UFC 285 predictions


Jon Jones is about to enter a whole new world.

During his nine-year reign as the undisputed light heavyweight king (and arguably MMA’s best fighter, period), Jones ran through legends of the game while showing mastery of every element of combat, outwrestling wrestlers, outstriking strikers, and just generally winning however he wanted. He remains the youngest fighter ever to win a UFC title, doesn’t have a legitimate loss in 28 fights, and would be universally revered were it not for the weakness he’s shown outside of the cage time and time again.

Jones has made a remarkable comeback after a three year layoff. All eyes are now on Jones in his new weight class, and the upcoming championship defenses. Will the opportunity to become a two-division champion invigorate him or were his more recent struggles indicative of how Jones will perform Saturday night (and possibly for the remainder of his career)?

He faces Ciryl Gane for a vacant belt in the UFC 285 main event, a former interim champion who is the second-best heavyweight in the world behind Francis Ngannou. Jones could be Jones’s second UFC champion, and Gane is able to create history by beating Jones. This feat would weigh more than Jones winning a second title. After all, several stars have won titles in two divisions; Gane would be the only man to defeat Jones.

In the co-main event, Valentina Shevchenko looks to make it eight straight title defenses when she squares off with Alexa Grasso, who has gone 4-0 since moving up to the flyweight division. Grasso, who is looking to tie Shevchenko for fourth in UFC history’s most successful title defenses, is a big underdog.

In addition to the main card Geoff Neal will face undefeated welterweight competitor Shavkat Rahmonov. Top-ranked lightweights Mateusz Gamrot (#1) and Jalin Turner (#2) are also featured. Bo Nickal, a three-time NCAA wrestle champion, makes his eagerly awaited UFC debut against Jamie Pickett at middleweight.

What: UFC 285

Where : The T-Mobile Arena Las Vegas

When: Saturday, March 4. The card begins with a five-fight early prelims portion on ESPN+ at 5:30 p.m. ET, with continuing coverage of the four-fight prelim card on ESPNews and ESPN+ beginning at 8 p.m. ET. The five-fight main card begins at 10 p.m. {ET and is available exclusively on ESPN+ pay-per-view.|ET, and only on ESPN + Pay-per-View.

(Numbers in parentheses indicate standing in MMA Fighting’s Global Rankings)

Jon Jones vs. Ciryl Gane (2)

I’ve flipped this coin about 100 times in my head since the announcement of the matchup two months ago. In the end, it’s Jon Jones side up.

Call me a fool, but I believe Jones is stepping up to the “big games” and that three years of being away has only allowed him to make the transition from heavyweight. His skill set, combined with his intelligence and physical gifts, presents major problems for Ciryl Gane.

You can also flip that narrative, meaning that Jones’ forgettable performances against Dominick Reyes, Thiago Santos, and Anthony Smith were due to tangible decline, the three years that he’s spent on the shelf have only further dulled his abilities (we know for a fact that he hasn’t spent all of that time wisely), and it’s Gane who has the edge due to his athletic advantages.

That coin keeps flipping.

Let’s focus on the factors that I feel strongest about: Jones’ wrestling and defense and Gane’s athleticism and striking.

Jones is going to take Gane down. It’s unlikely that he just blast doubles Gane to the mat, but Jones excels in the clinch so he has to close the distance and push Gane to the fence. It’s there that Jones has a variety of ways to trip Gane up and gain an advantage. We highlight Jones’ defense because no heavyweight has been able to outstrike Gane yet, so Jones has to focus on protecting himself as he works his way in close as opposed to standing and trading.

I believe Gane is the most athletic and skilled fighter Jones has ever faced. He’s truly one of the best heavyweights that we have ever seen. The talk surrounding Gane has always been that he moves like a welterweight and he lived up to that hype when he came to the UFC. Jones has been the more athletic fighter in every matchup he’s had and while that’s hardly the sole reason for his success, it’s one advantage he won’t have against Gane.

The fight is going to be close. Both men have avenues to a finish, with Jones potentially making quick work of Gane once the fight gets to the ground, and Gane having the speed and power to knock Jones out, but I’m foreseeing a tense, 25-minute chess match. Jones will get his takedowns, Gane will do enough to survive, but not enough to get back into position to consistently put Jones in danger.

And once the bell sounds, it’s Jones who will be headed to a win on the scorecards after a comeback performance to remember.

Pick: Jones

Valentina Shevchenko (1) vs. Alexa Grasso (8)

Valentina Shevchenko is a winner. In her recent title defense against Taila Santos we saw this in action. Santos’ wrestling brought Shevchenko close to defeat, but the champion managed to win with just enough. Alexa Grasso is an exception to the rule. Shevchenko doesn’t have to go as far to protect her belt.

Grasso deserves a title shot. She also has a compelling story. The Mexican standout was just 23 when she debuted in the UFC with an 8-0 record and plenty of expectations. Her championship charge was soon derailed as she saw mixed results and struggled to make the strawweight cut, which culminated at UFC 246 when she missed weight by over five pounds for a fight with Claudia Gadelha that was subsequently canceled.

She made the logical decision to move up to 125 pounds and the results have been outstanding. Grasso is the blue-chip prospect that she had been projected to become, and it’s all thanks to a minimal weight loss. She’s 29 now and right in the thick of her physical prime. Shevchenko is at a perfect time.

Even so, she ain’t beating Shevchenko. This is an excellent style matchup for Shevchenko, who will be content to engage in a tactical striking battle with Grasso and quick to counter any risky advances from the challenger. Grasso is a skilled ground player, but it’s not enough to challenge Shevchenko.

Shevchenko simply has too many strategic options and she’ll employ as many as she needs to take a convincing decision.

Pick: Shevchenko

Geoff Neal (10) vs. Shavkat Rakhmonov (T7)

I felt much better about Geoff Neal’s chances of winning here than before he lost four pounds. I guess you could say he’s entering with extra poundage to help deal with Shavkat Rakhmonov’s wrestling, but it feels more like he had issues with the cut and that can’t be good for business.

Neal needs to be the best version of himself to deal with the rampaging Rakhmonov and if his weigh-in gaffe is any indication, he’s less than 100 percent. That’s a shame because Neal has looked spectacular at times and he has the agility and takedown defense to make life difficult for Rakhmonov.

One of the things that makes Rakhmonov so dangerous though is that he’s not this flat-footed wrestle-brawler. Rakhmonov is extremely agile and loves striking. He enjoys throwing spin kicks and, if that fails, he loves taking down people and beating them. I don’t like Neal’s chances to avoid a Rakhmonov mauling.

Rakhmonov by submission.

Pick: Rakhmonov

Jalin Turner (12) vs. Mateusz Gamrot (8)

Jalin has finishing instincts you can’t train, which will be challenged against Mateusz Gamrot. It’s a bit surprising that Turner is considered the underdog in this betting matchup. However, it is understandable considering how hard it is for Gamrot to win (zero loses by finish). You should pick Turner if you believe he will win this matchup within the time limit. If it does not, then you are safer choosing Gamrot.

Turner is my choice because I have been amazed at how well Turner channels aggression after smelling blood. It’s one thing for him to be effective fighting from distance given that he has an advantage in reach over anyone in the lightweight division, but he’s also smart with his closing offense. He waits for his moment, picks his shots, and shuts the door.

How aggressive he can afford to be against Gamrot is another question altogether, because Gamrot is so tough and dangerous in his own right. Turner could be caught by him or win a scramble to the ground, and he’ll realize what’s going on. Gamrot fights are always super fun and unpredictable, which should be the case on Saturday.

I’m predicting a Turner knockout win, but that’s more of a gut feeling than anything.

Pick: Turner

Bo Nickal vs. Jamie Pickett

As someone who is frequently late to the party, let me say I’m all-in on the Bo Nickal experience. Hyped prospects flame out all the time in combat sports, but I’ve seen enough from the decorated wrestler to project that he’ll be ranked by the end of 2023 and possibly fighting for the middleweight title by 2024. He’s that good.

Obviously, Jamie Pickett and his 13-8 record are being brought in as a showcase for Nickal. It’s how it works. Pickett is able to defend himself well and knows how best to use his reach. This makes it a difficult matchup for Nickal, especially if Nickal’s Contender Series signing goes down. Pickett has a lot of experience. Maybe he hasn’t shredded the competition, but 21 pro fights is 21 pro fights.

Then again, there’s a world of difference between stuffing the takedowns of Laureano Staropoli and stuffing the takedowns of Nickal, and if we want to talk high-level combat sports experience, the advantage there actually goes to Nickal. Although it’s not an exact comparison, if you have won college national championships, then you probably aren’t sweating in your first UFC fight.

Nickal’s MMA skills are just as polished. He seamlessly combines his wrestling talents with his MMA knowledge. He makes up the difference with his natural understanding of the sport and what he doesn’t have in cage experience. Add in a healthy dose of well-earned confidence and you can see why he’s likely to leave UFC 285 as one of its most talked-about athletes.

Pickett deserves credit for getting up, but Nickal will soon turn Nickal into a trivia question.

Pick: Nickal


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

Loik Radzhabov def. Esteban Ribovics