The Ultimate Fighting Championship carries on with its exhilarating 2023 season with the next promising fight show, the UFC 285. This time the destination is the multipurpose T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on March 4th.
The event will feature flyweight queen Valentina Shevchenko’s bid to defend her crown against Alexa Grasso, followed by a widely anticipated return of Jon Jones in a duel against Ciryl Gane for the vacant heavyweight champion title. Yes, you read that right. Jon Jones! Returns! Let’s have a closer look at both headline fights as we approach Sunday’s showdown.
Jon Jones vs Ciryl Gane
Following years-long disagreements with the UFC over his contract, then-heavyweight division champion Francis Ngannou decided to part ways with the organization, becoming a free agent and leaving his title and belt up for grabs.
Ciryl Gane (11-1-0) already had a shot at the title last January but fell short to Ngannou by a unanimous decision, which still remains the only blemish on his career fight record. Before deciding to jump to MMA, the Frenchman garnered a flawless record of 13-0-0 over his four-year-long Muay Thai career. Due to this experience, the highly technical and strategic fighter excels with impressive aerial footwork, which is a rare quality in this weight category. However, the 32-year-old has found himself struggling with takedowns and grappling, which could prove to be a pivotal factor. For example, he was taken down and controlled on the canvas four times last year against Ngannou, who is nowhere near the wrestler his upcoming opponent is.
Let’s talk Jon Jones (26-1-0). Regarded as the GOAT of the MMA, the 35-year-old is making his long-anticipated comeback following a three-year hiatus. Jones is a two-time undisputed UFC light heavyweight champion, who held the title from March 2011 to April 2015 and again from December 2018 to August 2020, with 13 title defenses under his belt (UFC record), and only one official loss, which came by disqualification due to using illegal elbows on Matt Hamill in 2009.
The American came onto the UFC scene in 2008. Three years later, after a series of convincing wins, he earned a light heavyweight title fight, in which he annihilated Maurício Rua to become the youngest champion in UFC history at the age of 23. Jones proceeded to eliminate anyone who crossed his path, including ex-champions and future Hall of Famers, such as Glover Teixeira, Daniel Cormier, Vitor Belfort, Alexander Gustafsson, and many others. He was unbeatable. Jones dominated the light heavyweight division with an elite striking, wrestling, distance management, and fight IQ until taking a break in 2020.
However, it hasn’t been all smiles and laughter. Jones’ career has been a mixture of not only stunning victories but also doping controversies, disqualifications, and issues away from the Octagon, due to which he has been stripped of his UFC light heavyweight belt on two occasions. Now he’s back and ready to make his heavyweight debut. As Jones claims himself, the move to a higher-weight division was made because of a lack of motivation and competitiveness in the light heavyweight division, and he clearly can back this up with his reign in the division. “The fear was gone. I didn’t really fear these guys. I just wanted more, I wanted to be nervous again”, claims the fighter.
Despite the fact that Gane is much more accustomed to battling at heavyweight and is an athletic and nimble striker with a serious punch, the Frenchman is not favored to win the bout- as our bookmakers have him at the odds of 2.38. Meanwhile, Jones is a clear favorite with 1.61. However, too many times has the UFC seen clear-cut favorites fall to their underdog opponents. Will this be the case? Will a three-year break prove to be too much? Or will Jones continue to prove his superiority and become a two-division champion?
Valentina Shevchenko vs Alexa Grasso
Valentina Shevchenko (23-3-0) is by far the most decorated women’s flyweight athlete in UFC history. The Kyrgyz fighter holds several records in the women’s flyweight division, including the most consecutive wins (9 and counting), the most title wins (8), and the most knockout wins (4). Besides that, the 34-year-old Muay Thai specialist has successfully defended her title seven consecutive times.
Shevchenko has only been stopped by two fighters, twice by the legendary Amanda Nunes, whom she last lost five years ago. However, it seems that these upsets have made her even stronger as the decorated fighter has been unstoppable ever since and eased herself past such remarkable opponents as Holly Holm, Jessica Andrade, Lauren Murphy, Jennifer Maia, and others.
The title contender this time is Alexa Grasso (15-3-0) from Mexico. Even though the 29-year-old might not be as experienced or well-known as other fighters in line for the women’s flyweight title, the slick boxer has won all four of her contests since moving up from the strawweight division in 2020. Now the Guadalajara native is about to test herself against the highest level of women’s mixed martial arts against a fighter who has been single-handedly ruling the entire division for years.
Will this be yet another title defense for Shevchenko? The bookmakers certainly think so, having her as a massive favorite with the odds of 1.16. Meanwhile, Grasso is rated at 5.55. Surely there’s a reason, taking into account Grasso’s inexperience on the ground. Sure, the Mexican is very crisp with her footwork and patient with her strikes waiting for the right moment, but it might prove to be an easy win for the reigning champ if she gets the chance to clinch and trip her opponent. At the end of the day, it still is a title fight, meaning the stakes are sky-high, which always brings the very best out of the fighters. And we, as spectators, are certainly ready for it!