The UFC returns to its spiritual home in Las Vegas to host the return of arguably the greatest MMA athlete of all time, Jon Jones, who will fight Cyril Gane for the heavyweight world title. Alongside the main event is a bumper card, including Valentina Shevchenko’s defence of her 125lbs title. Here is your preview.
Jon Jones (26-1-0) vs Cyril Gane (11-1-0)
Jon ‘Bones’ Jones. Even typing that name out makes the voice of Bruce Buffer ring around my head.
He was the poster boy for MMA around the globe, until he wasn’t. The list of light-heavyweight legends he has beaten in the cage is as long as his rap sheet. His guilty plea for hit-and-run and his involvement in a domestic abuse case mean that UFC fans are divided between those who recognise his talent and those who recognise his character.
Despite his criminal record, the memories that Jones has given fans of MMA are perhaps only rivalled by Conor McGregor. His walk out to ‘I’m Coming Home’ at UFC 197 after more than a year away from the cage still makes my hairs stand up on end. His fight against Alexander Gustafsson at UFC 165 was inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame.
He was so sharp, so clinical, so artistic that he beat everyone there was to beat and got bored. At his old weight class, he was the greatest of all time, with no debate, but now the question is, can he do it at heavyweight?
You could argue that the jump up has negated one of Jones’ key strengths at 205lbs, his reach. Against Anthony Smith, for example, Jones had an 8.5-inch reach advantage. Against Gane at UFC 285, this will be reduced to 3.5.
However, the weaknesses end here. It is not hyperbole to say that Jones is the most well-rounded fighter in the history of Mixed Martial Arts. The only loss on his record is a disqualification due to an illegal elbow against Matt Hamill back in 2009, a fight which Jones was dominating.
For many then a Jones victory is a formality, but don’t overlook Cyril Gane. Another fighter with only one loss on his record, another fighter who is exceedingly well rounded, and a man who is used to fighting at heavyweight.
Gane is the most technical striker I have seen at heavyweight. At times it seems as if he floats round the cage, so polished in his footwork. His victory over Tai Tuivasa displays this perfectly. Gane peppered the Austrialian with jabs and body kicks whilst moving like a man half his size.
After the removal of Francis Ngannou, the man who wins this fight will be the undisputed most dangerous man in the UFC. A win for Jones could mean even more, he could secure the title of the greatest to ever do it.
Jones: Alex, George, Andrew
Valentina Shevchenko (23-3-0) vs Alexa Grasso (15-3-0)
Alexa Grasso will be a fascinating bout for the dominant Valentina Shevchenko after facing one of her toughest ever tests in her last fight against Taila Santos.
All of ‘The Bullet’s’ previous title defences were easy, smooth affairs, but Santos has been closest to dethroning the champion following the split decision.
Was it an off night for Shevchenko, or is the crown slipping? Grasso has come into form since her move to 125 and is undefeated in those four fights.
Being the woman to overthrow Shevchenko arguably now means more than winning the belt, but it will be a big upset if the Mexican can take down the champ.
The fight IQ of Shevchenko might be the best in the entire UFC, so unless Grasso brings something drastically different to the table, Shevchenko should be well prepared.
Shevchenko: Alex, George, Conor, Andrew
Geoff Neal (15-4-0) vs Shavkat Rakhmonov (16-0-0)
The welterweight clash between Geoff Neal and Shavkat Rakhmonov is a fight that will certainly propel the credentials of the winning fighter, as both men look to make a statement in one of the most stacked divisions in the UFC.
Neal’s seven-fight win streak that exploded his potential was brought to an abrupt halt when he lost by unanimous decision to Stephen Thompson at UFC Fight Night Vegas.
The Texas man has returned to the focus of the division with a decision win over Santiago Ponzinibbio and a TKO against Vicente Luque.
Rakhmonov is a different feature; an undefeated prospect who has finished all 16 of his professional fights with an even split of eight knockouts and eight submissions. His first four UFC fights have offered further promise, with his submission over Neil Magny a standout performance.
The Kazakh is bulldozing his way to the upper echelons of the welterweight division and Neal may just be another hurdle in his demolition. Neal is the best candidate to test whether Rakhmonov is the real deal.
The American will most likely prefer the fight to be stand-up only, but given the versatility of Shavkat, Neil may not be able to prevent a grounded brawl. Shavkat has several tools to get the job done and I think he will have too many attacking options for Neal to withstand.
Rakhmonov: Alex, George, Conor, Andrew
Derek Brunson (23-8-0) vs Dricus Du Plessis (18-2-0)
Following a dominant display over Darren Till, which ultimately led to the Liverpudlian being released from his UFC duties, Dricus Du Plessis will look to tighten his middleweight status over the number 5 ranked Derek Brunson.
‘Blond Brunson’ is coming off the back of his first loss since 2018 when he was sparked out by Jared Cannonier at UFC 270 last year. The veteran is coming into the business end of his career, and he may not contain the same hunger as the youthful Du Plessis, with ten years separating both fighters.
Du Plessis is an exceptionally promising fighter, who has shown progression and development over his last two fights against Till and Brad Tavares. Primarily a switch stance kickboxer, Du Plessis’ aptitude for power striking has often brought criticism that he is one dimensional and he exhausts all his energy in the opening exchanges, as his first round with Till demonstrated.
However, his recent improvement in grappling has combated the critics and he has added another weapon to his growing armoury.
His high-octane approach and wild haymakers will not work with Brunson though, who is far too experienced to let a first-round blitz get the better of him.
Brunson is well-equipped to defend Du Plessis’ newfound grappling game. The 39-year-old is a seasoned wrestler whilst also possessing a devasting overhand. With age, Brunson has altered his game and now prefers to win his fights on the mat rather than his explosive striking that fans so fondly associated him for.
Its experience versus youth in this one and Brunson’s ageing chin may be exposed against an exuberant Du Plessis, who may not reach the potential he has exaggerated, but I feel he will win inside the distance.
Du Plessis: Alex, Andrew
Brunson: George, Conor
Mateusz Gamrot (21-2-0) vs Jalin Turner (13-5-0)
The original bout for this lightweight match-up would have seen Dan Hooker take on Jalin Turner. However, Mateusz Gamrot has replaced Hooker because the New Zealander broke his hand two weeks out from the fight.
The Polish lightweight will pose a very different threat to Turner than the predominately stand-up fighter Hooker. Gamrot has a very strong wrestling foundation having won numerous ADCC submission fighting European Championships alongside starting out his MMA career.
Gamrot’s last fight was out in the UAE where he lost a unanimous decision to top contender Beneil Dariush.
His opponent this weekend Turner is on an impressive five-fight win streak in the UFC, having had a shaky start to his tenure in the organization. The Californian-born lightweight is 6-1 having moved back down to 155 pounds, finishing all six of his opponents before they could hear the final bell.
Whilst Turner started out his sporting career in wrestling, ‘the tarantula’ has found love for his hands when competing in MMA, having won nine of his 13 wins by way of knockout.
A win for either fighter will propel them up the rankings and will be looking to face a top-five lightweight contender before the year is out.
Gamrot: George, Andrew, Conor
Bo Nickal (3-0-0) vs Jamie Pickett (13-8-0)
To kick off the main card we have Bo Nickal making his UFC debut as he is matched against Jamie Pickett.
Nickal has a lot of hype behind his name and rightly so. The Colorado-born middleweight has an extensive wrestling background having won the NCAA collegiate championship at 184 pounds in 2018 and at 197 pounds in 2019.
After making his MMA debut on Jorge Masvidal’s iKon FC promotion, scoring a first-round knockout, Nickal quickly appeared on Dana White’s Contender series.
However, whilst impressing in his fight securing a first-round submission victory over Zachary Borrego, Dana didn’t want to give Nickal a contract as he only had two professional fights at the time.
Despite this Nickal was given another fight on the series and again secured a first-round submission victory, this time over Donavan Beard, leaving Dana no option but to sign him.
His opponent Pickett has had a poor start to his tenure in the UFC.
Like Nickal, Pickett signed to the UFC through Dana White’s Contender series having secured a second-round TKO victory over Jhonoven Pati.
But since gaining his UFC contract, ‘The Nightwolf’ has gone 2-4 in his six UFC fights. One of those defeats was last time out against Denis Tiuliulin where he lost via TKO in the second round.
Nickal: Alex, George, Conor
Ian Garry (10-0-0) vs Kenan Song (19-6-0)
Three fights into his UFC career, it’s been so far so good for Ian ‘The future’ Garry.
Wins over Jordan Williams, Darian Weeks and Gabriel Green have been good tests for the 25-year-old Irishman, and the UFC are clearly playing the long game with his rise and giving him time to develop.
The decision victory over Green in his last outing was Garry’s most complete performance, and holes that have appeared in his game in previous fights have been impressively patched up.
Garry’s next test comes in the form of Kenan Song, who is coming off a two-year layoff.
An over-confidence with his defence for Garry could lead to an upset-knockout loss from a fighter with knockout power in Song, but Garry has shown an increase in maturity throughout his three UFC appearances, and is deservedly the heavy favourite ahead of Saturday’s fight.
Garry: Alex, George, Conor, Andrew