Ciryl Gane’s head coach considers Jon Jones to be the greatest fighter of all-time, and despite all of the questions surrounding Jones, he’s expecting the best version of the former light heavyweight champ to show up at UFC 285.
Jones and Gane battle for the vacant heavyweight title in Saturday’s main event at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. After Francis Ngannou parted ways with the UFC and vacated the title, the opted to book Jones against Gane — a fight Gane’s coach Fernand Lopez had been hoping would happen since UFC Paris this past September, when Gane stopped Tai Tuivasa in the main event.
Preparing to fight Jones can be quite the challenge for a coach, but it’s one Lopez has been excited about.
“The reality is that, no matter what you try to assume Jon Jones is trying to do — and for me, [he’s] the best and the greatest of all-time in MMA, no matter what you try to say to me,” Lopez told MMA Fighting. “What I’m saying here is that we’re expecting to have the best Jon Jones we’ve ever [seen]. Jon Jones is cerebral and is someone that thinks a lot.
“Of course he has that brain, his [fight IQ] is [through] the roof. So what I’m saying is that a three-year layoff for a smart guy is not a problem, because he’s watching fights on TV, he’s listening and talking with coaches, his brain is processing, checking the division, seeing how everything is evolving. He’s working a lot.
“He is working with [the] vision part, he is working with the [listening] part so he can develop. I will be expecting to have the Jon Jones that we had in the second fight with [Daniel Cormier], the one on-point with every aspect of the fight.”
Saturday will be Jones’ first fight at heavyweight, and first appearance in the octagon since winning a controversial decision against Dominick Reyes in his final light heavyweight title defense at UFC 247 in February 2020.
As Lopez as been preparing Gane for peak Jones, he believes any let down from the man many consider to be the greatest to ever do it could lead to a very long night for the longtime 205-pound king.
“If he comes there and he’s lazy or [is worse] than [his best], good for us,” Lopez said. “But I just want to think that we’re going to get that guy — the violent, the very technical and intelligent guy. I just want to focus on Ciryl Gane. Cyril is something. People keep thinking [that] Ciryl is kind of overrated, but Ciryl is something different. When you have a guy that has mobility and size, it’s almost unfair.
“He’s dangerous, he’s huge, he’s heavy, and he can hit hard. So we spent our time to focus on what he can do to Jon Jones rather than what Jon Jones can do to him. When you spend your time [focusing solely on the opponent], you’re already in the defensive mode. I don’t want to be on the defensive mode with Jon Jones. We need to be there [on the offensive] and Ciryl Gane needs to take over. We need to come in there very sharp and try to hurt him. That’s what we have to do.
“Ciryl says, ‘I want to be the first fighter to stop Jon Jones,’” Lopez continues. “He’s a huge [name], he’s the best fighter, let’s stop this guy. Let’s be the first to beat him clean. That will not be easy. That is not easy for us.
“Jon Jones is something that, if you try to count the last few fights in the light heavyweight division, you will be wrong because, [back] then, you have a guy that had lack of motivation and he didn’t show up. But don’t make a mistake like that. This guy, when you check fight-by-fight, he’s barely [getting touched], he’s dangerous.”
Of course, Lopez the head coach wants to see his fighter get his hand raised and knock a legend off of his pedestal. But Lopez the MMA fan can’t help but be fascinated by the matchup, the burning questions, and all of the storylines attached to it.
“I’m being honest with you, this fight is very interesting because to have a great fight, you need to have a lot of questions on the table,” Lopez said. “So you have, how about the three-year layoff? How about the weight cutting? On Ciryl’s side, it’s how will Ciryl deal with the fact that he’s fighting someone with that much experience? Fourteen times [Jones won title fights], and this is only Ciryl’s third time fighting for a title?
“When Jon Jones first became champion in the UFC, Cyril Gane didn’t even know the existence of MMA. So when you take that, you don’t know what will happen and that’s why I’m very excited. But at the same time I need, on my side, to focus on the skills of Ciryl. Ciryl has been blessed with a set of skills that can make him the nightmare of a guy like Jon Jones, and that’s what we are preparing [to do].”