One of the best to ever compete in MMA will return from a three-year layoff right into a heavyweight championship fight when Jon Jones faces Ciryl Gane in the main event of UFC 285 this Saturday night in Las Vegas — and his jiu-jitsu coach Roberto Alencar is promising an even better version of the legendary fighter.
Jones ran through multiple generations of light heavyweights to win and defend his UFC title 11 times between 2011 and 2020, but then stepped away to bulk up for a new challenge at heavyweight.
For Alencar, at least from a coach’s perspective, it’s not a more difficult task.
“It’s easier in the sense that the opponents are easier to decipher, especially the one we’re working on now,” Alencar said of Gane on this week’s episode of MMA Fighting podcast Trocação Franca. “He only has one strength: His striking. He’s not a complete fighter that has been UFC champion before, like ones we’ve faced in the past.”
Aside from Stipe Miocic, who Alencar sees as the most well-rounded heavyweight in the UFC aside from Jones himself, other contenders don’t present a versatile game.
“Most fighters, like Derrick Lewis or even former champion Francis [Ngannou], are one-dimensional. They are not complete athletes,” he said. “We’re working with that a lot at heavyweight now.
“When you change divisions, it takes a little while. Many champions out there — let’s take [Israel] Adesanya as an example, he moved up with a short time and had weight and strength disadvantages, [regarding] knowing how to fight in a heavier weight class. Jon did that with calm and patience, and it was a master move to work his body the right way.
“Three years have passed and we’re ready to start a new journey at heavyweight, a supremacy at heavyweight.”
Alencar has worked with Jones for nearly a decade in Albuquerque and used to roll with him on the mats, but hasn’t been able to do so against this heavyweight version of “Bones.”
The jiu-jitsu ace, who runs Gracie Barra gyms in New Mexico, said Jones’ strength is “unreal” now.
“He’s stronger, more motivated, more disciplined and mature,” he said. “He’s a different athlete, a better athlete, and one that will give others plenty of problems at heavyweight.”
Three years away from the game won’t be a problem for Jones, Alencar told the UFC star, because “we haven’t been there for a while, but you’ve been there for a while.”
“We’re pioneers, we own the octagon. We have to get in there with that attitude,” Alencar said. “Not taking anything away from our opponents, but to trust our superiority — this is the best version of Jon Jones so far. He’s 35 and he has all this experience, maturity, extra weight and power.
“[Gane] is a heavyweight that moves like a light heavyweight, moves like [Alexander] Gustafsson. He’s a heavyweight Gustafsson, let’s put it this way. So we’ve had that experience already. It’s hard for someone to think they have Jon’s number today.”
Jones has gone the distance in his most recent title defenses at 205 pounds, dominating Anthony Smith but having much closer bouts with Thiago Santos and Dominick Reyes.
For UFC 285, Alencar said the team is hoping for an emphatic finish.
“I always want the finish, that being jiu-jitsu, ground-and-pound or knockout,” Alencar said. “That’s what we’re expecting. I think that’s what the team, Jon, and fans want — to see a dominating Jon Jones at heavyweight, with some new weapons. Many people are curious to see his conditioning and body, too.
“There are many questions to be answered Saturday, and I can answer some now. We’re seeing a different Jon Jones, a heavier and stronger one, but he hasn’t lost his agility. It’s going to be an avatar of Jon Jones, let’s put it this way. A bigger one, but with the same personality and way of fight. His charisma hasn’t changed. A fighter that is happy and joyful, happy with his camp and the team he’s created, is a man that must be feared.”