Jon Jones finally makes good on UFC heavyweight promise


Sometime around the two-year span of Jon Jones’ first light-heavyweight title reign, when he was bulldozing practically every former champion of the previous years, it certainly looked like it would be fun to see what this wunderkind of mid-20s could do in a second weight class.

How would this man fare against the likes of Cain Velasquez? Against Junior dos Santos? Imagine if Fedor Emelianenko finally entered the octagon to face him?

It wasn’t to be. Jones had other plans; those plans are then derailed by his own demons and disastrous decisions.

Yet he continued to win despite it all, until the end of his impressive championship reign. (Note the plural and remember the demons and decisions.)

Three years after setting aside a crown, Jones put on a new one. The now 35-year-old claimed the UFC heavyweight belt set aside by lineal champion Francis Ngannou who left to explore free agency.

Nothing surprising about the way Jones (27-1, 17 finishes) gobbled up Ciryl Gane barely two minutes into his heavyweight run. Fans who have followed his UFC journey from the start remember a young man who pounded Vladimir Matyushenko with elbows on the ground, walked through New Jersey champion Mauricio “Shogun” Rua and ex-champions Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Lyoto Machida and Vitor typed out Belfort.

Jon Jones added the UFC heavyweight title to his trophy cabinet on Saturday.
Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Grabbing the neck from Gane (11-2, eight finishes) and securing a tap from the struggling French was a throwback to former amateur wrestling who creatively knocked down contenders at 205 pounds for years.

Jones took three years off — a long gap in competition than any athletic commissions or U.S. Anti-Doping Agency have ever mandated before — while adding bulk to his leaner 6-foot-4 frame. He weighed 248 pounds on Friday. His final official fight-night weight as of December 2018, according to data released by the California State Athletic Commission, was 222.5.

A solid extra 25.5 pounds didn’t seem to slow him down in the limited time Jones and Gane spent toe-to-toe. Upstairs he looked fuller – he still had no flesh on his notoriously thin calves – but it’s hard to say if the added bulk was the difference between a dominant win and a potential loss. A huge wrestling edge at heavyweight can make all the difference, damn big.

Could 2013’s Jon Jones have beaten dos Santos? It’s easy to imagine scenarios where he would.

Emelianenko, at the end of his career? Hardly any doubt.

Velasquez, an all-go All-American wrestler, would have been fascinating,

Jon Jones was noticeably taller after years of filling out his frame.
Jon Jones was noticeably taller after years of filling out his frame.
AFP via Getty Images

None of those men would have been as tall as Gane, who came in with a fit of 247.5.

Even Stipe Miocic, the former two-time champion who was promoted in July to face the new champion, has fought as low as 233 on fight night, according to CSAC data.

Does size really matter? Did it?

It might have mattered against Ngannou, the man who dropped his title to leave the UFC as a free agent to start the year. Ngannou, the lineal heavyweight champion, crept near the 265lb heavyweight limit as a real and huge big man with rare power in his hands for an MMA striker.

Two years ago, when Ngannou took the crown for the first time by beating Miocic, Jones seemed to be on deck. It was clearly not to be. Jones opted to make his heavyweight debut once the champion had set aside his title. Ngannou was out for 10 months as he worked his way to a decision on Gane.

Never say never in MMA, but if Ngannou manages to score a big payday in a boxing crossover or ends up with an MMA organization he feels happier with, don’t be surprised if Ngannou-Jones goes down as a missed opportunity of all times. Forget the idea of ​​reuniting the linear and UFC titles, at least for a while.

As for that UFC award, hard to expect Jones to enter his first (or next few) title defenses as a mere -175 favorite. The air of invincibility has returned for Jones, and he looks poised to make amends for the long streak of destruction in a new weight class that so many looked forward to a decade ago.

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