Jon Jones has been working towards a UFC heavyweight debut since 2020. In some ways, the prospects of Jones competing for the UFC heavyweight title have never looked better. On the other hand, serious complications remain.
Jones vs. champion Francis Ngannou appears to be on the tip of everyone's tongues in the aftermath of UFC 270. That includes the fighters themselves, as well as UFC president Dana White. The UFC boss hopes to get a deal done this year, but there are several obstacles left to clear.
Let's take a closer look at where things stand as Jones approaches nearly two full years of inactivity.
Unranked Jon Jones is the clear No. 1 contender
Super fights often come together at the expense of legitimate UFC title contenders. In a rare circumstance, Jones is primed for a meaningful UFC heavyweight title fight despite never having competed in the division. None of the top nine contenders beneath Ngannou have an active winning streak. Jones (22-1, 1 NC) is undefeated across 12 years, excluding a controversial disqualification loss in 2009.
There are a lot of moving parts interfering with Jones' heavyweight debut. Fortunately for fans, getting Jones into the title mix appears to be a top priority for White.
Where things stand
In the aftermath of UFC 270 on Jan. 22, the heavyweight title clash everyone wants to see is Ngannou vs. Jones. White pushed for the fight during a fan Q&A via ESPN+ on Jan. 26. Ideally, it takes place in 2022.
"I'm hoping that will be one of the big fights this year," White told UFC broadcaster Laura Sanko. "If we can pull that one off, we definitely will."
Jones appears to like his chances after seeing Ngannou vs. Ciryl Gane at UFC 270.
If this is the Apex of heavyweight fighting, I’m excited about it. Got some more records to break— BONY (@JonnyBones) January 23, 2022
Beyond that, Ngannou's vocal campaign for fighter rights has put him at odds with UFC. "The Predator" is deeply unhappy with UFC's business practices and reaching a new agreement with the company appears distant.
"The term of the contract, everything that they put into, they hold you in captivity," Ngannou told The MMA Hour on Jan. 24. "You can't do anything. You have no rights. The contract is one-sided, although you still don't have nothing. You don't even have health insurance, even while you're putting your body on the line to provide to put on the show.
"You're risking everything. There's a lot of things. We have no insurance. Nothing. No guarantee, which I understand as an independent contractor, but treat me as such, if I am. Whether I'm going to be an employee or an independent contractor, make it very clear in the contract. It's very mixed up."
What other names could be on the table?
Stipe Miocic: There are few, if any, genuine options for Jones' heavyweight debut outside of a UFC heavyweight title fight. If that fight falls through, a scrap with all-time heavyweight great Stipe Miocic would likely draw Miocic out from hiatus. Both men won rivalries against two-division champion Daniel Cormier, and both are considered the premier champion in their respective divisions.
Ciryl Gane: The French native came within a hair of dethroning Ngannou for the UFC heavyweight crown. He and Ngannou were 2-2 on most scorecards heading into the final round. Gane secured a takedown, but sat back for a leglock that arguably cost him the fight. Gane is still among the best heavyweights on earth and if Ngannou fails to reach an agreement with UFC, Gane may be shuttled into his place with another interim belt at stake.
Expected date to return
Who knows? Jones officially vacated the UFC light heavyweight title on Aug. 17, 2020, ahead of a planned jump to heavyweight. His last bout was all the way back in February 2020 when he earned a split decision win over Dominick Reyes. Between putting pen to paper on a heavyweight debut, as well as Jones' reoccurring encounters with law enforcement, there is no ballpark estimate as of now. If the UFC has its way, 2022 would be ideal.