Jon Jones is back — and he’s seemingly better than ever. Jones stormed back from a three-year layoff to submit Ciryl Gane with a guillotine choke just two minutes into his heavyweight debut and capture the vacant UFC title at UFC 285. Jones’ return headlined a crazy card which also saw Alexa Grasso stun the world with a submission of Valentina Shevchenko, Shavkat Rakhmonov stake his claim as a welterweight contender, plus much more.
With so much to discuss, let’s hit our five biggest takeaways from UFC 285.
1. Remember all that chatter about how Jon Jones lacked motivation for his last few fights at light heavyweight and that’s why he looked like a shadow of his former self, nearly losing to men he should’ve demolished in his heyday? Maybe it was not all lip service.
Wow goat jon jones
— glover teixeira (@gloverteixeira) March 5, 2023
On Saturday night, Jon Jones was for the first time since a very long time. His two-minute drubbing of Ciryl Gane? A literal flawless victory, the first “Bones” has manifested since his 2018 rematch against Alexander Gustafsson, and a stark reminder of the awe-inspiring destructive power Jones is capable of when he feels as if he has something to prove. The fight lasted a bit longer than 13 seconds, sure, but UFC 285’s main event invoked the same feeling of wonderment that Conor McGregor vs. Jose Aldo did, in the sense that the moment ended before it even really began. Jones only needs five strikes. Repetition: Only five. After spending more than a decade teasing a heavyweight move, the reality of what that move looked like couldn’t have played out more in his favor.
At this point, it is impossible for me to deny: Jones is the GOAT.
He is greatest fighter mixed martial arts has ever seen.
As someone who has long reserved that title for Georges St-Pierre, this isn’t a position I expected to take on this Sunday morning. I even argued in the lead-up to UFC 285 that, in the event of a Jones win, he’d still have some work left to do before I could vault him over St-Pierre, if only because of his sordid history with PEDs and the fact that Gane isn’t the actual No. 1 heavyweight in the world. But no, I was wrong. That performance? It was amazing how effortless it came about. Nah, that was enough. Jones is now 15-0 in championship bouts — the best mark in UFC history — and just had one of (if not the) strongest outings of his absurdly decorated career, even despite a three-year layoff and the myriad of factors that come into play when you’re entering the cage 40 pounds heavier than ever before.
It’s him. He’s the guy. At least in my eyes, UFC 285 put the debate to rest.
The big question is now how far Jones will be able to put between him and any other pantheon-level, GOAT competitor before he gives up.
If I had to wager, I’d set the over/under for Jones fights we have left at 2. 5 — and I’d pick the under. “Bones” is all about legacy now, which is why UFC 285 made sense regardless of opponent. It was enough for him to tick the UFC heavyweight champ box. It’s also why him wanting Stipe Miocic so badly for his first title defense makes sense, because Miocic brings with him the kind of historical cache that matters to Jones.
But after that? Sorry, but wins over Curtis Blaydes and Sergei Pavlovich don’t carry that same kind of historical weight, even if they may or may not be tougher stylistic matchups in reality. It would be a surprise if Jones stayed around to fight any of these men.
That’s why it’ll be an all-time bummer if we don’t get to see Jones vs. Francis Ngannou before this is story is told. After Miocic (and I think this version of Jones destroys a 40-year-old version of Miocic), Ngannou is the only name left with the cache to bolster the GOAT resume in a significant way that Jones is clearly focused on building. It is impossible to overlook the historical implications of this fight. UFC president Dana White says a lot of things that end up being untrue, so I’m not too dismayed by his comments this past week dismissing an eventual Ngannou UFC return. When we get to that point, and there are dollar signs around the UFC, I believe Ngannou will be able to bring back the UFC to generate the same amount of money as a Jones-Ngannou marquee. But if not, and Jones-Ngannou falls by the wayside of history, it’ll forever be heavyweight’s Nurmagomedov-Ferguson in my eyes.
Let’s all hope that cooler heads prevail at the end. The king has returned, as though he had never gone. And this time there’s no asterisks on the mastery we just witnessed.
2. Man, Valentina Shevchenko is really going to be replaying that missed spinning back kick in her mind for the rest of her life, huh? It was Weidmanesque.
Not since UFC 194 has a division been flipped upside-down in such a seismic manner because of an ill-advised fourth-round spinning strike. But that’s how these things go — one mistake and suddenly one of the greatest eras in women’s MMA history ends with a two-tone PSA on the importance of protecting your skin from the horrors of the sun.
Let’s be clear upfront: Grasso-Shevchenko isn’t Pena-Nunes 1. The latter was as close as you can get to a fluke in high-level MMA. The former was? No, Alexa Grasso won the stand-up war and forced Shevchenko to resort to her wrestling, then seized upon her opportunity the moment it availed itself, leaving zero doubt about the rightful UFC flyweight champ.
Mexico suddenly has two and-a half UFC titleholders, depending on your view of Yair Rod’s belt. The idea of holding a Mexico City UFC event with two or all of these two fighters should have soared to the top of UFC’s list. We already had a moment like this for something special with UFC Africa and watched it get bungled. These opportunities don’t happen often, and they certainly won’t last forever. If the UFC lets this chance come and go in similar fashion without capitalizing, it’ll be unforgivable promotional malpractice. Guys, a layup has just fallen into your laps. Don’t mess this up.
But suddenly, the Shevchenko-era also appears in the past tense. This is still quite bizarre.
In retrospect, the signs were there. We spoke about it on our UFC 285 preview show, but Shevchenko’s otherworldly dominance over the years allowed her otherworldly longevity to go largely unnoticed. How long do you think she’s been doing this? However long you answered, you probably undershot it. Shevchenko is on Year 20 of her MMA career. Yes, she made her professional debut in 2003. Below is a list of other women who made pro MMA debuts after hers. All of them are now retired and consider themselves legitimate pioneers.
Shevchenko’s career started just a few years after Fedor’s, for God’s sake.
We’ve seen it time and time again — the hardest thing to do in MMA is defend your title ad nauseam, and Shevchenko did it seven consecutive times. The end comes for everyone eventually, and any cracks we saw in her once-invincible armor against Taila Santos suddenly feel like much less of an aberration or an off night. She may only be 34 years old, but after two decades, Shevchenko is sneaky old in fight years. It’s not surprising that the rematch will be the same as the first one. We’ve seen a change of guard for a while.
If so, “Bullet” is your best friend. It’s almost an impossible feat to be at this level for long periods of time. To be at this for 20 years and still kicking the highest levels of ass? Truly, she is a one of one.
No, the biggest loser in this whole affair, really, is Erin Blanchfield, who suddenly went from a guaranteed title fight to the odd woman out of the eventual Grasso-Shevchenko rematch. Blanchfield couldn’t watch Saturday’s main without feeling that she could have pulled off the historic upset that Grasso had just done. Blanchfield will be allowed to fight (and she is a UFC flyweight champion), but it’s likely she will have to defend her No. 1 contender position at least once now while this saga plays out.
The MMA gods can be cruel indeed.
3. What else even needs to be said about Shavkat Rakhmonov?? The man just Jones-Machida’d Geoff Neal! That was ridiculous. He *IS* violence. There’s a good chance his impromptu walk-off choke of Neal is going to be the most cold-blooded finish of 2023.
If you are a Shavkat season ticket holder, you will be able to attend Saturday’s show. Rakhmonov was the shining star in his Chimaev-vs. Burns version — an incandescent prospect that is finally thrown to the dogs and forced to decide whether he can swim or sink. It’s a general rule of thumb in MMA that you can’t be the hammer forever. You can climb up enough to get pushed. UFC 285 was that moment for Rakhmonov. He was tested and pushed in the ways he needed to be pushed, and sure, maybe his striking defense is a little alarming, but his chin is officially terrifying, and there’s no doubt in my mind where all of this is heading.
I wrote earlier this week that Rakhmonov is actually what most people assume Khamzat Chimaev to be — the reckoning to an old guard at 170 pounds.
I stand by that prediction now more than ever.
This man is going to be UFC welterweight champion. Sooner rather than later.
4. Speaking of ultra-violent prospects, Saturday’s card featured no shortage of prove-it fights for MMA’s next generation aside from Rakhmonov. Jalin Turner, Bo Nickal and Dricus du Plessis were the three most prominent names. Two passed with flying colors. And the third? The third? I would consider it more of a waiting-and-see approach than a failure.
It was difficult for Turner to accept this lesson. Mateusz Gamrot has mastered the art of turning fights into tedious grinds, making top-level talent look out-of-their-seat and C-level fakes. That’s not what UFC 285 was, though. Turner came out on the wrong side of a split decision, sure, but at no point did he look like he didn’t belong among the lightweight elite. He’s only 27, and even if it continues to blow my mind that he makes 155 pounds with his 6-foot-3 frame, he’s going to be a problem in this division before all is said and done.
As for the two winners, that’s now 5-0 in the UFC with four stoppages for Du Plessis. Although it may not be easy to watch him fight, it is always a good fight. There isn’t much farther up the middleweight mountain to go after Derek Brunson. Perhaps you would be interested in having a sex with Jared Cannonier or Paulo Costa? Either sounds lovely.
Nickal, meanwhile, was a 20-to-1 favorite for a reason, so it’s no surprise he cut through Pickett as easily as he did, even if his win may have been assisted by an unnoticed knee to the nuts. (Spoiler warning for Jamie Pickett’s team: I understand why you feel aggrieved enough to file an appeal to overturn the result. It’s just not going to work. That’s unfortunately how these things go.) Nickal acquitted himself well on the big stage. Now I’m mostly curious to see how fast or slow of an escalation the UFC plots out from here, especially considering Nickal is less than two years into his actual MMA journey. He is young and still has plenty of time. It’s not necessary to hurry things up like Alex Pereira. Although patience is not a virtue in the UFC, let’s allow Pereira to get his feet under him before we throw him at the Whittakers and Vettoris of the world.
5. Maybe this is unfair because Cody Garbrandt achieved mission No. 1 by saving his UFC career with a decision over Trevin Jones. No doubt, few fighters needed a win more than the former UFC bantamweight champ. Why is Garbrandt now so far away from achieving the same heights that he once enjoyed?
Not much going on except some dance moves
— Adrian Yanez (@yanezmma) March 5, 2023
Frankly, White claims that there aren’t any gimme bouts. But Jones is a gifted fighter who was hand-picked by the UFC. 500 record after 24 professional fights and a losing streak that had him with one foot already out the door. UFC matchmakers clearly wanted Garbrandt to face an opponent against which he could regain some momentum. Garbrandt failed to win the fight and was even unable to avoid new chin problems in the third round. Jones might have won if we had scored the fight according to Pride rules.
Fortunately for Garbrandt, we don’t. But a middling performance against a top-60 (?) A poor performance against a top-60 (?) does not indicate that the ex-champion will return to the elite.
Decades from now, Garbrandt’s career may end up being among the most bizarre to try to explain for the generations who didn’t witness it in real-time.
That being said, “No Love” is still here with a big name for now. My guy Damon Martin threw out the idea of Garbrandt vs. Dominick Cruz 2 next — and you know what? It’s a great idea. Both men somehow only have two wins each seven years after their first meeting, and both essentially find themselves in the same nebulous places today regarding their UFC careers and their positions in the bantamweight division. That’s the fight. UFC, book it.