards Taila Santos, wherein Santos’ grappling took Shevchenko to the brink of a defeat with the champion doing simply sufficient to flee with a cut up determination. With respect to Alexa Grasso, I don’t suppose Shevchenko has to succeed in down fairly as deep to defend her belt this time.
Grasso is well-deserving of a title shot and an excellent story in her personal proper. The Mexican standout was simply 23 when she debuted within the UFC with an 8-0 file and loads of expectations. Her championship cost was quickly derailed as she noticed blended outcomes and struggled to make the strawweight lower, which culminated at UFC 246 when she missed weight by over 5 kilos for a struggle with Claudia Gadelha that was subsequently canceled.
She made the logical determination to maneuver as much as 125 kilos and the outcomes have been excellent. Grasso appears to be like just like the blue-chip prospect she was projected to be, freed from a brutal and pointless weight lower. She’s 29 now and proper within the thick of her bodily prime. There’s no higher time for her to problem Shevchenko.
Even so, she ain’t beating Shevchenko. This is a wonderful type matchup for Shevchenko, who will likely be content material to have interaction in a tactical placing battle with Grasso and fast to counter any dangerous advances from the challenger. Grasso has a sneaky floor sport, however not sufficient to threaten Shevchenko, at the least not on the degree that Santos did.
Shevchenko merely has too many strategic choices and he or she’ll make use of as many as she must take a convincing determination.
Geoff Neal (10) vs. Shavkat Rakhmonov (T7)
I felt quite a bit higher about Geoff Neal’s probabilities right here earlier than he missed weight by four pounds. I assume you might say he’s getting into with further poundage to assist take care of Shavkat Rakhmonov’s wrestling, however it feels extra like he had points with the lower and that may’t be good for enterprise.
Neal must be the very best model of himself to take care of the rampaging Rakhmonov and if his weigh-in gaffe is any indication, he’s lower than one hundred pc. That’s a disgrace as a result of Neal has seemed spectacular at occasions and he has the agility and takedown protection to make life tough for Rakhmonov.
One of many issues that makes Rakhmonov so harmful although is that he’s not this flat-footed wrestle-brawler. He’s terribly gentle on his toes and enjoys placing. He likes to throw spin kicks, and if all else fails he additionally loves taking individuals down and bludgeoning them. I don’t like Neal’s probabilities to keep away from a Rakhmonov mauling.
Rakhmonov by submission.
Jalin Turner (12) vs. Mateusz Gamrot (8)
Jalin Turner has ending instincts you could’t educate, a trait that will likely be examined towards the tank-like Mateusz Gamrot. I’m somewhat shocked that Turner is the betting underdog for this matchup, however given how tough it’s to place Gamrot away (zero losses by end), it’s comprehensible. When you’re selecting Turner, it needs to be since you suppose he ends this inside the space; if it goes the space, you’re safer selecting Gamrot.
I’m going Turner, as a result of I’ve been blown away by how effectively he channels his aggression as soon as he smells blood. It’s one factor for him to be efficient combating from distance provided that he has a bonus in attain over anybody within the light-weight division, however he’s additionally good together with his closing offense. He waits for his second, picks his photographs, and shuts the door.
How aggressive he can afford to be towards Gamrot is one other query altogether, as a result of Gamrot is so powerful and harmful in his personal proper. He may catch Turner coming in or, extra possible, win a scramble on the bottom and *ahem* flip the tables on Turner earlier than he realizes what’s occurring. Gamrot fights are all the time tremendous enjoyable and unpredictable, which needs to be the case on Saturday.
I’m predicting a Turner knockout win, however that’s extra of a intestine feeling than something.
Bo Nickal vs. Jamie Pickett
As somebody who’s often late to the social gathering, let me say I’m all-in on the Bo Nickal expertise. Hyped prospects flame out on a regular basis in fight sports activities, however I’ve seen sufficient from the embellished wrestler to challenge that he’ll be ranked by the top of 2023 and probably combating for the middleweight title by 2024. He’s that good.
Clearly, Jamie Pickett and his 13-8 file are being introduced in as a showcase for Nickal. That is how the enterprise works. However Pickett’s takedown protection is respectable and he is aware of easy methods to reap the benefits of his attain, which makes this a difficult matchup for Nickal if the extremely touted Contender Sequence signing has an off-day. You can also’t low cost Pickett’s expertise. Perhaps he hasn’t shredded the competitors, however 21 professional fights is 21 professional fights.
Then once more, there’s a world of distinction between stuffing the takedowns of Laureano Staropoli and stuffing the takedowns of Nickal, and if we wish to discuss high-level fight sports activities expertise, the benefit there really goes to Nickal. It’s not a one-to-one comparability, however whenever you’ve received nationwide championships in school, you’re in all probability not sweating your first UFC struggle.
Nickal is simply so slick, seamlessly weaving in his wrestling presents as he rounds out his MMA arsenal. What he lacks in in-cage expertise, he greater than makes up for with a pure really feel for the sport. Add in a wholesome dose of well-earned confidence and you’ll see why he’s prone to depart UFC 285 as one in all its most talked-about athletes.
Credit score to Pickett for stepping up right here, however Nickal is about to show him right into a trivia query.
Trevin Jones def. Cody Garbrandt
Dricus Du Plessis (12) def. Derek Brunson (T7)
Amanda Ribas (9 SW) def. Viviane Araujo (12)
Julian Marquez def. Marc-Andre Barriault
Ian Machado Garry def. Song Kenan
Cameron Saaiman def. Leomana Martinez
Tabatha Ricci def. Jessica Penne
Farid Basharat def. Da’mon Blackshear