Jon Jones is expected to return to the UFC as a heavyweight, but who could he end up fighting in his long-awaited comeback fight?
Thankfully for the former light heavyweight kingpin, there is no shortage of options for him, ranging from beatable foes to very tricky matches indeed.
With that in mind, here are five interesting opponents for Jon Jones as he looks to make his heavyweight debut.
#5. Jon Jones vs. Ciryl Gane
If the UFC aren’t sure about giving Jon Jones an instant shot at the heavyweight title upon his return, then they could definitely do worse than to match him with former interim champion Ciryl Gane in what would be a huge fight.
Gane last fought in September, stopping Tai Tuivasa in a three-round thriller that saw him recover from being hurt to take out ‘Bam Bam’ with a salvo of violent strikes, all in front of his hometown fans in Paris, France.
Prior to that, 'Bon Gamin' was defeated by Francis Ngannou in their heavyweight title clash, a bout that did expose some holes in the Frenchman’s game, namely, some concerns over his takedown defense and wrestling ability.
A fight with Jones would definitely test him in that area. While he doesn’t sport the amateur credentials of some of the UFC’s other stars, ‘Bones’ has basically been able to outwrestle every opponent he’s ever faced, including Olympian Daniel Cormier.
Based on his fight with Ngannou, Gane would probably have a hard time preventing Jones from taking him down, but equally, he also has the size, power and striking ability to push ‘Bones’ to the limit, particularly as his 81” reach wouldn’t leave him at the same disadvantage as most of Jones’ opponents.
Essentially, if Jones could beat Gane, then he’d knock off one of the top heavyweights in the game and instantly establish himself as a title threat. This one would be a risky but viable and intriguing fight for him.
#4. Jon Jones vs. Derrick Lewis
If the UFC wants to ease Jon Jones into his new career as a heavyweight, then one viable – and beatable – opponent for him could be Derrick Lewis. ‘The Black Beast’ definitely has some ways that he could threaten Jones, but equally, he’d almost certainly come in as a betting underdog.
Lewis, whose career arguably peaked with a heavyweight title challenge in November 2018, is now 37 years old, and he’s only won one of his past three bouts. Most recently, he was supposed to face Serghei Spivac, only for the clash to fall through at the last minute due to illness.
‘The Black Beast’ possesses perhaps more punching power than any fighter in UFC history, and he holds the record for the most knockouts in the promotion, too. However, he definitely has plenty of holes in his game, and it’s easy to imagine him struggling with the kind of attacks that Jones could bring.
However, it is worth noting that at heavyweight, it only takes one big punch to turn the tide of a fight, and Lewis almost certainly possesses the kind of power that could knock Jones out if he lands cleanly.
On paper, this should be a simple fight for Jones, and given Lewis’ position as a semi-star, it’d be a nice introduction for him into the heavyweight division. Given the power of ‘The Black Beast’, though, it’d be an interesting match nonetheless.
#3. Jon Jones vs. Stipe Miocic
The fighter who has been mentioned the most when it comes to a potential first opponent for Jon Jones upon his return is former UFC heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic.
Had things been different – namely, had Jones not been suspended for a positive drug test in 2017 – then these two fighters may already have met in the octagon. It could’ve been ‘Bones’ and not Daniel Cormier attempting to become a double champion in 2018.
Since winning his trilogy with Cormier, though, Miocic has only fought once, losing his crown to Francis Ngannou in early 2021.
On paper, at least, Miocic does have the skills to give Jones a real test. He’s deceptively quick for a heavyweight, has plenty of punching power, and is one of the more underrated wrestlers in the UFC, with a background as an NCAA Division I All-American.
However, he also turned 40 years old this summer, and given the layoff he’s had since being knocked out by Ngannou, it’s honestly hard to know exactly how much he has left in the tank. After all, his trilogy with Cormier must’ve taken plenty out of him.
Even if he is past his best, Miocic – who is largely renowned as the most successful heavyweight in UFC history – would be a huge win for Jones if 'Bones' could pull it off, and he’d make for a truly fascinating opponent, too.
#2. Jon Jones vs. Curtis Blaydes
While Curtis Blaydes has not yet fought for the UFC heavyweight title, let alone had a run as champion, it’s safe to say that ‘Razor’ should definitely be considered one of the most interesting potential opponents for Jon Jones upon his return.
While he doesn’t have the same credentials as the likes of Cain Velasquez and Brock Lesnar, Blaydes is actually the most successful wrestler in UFC heavyweight history, completing a total of 62 takedowns in his 16 bouts in the octagon.
More importantly, he’s developed his striking hugely over the years, and now has the power to knock anyone out. Just ask Chris Daukaus or Junior dos Santos, both of whom were stopped by the punches of ‘Razor’ in recent years.
The big question in a fight between Blaydes and Jones would be whether ‘Razor’ could take the former light heavyweight champion down. He’d arguably be at a disadvantage on the feet, but if he could plant Jones on his back, then it’d be hard to guess what could happen, particularly as Jones has only been taken down twice during his lengthy career.
Blaydes doesn’t have the biggest name in the division, nor is he the most popular fighter around. In fact, he’s often garnered a reputation for being dull to watch, although there’s an argument to suggest that’s a little unfair.
Despite this, though, he would represent a difficult stylistic match for Jones at heavyweight, making him a highly intriguing opponent. Given that the bout has already been mentioned by the media, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see it made in 2023.
#1. Jon Jones vs. Francis Ngannou
Naturally, the biggest and most intriguing fight available for Jon Jones in the heavyweight division would be a battle with the kingpin of the weight class, reigning UFC champion Francis Ngannou.
‘The Predator’ has not fought since the first UFC pay-per-view show of 2022, which saw him edge out then-interim champion Ciryl Gane in a unification bout. In the months that have followed, he’s been largely at an impasse with the UFC around his pay.
However, a fight with Jones – who stands as one of the biggest UFC stars of all time – may well be enough to entice him back into the fold, and it comes as no surprise that the fight has supposedly been 'penciled in' for UFC 285, which is scheduled to take place next March.
Would it be fair to let Jones jump the queue at heavyweight? It’s debatable, but given there’s no outstanding top contender right now – and considering the accomplishments of ‘Bones’ at 205lbs – the move would probably make sense for Dana White and the company.
More to the point, the bout would be hugely intriguing for a number of reasons. Could Ngannou prevent Jones from taking him down, where he looked out of his depth in his loss to Stipe Miocic in 2018? Or could his newly developed wrestling skills, on display in his fight with Gane, give ‘Bones’ some problems?
The biggest question, naturally, would be whether Jones’ chin could stand up to Ngannou’s punching power. ‘The Predator’ is probably the most dangerous knockout artist in UFC history, and ‘Bones’ has definitely never been hit by an opponent with that kind of power before.
Overall, if the UFC could make this fight, it’d instantly become not only one of the biggest but the most intriguing clashes of 2023.