The world of mixed martial arts is no stranger to its fair share of drama, rivalries, and missed opportunities. One of the most anticipated matchups that never came to fruition was the showdown between Jon Jones and Francis Ngannou. For nearly two years, fight fans were tantalized by the idea of these two behemoths clashing in the octagon. However, fate had other plans, and the dream fight turned into an unfulfilled wish.
Francis Ngannou, known as “The Predator,” left the UFC early in 2023 after fulfilling his contract and weathering the storm of expectations. This departure marked the end of a potential clash with Jon Jones, leaving fight enthusiasts with a lingering sense of what could have been. While Jones and Ngannou engaged in verbal sparring through the media, pointing fingers at each other for the fight’s cancellation, Jones took a moment to reflect on the unexpected positive twist in his heavyweight journey.
During an episode of the OverDogs podcast, Jones shared his perspective: “The funny thing is, the narrative switched. People are saying that I waited three years and came back exactly when Francis was gone. That’s actually not true. When I returned, Francis was still on the roster, and I could have been his last fight. But instead, he opted out, and Ciryl Gane took his spot. I came back prepared for Francis Ngannou, for sure.”
With a hint of playful humor, Jones admitted, “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.” In a world where fighters constantly seek challenges and test their mettle, it’s clear that Jones recognized the unique attributes and intensity Ngannou brings to the cage.
The story didn’t end there. As Ngannou shifted his focus to new horizons, signing a partnership with the Professional Fighters League and a boxing match against heavyweight champion Tyson Fury, Jones found himself donning the heavyweight title that Ngannou had vacated. While Ngannou embraced his new ventures with enthusiasm and an eye on his financial future, Jones expressed his respect for fighters making strategic moves but held onto his belief that leaving the UFC could impact a fighter’s legacy.
“I’m happy for all these guys and being able to take care of their families,” Jones affirmed. “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.”
Jones acknowledged the significance of the UFC as the pinnacle of the sport, highlighting that true greatness is measured within its walls. He used examples like Michael Chandler to emphasize the unique challenges and competition the UFC provides.
As the conversation shifted to financial gains and the evolution of the sport, Jones playfully reminded everyone of his own financial success: “I’m in the eight figures, too, in the UFC. They take care of me.” He shared his genuine happiness for fighters like Conor McGregor, who have elevated the sport’s popularity and financial prospects. Jones praised Ngannou for his accomplishments and expressed gratitude for the sport’s impact on his life.
Reflecting on the bigger picture, Jones embraced the idea that monumental fights and financial successes are paving the way for future generations of fighters. He recognized that records are being set both in the octagon and in terms of financial gains. With a touch of camaraderie and humility, Jones concluded, “We’ve just got to be happy for each other. We all have our time.”
In the ever-evolving landscape of mixed martial arts, Jon Jones’ journey, marked by rivalries, missed opportunities, and unexpected turns, continues to be a captivating chapter in the sport’s history. While the clash with Ngannou might remain an unrealized dream, Jones finds solace in the twists and turns that have shaped his heavyweight debut, all while looking forward to the future and the legacy he leaves behind.