UFC 285 is tomorrow and you are hyped. The return of the arguable GOAT of the sport against the most technical striker in heavyweight history with the title of the baddest man on the planet on the line, what more could you ask for?
A history-making fight takes the main stage on one of the biggest cards of the year amongst another divisional GOAT in Valentina Shevchenko who takes the co-main spot against No.5 ranked flyweight contender, Alexa Grasso. Two undisputed title fights proceed an outstanding main card lineup with high level contender fights, hyped up fighters on the come up, fan favourites and a man trying to turn his career around. In this article we will be giving a brief overview of the prelims before diving into the 6 most notable fights on the card.
All the fighters on the main card were once in this position, fighting on the Early Prelims, relatively unknown trying to make a name for themselves. Make sure to tune in early because if you don't you might miss a future champion.
The early prelim fights include:
Esteban Ribovics (11-0) vs Loik Radzhabov (16-4-1).
Da'Mon Blackshear (12-4-1) vs Farid Basharat (9-0).
Jessica Penne (14-6) vs Tabatha Ricci (7-1).
Leomana Martinez (10-3) vs Cameron Saaiman (7-0).
Ian Garry (10-0) vs Kenan Song (18-6).
Moving onto the prelims, these include:
Julian Marquez (9-3) vs Marc-Andre Berriault (14-6).
Viviane Arujo (11-4) vs Amanda Ribas (10-3).
Cody Garbrandt (12-5) vs Trevin Jones (13-9).
This fight is worth a brief mention as it is without a doubt make or break for Cody. The former champion has been on a losing skid, after winning the belt he was knocked out in his next 3 fights-minded to the elite of the division. He came back with a KO win before losing a decision. Garbrandt then tried his hand at Flyweight and it went disastrously as he lost by first round KO. Now back up bantamweight against a noticeable step down in competition against Jones, whether Cody can come back remains to be seen, but if he can't, it might be the end.
*Key fights : *
Now we get to the big ones, the fights that everyone will be watching, the fights where people know what's on the line. UFC fans get to see the best of the best, the fighters at the top of their divisions, the fighters looking to rule or continue ruling their divisions and even the fighters that are predicted to potentially rule their divisions within years to come...
*Dricus Du Plessis vs Derek Brunson *
Despite this fight being on the prelims, it was too good to pass by.
29 year old South African, Dricus Du Plessis (18-2) has been on a tear recently, a 6 fight win streak has placed Du Plessis in the top 10 of the middleweight division. His 2 most recent fights made his name known, first, Dricus broke into the top 15 with an exciting win over Brad Tavares at UFC 276. He showed the skills required to get the people excited and now fans and pundits alike had their eyes on his next fight. His next outing came at UFC 282 against fan favourite, Darren Till.
Dricus dominated the first round and almost had a finish but Till rallied and made it into the second. After a close second round, Dricus took down and submitted Till in the third to stamp his name in the title picture. He now looks for his breakthrough into the top 5 and that comes with a matchup against Derek Brunson.
Derek Brunson faces off with Dricus Du Plessis on March 5th as he tries to hold down his top 5 spot and for Brunson, it's nothing new. Despite coming off a KO loss to Jarrod Cannoneir, Brunson's previous performances showed that he isn't fully out of touch. He gladly accepted his role as 'gatekeeper' holding down the fort against many hyped up prospects. After losing to the future champion Israel Adesanya, he went on a 5 fight winning streak including wins over Darren Till, Edmen Shahbazyan and Kevin Holland who were all fighters who were looking for a top 5 spot and all were denied by 'Blonde Brunson'.
In this matchup fans can expect a wrestling heavy game plan for Derek as despite the power he possesses on the feet, he will certainly be looking for the path of less resistance. Dricus is 10 years younger, more athletic and likely more hungry compared to Brunson whose title aspirations are likely gone. Du Plessis also possesses better technique in the striking and if Brunson shoots a bad takedown, Dricus has the ability to take the neck and get a submission victory shown by the 4 guillotine submissions on his record. Will Derek Brunson stop another hype train in its tracks or will we have a new top 5 contender in Dricus Du Plessis?
*Bo Nickal vs Jamie Pickett *
The first fight on the main card is between Bo Nickal (3-0) and Jamie Pickett (13-9). With all due respect to Pickett, everyone knows what's happening here. The UFC is feeding a low level fighter to a hyped up prospect on a big stage to give him a big debut. Let's talk more about it.
Bo Nickal is relatively 'green' to the sport of MMA but his background of martial arts is one of the main reasons behind his rarely seen levels of hype after 3 fights in combat sports. Nickal was a three-time NCAA Division I National Champion and his NCAA record was a ridiculous 120-3. His first fight was a 30 second KO which had him put onto Dana White's Contender Series where he won by RNC in just over a minute. Everyone was impressed but Dana White wanted to see more, perhaps see him show more of his game or go a bit longer.
Nickal responded by winning a month later in under a minute and showed about all you can. He dropped his opponent in the first 30 seconds, passed guard, took mount and transitioned to a triangle choke with ease, getting the tap in 52 seconds. There was no more speculation, everyone knows he is for real, comparisons to Chechen prospect Khamzat Chimaev began and fans are already considering him a threat for the title. This Saturday he takes that first step against Jamie Pickett
Jamie Pickett needed a few chances to get into the UFC, losing twice on the contender series before finally getting into the promotion. Since then he won 2 out of his last 6 and with a loss over Bo Nickal, 2-5 could lead to his release. Perhaps this will spark something inside of him to upset the masses but the consensus prediction is that the American hype train will keep rolling.
This main card opener will either result in a spectacular finish to keep the prospect going or an upset to shock the masses and halt the train before it even gets rolling.
Jalin Turner vs Mateusz Gamrot
Moving up the card to a fight in the lightweight division which promises to be MMA at the highest level for as long as it lasts. No.7 ranked Mateusz Gamrot faces No.9 Jalin Turner. Gamrot is coming off a loss and Turner is on a win streak but the winner of this fight is just outside number 1 contender ship.
Following a decision loss in his debut, Poland's Mateusz Gamrot has come into his own in recent years. He rebounded from the loss to Guram Kutadeladze going 3-0 in 2021 and didn't see a third round with finishes over Jeremy Stephens, Scott Holtzman and Carlos Diego Ferreira. Now in the top 15, Gamrot moved on to main event a fight night against Armenian prospect Arman Tsarukyan. The fight was one of the most technical and high level fights of the year where both fighters showed their ability to be at the top of the division.
Gamrot got the nod from the judges in a razor close fight and fans were now considering him in title contention. His next fight was on the biggest card of the year against Beneil Dariush and despite being overshadowed by the monumental clash between Islam Makhachev and Charles Oliveira hardcore fans knew what was at stake here. Gamrot lost the decision but showed a good account of himself and by no means had lost a step, he now looks to get back in the win column against Jalin Turner.
Jalin Turner came into the UFC with a win on DWCS and was matched up with the elite right away. The loss to Vicente Luque didn't deter him however as going 1-1 in his next two, he went on a 5 fight win streak, placing him in the top 15. A TKO over Josh Culibao was followed by submission wins over Brok Weaver and Uros Medic before he won again by TKO against Jamie Mullarkey. ‘The Tarantula’ proceeded to get his most impressive win to date with a 45 second guillotine submission over Brad Riddell.
The fight was 1 way traffic for as long as it lasted as after rocking Brad, Jalin wrapped up the neck and got the tap to secure his 5th straight finish, securing his place in the top 10. Despite looking extremely impressive thus far, Turner still hasn't faced the elite of the division, this changed however on March 5th as he will face off with Mateusz Gamrot.
This lightweight matchup is an interesting clash of styles with pundits being unsure whether the reach, power and submissions of Jalin Turner will be enough to deal with the sharp striking, wrestling and scrambling abilities of Gamrot. The likely course of action for this fight is Gamrot looking for takedowns while Turner looks to make him pay on the feet. Either way we will have a new contender after March 5th.
Geoff Neal vs Shavkat Rakhmonov
The featured fight on the card is a Welterweight clash between No.7 Geoff Neal and No.9 Shavkat Rakhmonov. On paper it's just another grappler vs striker matchup but fans know it's so much more. Let's dive in
Shavkat Rakhmonov is one of the most highly touted prospects in the sport right now. Coming into the UFC undefeated at 14-0 he already had interest but after 2 submissions and a spinning wheel kick KO, fans were more than ready to see him face the elite of the division. His entry into the top 10 came with a fight against veteran Neal Magny. Shavkat had his way everywhere, out-striking Magny before taking him down and using him as target practice for ground and pound.
It looked like Shavkat was going to see a third round for the first time in his career until he locked in a guillotine choke and got the tap with 2 seconds to go in the second. 16-0 without seeing a third round is a rarely seen feat but it only makes sense as Shavkat is a rarely seen athlete. While a win on Saturday probably wouldn't give him a title shot, it would certainly add to his resume and get himself a top 5 opponent next. But first he has to get past his next challenge, which comes in the form of Geoff Neal.
Despite not having the perfect record like his opponent, Geoff Neal is ranked above him and it has been through nothing short of hard work. Geoff Neal's start in the UFC couldn't have gone better, 5-0 including wins over Mike Perry, Niko Price and top 5 welterweight- Belal Muhammad. Unfortunately for Geoff, his career took an unfortunate turn when he spent weeks in the ICU with sepsis. Neal expressed his regret with how he handled it and said the 2 decision losses that followed shouldn't have been fights that happened. He got back in the win column with a win over Santiago Ponzinibbio before moving on to the top 10.
His breakthrough moment came last August when he stepped in the cage against Vicente Luque. Despite being a sizable underdog, Neal went straight into the fire and banged it out with one of the most explosive Welterweights on the roster. He put the pressure on Luque right away and didn't let up until after the finish, 7 left uppercuts followed by a huge right hand that earned Neal the honour of being the first man to knock Luque out. He called out another Brazilian in Gilbert Burns post fight but instead finds himself defending his ranking against 'the nomad'- Shavkat Rakhmonov.
Shavkat is a -500 favourite but that doesn't change the fact that Neal, as his Mónica suggests, has 'hands of steel'. Geoff Neal will look to keep it on the feet and get himself another KO while Shavkat's path of less resistance will be in the grappling. Either way we'll have ourselves a new Welterweight contender on Sunday.
*Valentina Shevchenko vs Alexa Grasso *
And now, the co-main event of the evening. It's a familiar story going into the fight, the underdog challenger trying to end the reign of the seemingly unstoppable champion. Grappler vs Striker matchup of sorts except the grappler is still one of the best strikers on the planet so that narrative doesn't really work. What can Alexa really do here, let's find out.
Mexico's Alexa Grasso is coming into this fight on a 4 fight win streak and looks to make history as the first Mexican born Women's champion. In a closely contested fight for the title shot, wins over Maycee Barber, Joanne Wood and Viviane Araujo were enough to give Alexa the opportunity of a lifetime. Although many people are counting out Grasso, her striking should not be underestimated. She is one of the most dangerous flyweights on the feet and most certainly has been putting in the hours on the wrestling mats to keep it on the feet. Her opponent however will have different plans as she aims for her 8th consecutive defence of her title and continues her greatness...the champion Valentina Shevchenko.
Much like her previous fights, Valentina Shevchenko comes into this fight as a heavy favourite. A win over Grasso will mark her 8th title defence and a 10th straight win following her split decision loss in her rematch to Amanda Nunes. 'The Bullet' won the belt against Joana Jedrzejczyk before racking up title defences which included KOs over Jessica Eye, Kaitlyn Chookagian, Jessica Andrade and Lauren Murphy.
Shevchenko appeared to be pathing her way to another decade of dominance until she clashed with Taila Santos at UFC 275 and she was pushed to the limit. The challenger had control time throughout the first 3 rounds and many fans thought she did enough to win the fight. The Champion showed what she was made of however, rallying in the championship rounds to get the nod on 2 judges' scorecard. She no longer had the same sense of invincibility and pundits genuinely didn't know what her next fight would look like.
Valentina is widely regarded as one of the most well rounded women's fighters in history which is one of the main things going for her in this matchup. In a 'grappler vs striker' matchup there is always intrigue because of what happens if the grappler can't get the takedowns. But in this fight it's different, we don't even know if Grasso has better striking, if not, it's going to be a long night for the challenger. Will it end up being a case of the champion being bored before returning to dominance or is Valentina past her prime and we are going to see an upset for the ages.
Jon Jones vs Ciryl Gane
And now, the main event of the evening, the biggest heavyweight fight of all time. The return of the GOAT...the return of Jon Jones. This is any UFC fan's dream, 2 absolute monsters who have transcended the sport in different ways. The light-heavyweight GOAT, one of the most well rounded, dangerous and brutal fighters we have ever seen is going up against the best heavyweight striker ever, Ciryl Gane. Let's take a look at this mammoth fight, how we got here and what to expect come fight night.
Ciryl Gane came into the UFC at 3-0 and immediately, everyone knew something was different about him. He fought differently, his striking was faster then the other heavyweights, he moved like a middleweight and even more unbelievably he had only been training for a few years. Wins over Junior Dos Santos, Jarzinho Rozenstruik and Alexander Volkov pathed his way to an interim title against Derrick Lewis and nothing changed. Gane bulldozed through the American power puncher without giving him a chance and it was one way traffic until the 3rd round finish. France had a champion...but not undisputed and Ciryl looked to go one level higher.
UFC 270 was his chance to claim undisputed gold and Francis Ngannou stood in his way. Gane started well in the first 2 rounds, outpointing Francis, frustrating him and looked on his way to a heavyweight championship until a kick he threw in the 3rd round changed the course of the fight. Francis caught the kick and shocked the world when he used it to drive Gane into the canvas...the first time in Gane's career he had been on bottom and he proceeded to sink. Ngannou kept going to the takedowns and retained his title by unanimous decision. Despite the shock for Ciryl he bounced back with a KO over Tai Tuivasa in front of his home town in Paris. Post fight he called for another shot at the belt and after the Champion chose not to resign he gets the opportunity against Jon 'Bones' Jones.
Jon Jones made history when he won the belt at 23 years of age against Shogun Rua and since then he hasn't looked back. He said he wanted to be the youngest champion in history...he did that, Jones said he wanted to be the greatest of all time and he might have just damn done it. Wins over Quinton Jackson, Lyoto Machida, Rashad Evans, Vitor Belfort, Chael Sonnen and Alexander Gustafsson. Those names alone are enough to be considered the GOAT but guess what...that's just half of it. Glover Teixeira, Daniel Cormier, Ovince Saint Preux, Daniel Cormier again..., Alexander Gustafsson again and Anthony Smith. Almost every single one of these wins was nothing short of domination and fans expected a decade more.
His next fight was against Thiago Santos, a former middleweight and we knew where this was going, but at UFC 239, something peculiar happened... Jon won the fight but by Split Decision. A split decision over a former middleweight, something was wrong here. Maybe the champion had an off night but the regression continued in his next fight. UFC 247 was headlined by Jon Jones vs Dominick Reyes. the relatively inexperienced contender pushed to his utmost limit. The decision was read in favour of Jones and fans were irate calling it the biggest robbery in recent memory. Jones walked out the champion but his mystique was battered. You couldn't help but wonder, was he finally slowing down.
After UFC 247, Jones went on a hiatus; he vacated the Light-heavyweight championship and refused to fight again unless the UFC presented him with a better contract. Once considered the best fighter on the planet, Jon Jones became a laughing stock in the MMA world. Light-heavyweight division moved on and suddenly, no one cared about Jon Jones anymore.
After years of saying he would, the LWH goat has finally moved up to heavyweight. The division of the baddest dudes in the world, and at UFC 285, Jon Jones will face Ciryl Gane for the undisputed heavyweight championship. This is what we've wanted for so very long and Jones who is in the twilight of his illustrious yet tainted career will attempt to cement his name as the best to ever do it. Jon jones has been at it for a very long time and he is the last fighter standing from the 'golden era' of champions.
Most were decimated and Jones who is now 35 years of age might be in for the same, fighting a younger, faster and hungrier fighter usually doesn't go well for a veteran. But this is Jon jones we are talking about and if anyone can do it, its this guy. Chemically enhanced or not, you just don't do what this guy has done over the years. Every fibre of being was built for combat and the moment we walked into the octagon he was destined for greatness. On March 4th Jones will walk into that octagon once again, perhaps for one last run. But win or lose, his place in history is secured for decades to come.
In 2011, Jon Jones was everyone's favourite fighter. There was no limit to the man, humble, classy and levels above inside the octagon. Jones was untouchable and beloved by fans and company executives. This 20-something year old was not a part of the new era, he was a dynasty in the making. More than 10 years later Jones is still a part of the UFC roster, he is not the guy we thought he was, divisive , controversial and prone to disaster after disaster. Jon jones has lost a fair amount of respect, credibility and likeability since 2011 but he succeeded in establishing a dynasty, however tainted it may be.
The LHW goat has yet to face defeat but now he enters a different warzone entirely and his most dangerous challenge awaits. Ciryl Gane- the former interim champion is unlike any heavyweight in history. He is a striking savant with the power of a heavyweight and the movement of a lightweight. And while he has been in the UFC for a few short years, he has established himself as a truly terrifying heavyweight. He might not knock you out with one punch but he will make you look foolish, slow and incompetent, only then will he send you to the canvas. He is a freak of nature, just as Jon Jones was. On March 4th, UFC 285, Jon Jones returns and has his eyes on the most coveted championship in UFC...the heavyweight belt.
Just 1 more victory and Jon Jones, already considered by many as the best to ever do it, is peerless and unrivalled in the MMA world. But to cement his name as the best, Jones has to go through hell, 'Bon Gamin' rivals Jones in terms of height and reach and on paper he is the worst matchup possible, younger, faster and stronger. Ciryl Gane is the one guy who can crumble the Jon Jones dynasty and add his name to the history books for decades to come. Winning the heavyweight championship is a dream come true but being the one guy to finally beat the unbeatable Jon Jones, that triumphs any championship ever recorded.
Will Jon Jones rise to the occasion one last time and re-write the book on greatness or will Ciryl Gane finally put an end to what has been the most awe-inspiring streak of dominance in UFC history. Either way, the night will be embellished into the history books and the winner will be immortalised forever.
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