In a remarkable turn of events, the UFC heavyweight division has rocketed to the top of MMA’s news cycle with two huge pieces of news.
It started early on Saturday when the T-Mobile Arena displayed a digital poster promoting a heavyweight title bout between the returning Jon Jones and Ciryl Gane in what would be Jones’ first bout as a UFC heavyweight.
That poster was hastily removed from the arena’s digital signage, but the cat was out of the bag, and UFC president Dana White immediately addressed the situation at the UFC Fight Night 217 post-fight press conference.
White confirmed that Jones vs. Gane was official, and that it would be for the newly-vacated heavyweight title. That’s because heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou and the UFC had failed to come to terms on a new contract – a deal White said would have made Ngannou the highest-paid heavyweight in UFC history – and the Cameroonian became a free agent as a result.
“We’ve been negotiating with him for more than two years,” White stated.
“We offered Francis a deal that would’ve 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.”
White also confirmed that the title had been vacated as a result of Ngannou’s exit, and that the UFC had waived any matching rights to any offers from other promotions.
It means that Jones vs. Gane will headline UFC 285 at the T-Mobile Arena on Saturday March 4, with the newly-vacated undisputed heavyweight title on the line.
The bout will see Jones make his heavyweight debut as he begins a new chapter in his career after a light heavyweight tenure that has already positioned him as one of the greatest fighters of all time.
His first test will come against former interim champion Gane, whose lone career loss came to then-champion Ngannou in an unsuccessful title tilt at UFC 270 in January 2022.
Since that defeat, he bounced back in spectacular fashion with a crowd-pleasing knockout win on home soil as he defeated Tai Tuivasa in his home town of Paris in September 2022.
While Jones and Gane get set to face off for the biggest prize in the sport, Ngannou heads off to pastures new as he leaves as an undisputed UFC heavyweight champion who never lost his title in the Octagon.