Francis Ngannou released; Jon Jones returns, meets Ciryl Gane for newly vacated heavyweight title at UFC 285

Jon Jones will make his return to the octagon in March after more than three years away when he meets Ciryl Gane for the now vacant heavyweight title at UFC 285.

Jones (26-1 MMA, 20-1 UFC), a former longtime light heavyweight champion, has been teasing a return to action for his heavyweight debut since heh vacated the 205-pound title in May 2020. It’s now finally set. He’ll meet Gane (11-1 MMA, 8-1 UFC) for the belt the UFC has stripped from Francis Ngannou (17-3 MMA, 12-2 UFC) after a contract dispute with the promotion.

UFC president Dana White confirmed the matchup Saturday following UFC Fight Night 217 after photos of a digital billboard attached to T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas surfaced on social media. That same venue is set to host the March 4 event, which will air on pay-per-view following prelims expected for ESPN and ESPN+.

White said Ngannou has been released from his UFC contract and is free to fight elsewhere.

“We’ve been negotiating with (Ngannou) for more than two years,” White said, and added that Ngannou’s knee, which recently was surgically repaired, could be an issue for him, as well. “We offered Francis a deal that would’ve made him the highest paid heavyweight in the history of the company – more than (Brock) Lesnar, more than anybody, and he turned the deal down.”

Jones, who many consider to be one of the greatest fighters in MMA history, hasn’t competed since UFC 247 in February 2020. He edged out a narrow and controversial decision over Dominick Reyes in that fight for his 13th career title fight win at 205 pounds.

Shortly after that, Jones committed to a move up heavyweight, which he’d been plotting for more than a decade. He wanted a better contract from the UFC, however, and held out in hopes of getting a better deal. It’s unknown if Jones renegotiated for the contract he wanted or if he’ll fight under his previous terms.

For the majority of the time of Jones’ looming changing in division, Ngannou and Stipe Miocic were the two names most frequently connected to his heavyweight debut. Instead, he’ll meet former interim champ Gane, who is coming off a third-round knockout of Tai Tuivasa at UFC Fight Night 209 in September. Gane lost a title unification bout to Ngannou, his former teammate, at UFC 270 in January 2022.

The latest UFC 285 lineup now includes:

  • Jon Jones vs. Ciryl Gane – for vacant heavyweight title

  • Derek Brunson vs. Dricus Du Plessis

  • Geoff Neal vs. Shavkat Rakhmonov

  • Viviane Araujo vs. Amanda Ribas

  • Bo Nickal vs. Jamie Pickett

  • Jessica Penne vs. Tabatha Ricci

  • Farid Basharat vs. Da’Mon Blackshear

  • Julio Arce vs. Cody Garbrandt

  • Mario Bautista vs. Guido Cannetti

  • Marc-Andre Barriault vs. Julian Marquez

  • Kamuela Kirk vs. Esteban Ribovics

For more on the card, visit MMA Junkie’s event hub for UFC 285.

Story originally appeared on MMA Junkie