Ngannou released, Jon Jones vs. Ciryl Gane for vacant title

Ngannou released, Jon Jones vs. Ciryl Gane for vacant title

Jon Jones will make his return to the Octagon in March after more than three years away when he meets Cyril Gane for the now-vacant heavyweight title at UFC 285.

Jones (26-1 MMA, 20-1 UFC), a former longtime welterweight champion, has been teasing a return to action for his heavyweight debut since vacating the 205-pound title at May 2020. Now it’s finally decided. He will meet Gane (11-1 MMA, 8-1 UFC) for the belt that the UFC stripped Francis Ngannou (17-3 MMA, 12-2 UFC) after a contract dispute with the promotion.

UFC president Dana White confirmed the bout Saturday after UFC Fight Night 217 after photos of a digital billboard attached to the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas surfaced on social media. The same venue is set to host the March 4 event, which will air on pay-per-view following the expected prelims on ESPN and ESPN+.

White said Ngannou has been released from his UFC contract and is free to fight elsewhere.

“We’ve been negotiating with (Ngannou) for over two years,” White said, adding that Ngannou’s knee, which was recently surgically repaired, could also be an issue for him. “We offered Francis a deal that would have made him the highest-paid heavyweight in the history of the company — more than (Brock) Lesnar, more than anybody, and he turned the deal down.”

Jones, who many consider to be one of the greatest fighters in MMA history, has not competed since UFC 247 in February 2020. He earned a close and controversial decision over Dominick Reyes in that fight to win the his 13th career title at 205. lbs.

Soon after, Jones committed to a move up to heavyweight, which he had been planning for more than a decade. He wanted a better contract from the UFC, however, and stayed in hopes of getting a better deal. It is not known if Jones has renegotiated the contract he wanted or if he will fight under the previous terms.

For most of Jones’ impending switch in the division, Ngannou and Stipe Miocic were the two names most linked to his heavyweight debut. Instead, he will meet former interim champion Gane, who is coming off a third-round knockout of Tai Tuivasa at UFC Fight Night 209 in September. Gane lost a title unification bout to Ngannou, his former teammate, at UFC 270 in January 2022.

The latest UFC 285 lineup now includes:

Jon Jones vs. Cyril Gane – for the vacant heavyweight title Derek Brunson vs. Dricus Du Plessis Geoff Neal vs. Shavkat Rakhmonov Viviane Araujo vs. Amanda Ribas Bo Nickal vs. Jamie Pickett Jessica Penne vs. Tabatha Ricci Farid Dasharat Julio Arce vs. Cody Garbrandt Mario Bautista vs. Guido Cannetti Marc-Andre Barriault vs Julian Marquez Kamuela Kirk vs Esteban Ribovics

For more on the card, visit MMA Junkie’s event hub for UFC 285.

Gallery photos: Jon Jones over the years View 59 photos Gallery photos: Cyril Gane over the years View 31 photos

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