Jon Jones’ legacy WILL be damaged if he is a flop at heavyweight… the American is desperate to make his case as the GOAT watertight but defeat by Ciryl Gane at UFC 285 could expose cracks that started to appear years ago
- Jon Jones’ career has been blighted by issues outside of competing in the UFC
- But few can argue that his CV stacks up as the very best in MMA history
- That said, if his move to heavyweight fails, Jones’ legacy will be damaged
So here we are, almost a decade after Jon Jones first teased a move to heavyweight and three years in self-imposed MMA exile – he’s back.
It is quite a difficult thing to wrap your head around – there have been false dawns, pay rows, vows to return pushed back and back and back.
But barring a late disaster, Jones will fight for the vacant heavyweight title against Ciryl Gane at UFC 285 this weekend.
The GOAT debate is a constant and wavering thread as a sport grows but if you ask most MMA fans, they would probably says Jones is the best to ever do it.
Jones, but with an asterisk next to it. Jones but only if you’re willing to overlook the failed drugs tests and – to put it mildly – extra curricular activities.
Jon Jones will attempt to claim the heavyweight title on Saturday night in his comeback
Ciryl Gane (right) is taking on Jones for the vacant belt having beaten Tai Tuivasa
Having obliterated his natural weight class at light-heavyweight for so long, the move to heavyweight gives Jones a chance to make his case for GOAT status watertight.
Those drugs tests will remain blotches on his copybook regardless of how he fares, but the noise around them will dial down if he swats aside the big boys and does it as a clean athlete.
That’s why there’s so much pressure on this fight for Jones.
If he loses, the cracks in his case as the greatest will widen. And for all his greatness, there are doubts.
Jones has not looked at his best for a long time. His last three performances left plenty to be desired and he looked a shadow of his prime.
‘Bones’ claimed a unanimous decision over Anthony Smith in 2019 but his American compatriot wasn’t overly impressed.
‘He’s not that good – not individually,’ he told Morning Kombat.
‘If you take his individual skill sets and you take them away, each one of those things are not a problem. It’s when you put them together and he puts it into the full package, it’s the problem. His fight IQ is not crazy high.
Jones (centre) bulked up for heavyweight but time will tell what kind of fighting shape he is in
‘He’s well-coached and he does what he’s told very, very well.
‘He doesn’t actually make any decisions on his own. He’s very well-coached, and that’s a credit to him. I’m not saying it as a negative. I don’t think it’s a negative.’
Jones backed up that win with another against Thiago Santos, this time it was a split decision. That narrow win came with the Brazilian fighting on one leg for a solid chunk of the contest.
It was by no means a robbery, Jones deserved to win the fight but it certainly showed a degree of mortality in the great champion.
That fragility was further exposed in his last fight, more than three years ago against Dominick Reyes.
The judges had the bout unanimously in his favour but fans, the media and even Dana White thought Reyes was hard done by.
The UFC president thought it was three-two in Reyes’ favour. Reyes landed more strikes and more significant strikes than his rival for the first three rounds and stayed on his feet.
Jones escaped with the victory by the skin of his teeth and that was the last time we saw him. It hasn’t aged well either. Reyes has lost every fight since, which does beg the question, are Jones’ powers on the wane.
Jones is regarded as the greatest by many and can cement his legacy at heavyweight
The man himself has insisted those last few laclustre performances can be put down to boredom. He simply lacked the fear-driven motivation to be at his very best against the competition.
‘I stopped studying footage as much, it started to feel more like another day at the office’ Jones said on Unlocking the Cage.
‘I wasn’t happy with my pay, either. I’m stuck fighting guys like [Dominick] Reyes — who had been dreaming of fighting me, probably since college, and [he] was just relatively unknown to the general public.
‘I just wanted more, I wanted to be nervous again. I wanted to have fear again. I think fear is healthy, and now we’re in this position. The heavyweight division has never been scarier, and I’m glad to be in the middle of it.’
Those words will ring true if on Saturday night we see a Jones pushing his own limits again. But if he doesn’t, if he loses or even scrapes a win, the questions will remain.
Many fighters have a self life and damage their legacy by going on too long.
If Jones’ prime was back in 2017, we might see him returning past his best.
Donald Cerrone lost six of his last seven, BJ Penn lost seven of his last eight and Anderson Silva won only one of his last seven fights in the UFC.
Gane is a gifted striker but lacks the kind of wrestling pedigree Jones possesses
If Jones’ powers are on the wane, he could risk diminishing all he has achieved inside the cage.
His run-ins with the law, failed drugs tests and controversies outside the cage already do that, but his athletic ability has always remained.
If he starts losing legitimately to the likes of Gane, it is far harder to make the case for him being the greatest.
That’s why Saturday night’s showdown is so fascinating. Nobody knows which Jones will turn up.
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