All eyes will be on Jon Jones at UFC 285 as arguably the greatest MMA fighter in history makes his long-awaited return as a heavyweight after three years away.
Expectations are high as Jones, 35, seeks a second division title in a fight with Ciryl Gane. Anthony Smith, who in 2019 faced Jones, knows the former 205-pound king made numerous requests for the Ngannou fight prior to “The Predator” exiting the UFC. But in his opinion, Jones may have ended up with a tougher fight in Gane.
“I thought Jon Jones would 50-45 Francis without a mark on him,” Smith said on the latest episode of The Fighter vs. The Writer. “I’ve been wrong before, but I think Francis is one of the easier matchups for Jon. He’s going to be slower than Jon. He’s really predictable. He is very, very predictable. You know exactly what you’re going to get when you run into Francis Ngannou.
“He’s not out here shooting double-legs, he’s not going to fight you in the clinch and start hitting you with Muay Thai elbows and knees. His throws are incredible. Jon has enough range, is long enough and is smart enough. I believe he is faster, more intelligent, and his skills are better. He can get in, get out, he can pick at Francis from the outside, frustrate him, get him to open up with those wild bombs, clinch him, take him down, push him up against the fence. I think Jon gets in and out of a Francis Ngannou fight fairly simply.”
According to Smith, the same can’t be said about Gane. The Frenchman’s speed, power and the variety of strikes he throws on the feet will just give Jones more to think about.
While Smith still ultimately favors Jones to win the fight and become UFC heavyweight champion, he knows Gane can potentially present issues that Ngannou can’t.
“I think Ciryl Gane gives him more problems,” Smith said. “I’m going to pick Jon Jones in the Ciryl Gane fight because he just has more ways to win, and he just has more skills. But if this is just a kickboxing fight, Jon Jones is going to have his hands full.
” You start to mix in the rest, including the clinch fighting and pushing Ciryl up against the fence. Then you threaten with wrestling. Just the threat of Jon’s wrestles is enough for Ciryl Gane to have some trouble. Because Ciryl is mobile, I believe this fight is more difficult for Jon at certain points. I think he moves very well for his size, but he moves similar to the way that Jon moves. They actually have a similar striking game to be honest with you.”
Jones’ biggest weapon against Gane — and many other heavyweights — will be his wrestling, which was the same skill that plagued so many of the best fighters at 205 pounds.
“When you have the wrestling ability and the ground control ability and the takedown ability of Jon Jones, you’re not going to hang out with those problems for very long,” Smith said. “We’re going up against the cage, we’re going to play against the cage, I’m banging you up with some elbows, and you’re getting taken down.”
As far as other potential heavyweight matchups for Jones, Smith believes there are still some really intriguing fights now that the virtually undefeated fighter is back and testing himself in a bigger division.
Jones expressed an interest in fighting Stipe Miocic in the future, as he holds the UFC record for holding most titles defenses. Smith expects at least one other notable heavyweight to give Jones some headaches.
” There are a few really exciting fights,” Smith said. “The Ciryl Gane fight is really, really interesting. Stipe fighting, extremely, very fascinating. Curtis Blaydes is, to be honest, quite interesting. Another high-level, super-explosive, dangerous striker against a guy who isn’t known as a knockout guy.
“That is Curtis Blaydes’ problem. That’s his problem since the beginning. Although he has all the right things, he just experienced bad luck when catching up to really strong guys. Will Jon Jones’ power be much heavier at heavyweight? For sure. He’s just carrying more, that’s how it is, but he’s not known as a power guy.
” I think that a fight against Curtis Blaydes would be very intriguing to me. Jon vs. a high-level wrestler is a great sight. Like, Curtis Blaydes is huge. He’s huge, he’s athletic, he’s got the cardio to go five [rounds], and he’s super explosive. That’s interesting to me. We can go down to Tom Aspinall, that’s really interesting to me. There’s a handful of guys like that.”
Based on Smith’s own experience, Smith expects Jones will adapt well to his new environment. An argument could be made that Jones always been built for this division — he just happened to be fighting at 205 pounds for most of his career.
“Even when I fought him at 205, he is a massive, massive man,” Smith said. “He looked like he doubled in size from weigh-in day to the next day, and his size gave me lots of problems. I don’t think he’s going to have any problems at heavyweight.
“Is he going to slow down a little bit? Yeah, probably. He’s not going to be quite as fast, his pace isn’t going to be quite as high. There’s going to be some changes there. Some ring rust will be removed. However, the excitement I feel from outside is nothing like what I’ve experienced .”
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