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Jon Jones admits it was ‘kind of nice’ to fight Ciryl Gane, not Francis Ngannou, in heavyweight debut

UFC 285: Jones v Gane
Jon Jones and Ciryl Gane face off
Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Jon Jones may have a rivalry with Francis Ngannou, but he also has a lot of respect for him.

For nearly two years, Jones and Ngannou teased a superfight with one another that never came to fruition. With Ngannou officially leaving the UFC at the start of 2023 after fighting out his contract and waiting out the UFC’s matching period, that fight now looks to be forever unmade. In the aftermath of Ngannou’s exit, he and Jones traded shots through the media (and even faced off with one another), with both men claiming the other is to blame for the fight not happening. And while Jones still maintains that’s the case, he does admit that there was a silver lining to Ngannou leaving: He got to fight Ciryl Gane for the heavyweight title instead.

“The funny thing is, the narrative switched,” Jones said on the OverDogs podcast. “The narrative switched somehow and people are saying that I waited three years and I came back exactly when Francis was gone. That’s actually not true. When I got back, Francis was very much on the roster still and I could have been his last fight, but instead he opted out and Ciryl Gane took Francis’ spot. I came back ready for Francis Ngannou, for sure.

“I’m not going to lie though, knowing that I was fighting Ciryl Gane instead of Francis was kind of nice. [Laughs]. Francis is a scary joker.”

While Jones won the belt Ngannou vacated, “The Predator” focused on winning the things he wanted in free agency, signing a lucrative partnership with the Professional Fighters League and a deal to face heavyweight boxing champion Tyson Fury, one that Ngannou says will bring him “life-changing” money. Ngannou certainly appears to be content with how this all worked out, and while Jones says he’s happy for him, he still maintains that Ngannou sold out his legacy by leaving.

“I’m happy for all these guys and being able to take care of their families,” Jones said. “I’m actually really proud of the PFL and Bellator for being a competitor of the UFC. I mean that as a UFC employee. I love the UFC, they changed my life. But it’s good to see options. Options are important for all of us to have, no matter what business you’re in, what walk of life. I’m really, really proud of those guys. But if you want to consider yourself truly the best in the world at this sport, you can’t do it if you’re not in the UFC, no matter how dominant you are in other organizations. No disrespect to him [but] I’ve seen guys like Michael Chandler, who was such a standout, become more average in the UFC. The UFC is the pinnacle.”

While Ngannou celebrates a deal that is rumored to pay him tens of millions of dollars, Jones says that he’s not doing so bad himself in the UFC. With a possible fight between he and Ngannou now seemingly lost to history, Jones instead seems content to celebrate the strides both men are making for the future to come.

“I’m in the eight figures, too, in the UFC,” Jones said. “They take care of me. ... I’m always happy for the guys. That’s one of the reasons I like Conor McGregor, the progression of the sport, what he was able to do for us. I’m proud of Francis Ngannou as well. The sport’s been good to me. It’s been really good to me. I’m able to take care of my family and walk away in my thirties, which is really awesome.

“But I’m aware that these monumental fights, especially the final side of it, opens the door for all these future guys. I know I sound really cliche with a lot of things I say, but I’m just happy that these grounds are being broken for everybody. I’m breaking some records in the octagon that people are going to have to try to break one day and these guys are breaking records in the financial aspect. We’ve just got to be happy for each other. We all have our time.”

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