Jon Jones, arguably the greatest fighter of all time, will fight Ciryl Gane for the heavyweight championship at UFC 285 on March 4, UFC president Dana White said Saturday.
The announcement came after the UFC was unable to come to terms with its now former heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou.
It will mark Jones' first appearance in the Octagon since February 2020, when he defended his light heavyweight title against Dominick Reyes. Jones vacated his belt shortly after that fight and immediately teased a pending move up to heavyweight.
The UFC and Ngannou negotiated a new contract for the better part of two years but were ultimately unable to come to a deal. According to White, the UFC offered Ngannou a deal that would have made him the "highest-paid heavyweight in the history of the company" and Ngannou, 36, turned it down. White said the highest-paid heavyweight in UFC history remains Brock Lesnar, who retired in 2017.
"I've told you guys this before -- if you don't want to be here, you don't have to be," White said. "I think Francis is in a place right now where he doesn't want to take a lot of risk. He feels like he's in a good position where he could fight lesser opponents and make more money. We're going to let him do that, release him from his contract and give up our right to match."
Ngannou did not immediately respond to requests for comment by ESPN.
Jones (26-1), 35, is widely considered the greatest fighter of all time, among a short list that might include Georges St-Pierre, Khabib Nurmagomedov and Anderson Silva. He became the youngest UFC champion of all time in 2011 at age 23. He went on to hold the light heavyweight championship off and on from 2011 to 2020.
White said Jones was "ready, willing and able" to fight any heavyweight, including Ngannou. Jones briefly acknowledged the matchup in a video posted on social media by Twitter user Michael Wonsover. Jones said he hoped former UFC champion and Olympic gold medalist wrestler Henry Cejudo would be able to corner him in the fight, although Cejudo is also likely to fight in the coming months.
In addition to booking the heavyweight title fight, Jones signed a new eight-fight deal with the UFC, according to White.
In September 2021, Jones was arrested in Las Vegas and charged with misdemeanor domestic battery violence and injuring or tampering with a vehicle. Jones was in Las Vegas to accept a Hall of Fame award, at which he spoke about a looming heavyweight debut. The domestic battery charge was eventually dropped and Jones pleaded guilty to misdemeanor destruction of property.
Gane (11-1), of France, is a former interim heavyweight champion. He won that title by knocking out Derrick Lewis in August 2021. He attempted to unify the belt against Ngannou in January 2022 and came up just short in a five-round decision loss. In his most recent appearance, he knocked out Tai Tuivasa in the main event of a UFC Fight Night in September.
The UFC 285 pay-per-view is scheduled to take place at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.