There are only a handful of people who have an idea of what the heavyweight version of Jon Jones looks like with his current skill set, and Walt Harris is one of them.
Jones faces Ciryl Gane for the vacant UFC heavyweight title in the main event of UFC 285, which takes place Saturday at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. Harris had to assist Jones in his first fight since 2003. Harris is astonished at what he has seen the last two months.
” “I mean, he is the greatest,” Harris said to MMA Fighting. “He’s made the adjustments, in my personal opinion, as well as you can make it. He wasn’t just sat on his back powerlifting those three years. He is so strong. All his skills are there, but he still has the ability to move the same. He is now a heavyweight.
“His cardio skills are amazing, and I learn so much just by being there .”
Jones’ most recent fight was a controversial decision win over Dominick Reyes at UFC 247 in February 2020. Prior to that, “Bones” had another super close call against Thiago Santos at UFC 239 seven months earlier, winning a split decision against Santos — who badly injured his left knee, and tweaked a surgically repaired right knee during the five-round affair.
Jones recently said part of the reason for his move to heavyweight had to do with not having any “fear” for his 205-pound bouts, and that he didn’t feel challenged. Harris now understands Jones’ motivations after seeing Jones at the gym.
“He’s 100-percent better [than he was before],” Harris explained. Harris said, “I believe he is healthier. He’s more focused now than ever because it’s a different challenge. Heavyweight is a different ball game. After beating everyone at 205,, he became bored. It’s now time to face a new challenge and I believe he is ready for it. We’ve got a room full of killers every day pushing him. It’s just a beautiful man. He’s sure to be a surprise for many people.
“It is one thing to watch him fight, but to train with him in real life, it’s like “What the heck?” He’s quick, explosive and so intelligent. He has an answer to every move you make. He’s the greatest for a reason, and I think at heavyweight, all of those things are going to be accentuated. Most heavyweights don’t train like he’s been training for the last 12, 13 years of his career, and we’re in elevation too, so his cardio is on a whole different level.
” “It can get frustrating at times,” Harris joked. Harris joked that sometimes he is ready to leave the mats at the end of a tough session and wants to continue his work. But it’s that champion’s mindset that he has.”
As pundits and fans break down the fight many think Gane will win the striking portion while Jones will be ahead if it reaches the mat. Jones hasn’t fought in so many years, which is why there’s still mystery around him.
As Harris sees it, Jones will gather data to help shape the fight. Then he’ll go toe to toe with Harris, the former interim heavyweight champion.
“He’s right on point with his striking,” Harris said. “He’s been in there with the best strikers at 205, so there’s not going to be a movement, or a speed thing that he’s not ready for. Jon is a fighter who can take on any fight he chooses. He does this better than anyone. He can strike with Ciryl if he so desires. He is capable of doing everything and Ciryl won’t be a puzzle he doesn’t solve. He will make Ciryl fight for his cause.
“He’s smarter and more mature than ever. I’ve seen it, I spend a lot of time with him off of the mats. I can see where he is now mentally. At the end of the day, he’s going there to win the fight. He’ll go in there, figure it out, and he’ll take it where he needs to take it.
” Jon seems to have won him the second round.
Harris stated that working with Jones was a key factor in his success at making his return to the Octagon. The 39-year-old has dropped three straight and hasn’t competed since a TKO loss to Marcin Tybura in June 2021, but knew he needed to take some time off.
Harris has had to deal with a lot emotionally, most notably the tragic loss of his stepdaughter Aniah Blanchard, who was murdered at the age of 19 in October 2019. In November, a 32-year-old suspect was indicted by a grand jury on charges of capital murder during a kidnapping, capital murder during a robbery, and capital murder involving a victim in a vehicle. That suspect faces the death penalty, or life in prison without the possibility of parole, for each individual charge.
Harris has now declared his desire to make a comeback to the Octagon and plans to be back in June. He first started considering a comeback a few months ago, but when Jones called upon him to help with preparation for his heavyweight debut, Harris was officially off the fence and back in the game.
” “It meant everything man,” Harris stated about Jones’ call. This is a huge opportunity for him [also], Harris said of Jones’ call.