The Return of the G.O.A.T.

With the new year came the return of the UFC’s greatest fighter of all time, Jon “Bones” Jones, as he looked to improve his legacy with the addition of the heavyweight title.

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By Sin Liu

After a three-year hiatus from the UFC, Jon “Bones” Jones made his long-awaited return to the octagon. In a fight that would solidify Jones’s G.O.A.T. status, he claimed heavyweight gold against Ciryl Gane at UFC 285. Leading up to the fight, many had doubted that Jones could find success in the heavyweight division. Yet three years and almost 50 pounds later, UFC fans were reintroduced to a familiar villain.

In Jones’s previous outing, at UFC 247, his fight with Dominick Reyes ended in a controversial split decision that would prove Jon Jones to be “beatable,” with many believing Reyes was robbed of a win. Despite controversy, after his historic 13 title defenses—the most in UFC history—in the light heavyweight division, Jones decided that it was time to contend for the heavyweight title. Between the ongoing pandemic, Stipe Miocic’s tear through the heavyweight division, and Francis Ngannou’s rise to glory, Jones delayed his return to the heavyweight division until March 2023. In the meantime, the light heavyweight belt that Jones had left behind changed hands four times within three years, and the reigning heavyweight champion, Ngannou, had left the organization. Jones was now fighting for a belt left vacant by Ngannou’s departure as a free agent. He strived to dominate this new division and prove he was still unbeatable, even at heavyweight. “I really believe in my whole heart [that] I was chosen by God Himself to be an undefeated fighter,” Jones said.

While Jones attributes much of his success to God, critics are quick to point out that he is a hypocrite untrue to his word. Dealing with media backlash for his out-of-the-octagon actions for most of his career, Jones’s legacy has been put to the test on multiple occasions. His infamous hit-and-run accident in 2015, failed drug tests in both 2016 and 2017, as well as his notorious leisure activities before big fights have tarnished the image of Jon “Bones” Jones. Many assumed that this three-year hiatus was used to “sober up” and focus on making weight for the next division, without the use of performance-enhancing drugs. Nonetheless, Jones took the criticism and ran with it, bulking up to 248 pounds (a 44 pound increase from UFC 247) and leaving drugs in the past. He was more determined than ever to prove critics wrong, believing that 2023 would be a test for what his legacy had in store for him.

Earlier this year, Dana White announced that Jones would finally make his return to the UFC. Hearing this exciting news, fans could never forget how glorious Jones’s reign over the light heavyweight division for nine years was and anticipated his return to the octagon. Now going up against Ciryl Gane, one of the top contenders in the UFC, many worried if Jones’s savage fighting style would work against Gane’s chess-like strategy. Gane, known for being extremely talented and moving with exceptional speed for a heavyweight, was accustomed to fighting at such a high level, having fought Ngannou at UFC 270. Being a former TKO world heavyweight champion and UFC interim heavyweight champion, Gane proved to be Jones’s toughest opponent yet. However, Jones remained unfazed by the pressure: “Somewhere inside of him, he thinks there’s a chance that he's going to take food off my family’s table and try and destroy my legacy. That’s something I take very personal,” Jones said.

The build-up to the fight was nothing short of spectacular. Jones had hinted at using the signature “The Champ is Here” at the pre-fight press conference, something he had carried with him since the early stages of his UFC career. When fans heard the iconic words, T-Mobile Arena erupted for Jones’s miraculous return. Gane’s walkout received the expected boos, and fans could only wait to see how the main event would unfold. When they finally met in the octagon, neither fighter held back. The fight started with an early low blow from Gane, but after that, it was Jones’s fight to lose. Within the first two minutes of the first round, Jones took Gane down and locked him in a guillotine to submit the French fighter. As Bruce Buffer announced the new champion, the stadium was overcome with elation, creating an atmosphere reminiscent of the golden age of Jones’s UFC career.

After the fight, Joe Rogan interviewed Jones, who was soaking in his victory, engaging  the crowd, and imitating a goat. Filled with energy after a mere two minutes of combat, Jones decided to jump atop the octagon fence, heavyweight gold now achieved, shortly after busting some sweet dance moves. In his post-fight interview, Jones called out Stipe Miocic, who many regard as the greatest heavyweight of all time, in an attempt to reach the top of two weight classes. “This is an extremely important fight for both of our legacies, I must treat it as such,” Jones later said on Twitter. This poses the question: will Jones ever be defeated, or will he continue to be the “Prodigal Son” of the UFC?