UFC 285 Odds: What MMA History Tells Us About Jon Jones’ Chances After Layoff

Written By Ben Fowlkes on March 2, 2023
UFC 285 odds

When former UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones steps back into the cage at UFC 285 in Las Vegas on Saturday night, it will be for his first MMA fight in more than three years. The long layoff between fights is probably one of the main reasons that Jones opened as a slight underdog in UFC 285 odds for the title fight against Ciryl Gane.

Three years is a long time to be out of active competition in any sport. But especially so in fight sports, where the margin for error is so slim and variables like timing and rhythm so important.

The opener represented the first time since his second UFC fight in 2009 that Jones wasn’t the immediate betting favorite. But, it didn’t last long. UFC 285 odds soon shifted to make Jones a slight favorite. But at , it’s still the narrowest line on a Jones fight in well over a decade.

Jones isn’t the first MMA fighter to return after a long time away. So, what does history have to teach us about a fighter’s chances to step right back into groove after being on the sidelines for years?


You can’t talk about long timespans between fights without talking about former UFC bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz. He relinquished his title after repeated training injuries stopped him from defending it. Cruz finally returned after 1,092 days – just a little shy of three years. He then needed only 61 seconds to prove he was still as sharp as ever with a TKO win over Takeya Mizugaki at UFC 178.

An important distinction, however, is that Cruz didn’t go straight from one title fight to another, as Jones is doing. He also opened as a -350 favorite and closed at -525 against Mizugaki, in what was mostly seen as a tune-up fight.

Still, before the fight Cruz was adamant that there was no such thing as “ring rust” for fighters who trained hard enough in the gym. This thesis was undermined somewhat when he was later forced to come back from another lengthy absence – this time 1,226 days, or about three years and four months – only to lose his second consecutive title fight.

GSP The Closest Analog?

Another notable example, and one that might have even more similarities to Jones’ situation, is the short-lived comeback of Georges St-Pierre. He stepped away from the sport in 2013 as the consensus choice for greatest UFC welterweight champ of all time.

He returned almost exactly four years later in 2017. And like Jones, he went up a division to challenge for a UFC title in a higher weight class. Also like Jones, he was in his mid-30s when he did finally make his comeback. St-Pierre opened as a -160 favorite against Michael Bisping at UFC 217, but closed as a very slight underdog – something he’d never been during his welterweight title reign. He’d go on to win the fight via third-round choke, looking every bit as good as when he left.

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In Jones’ case, he’s making a significant jump in weight. He goes from being the longstanding UFC champ at light heavyweight (205 pounds) to fighting Gane for the vacant title at heavyweight (265 pounds). A big part of the reason for Jones’ long layoff was his desire to gradually add weight to his long, lanky frame. And in recent training footage, he does appear significantly bulkier than during his days at 205.

But the big men sometimes face different challenges when returning after long absences.

Two Heavyweight Case Studies

Former UFC heavyweight champ Frank Mir was stripped of the title after a motorcycle accident sidelined him in 2004. When he came back almost two years later to face Marcio Cruz at UFC 57, he was a 2-to-1 favorite. But, Mir seemed flat and out of shape after the layoff. Cruz scored a minor upset with a TKO win.

Another former UFC heavyweight champ, Brock Lesnar, left the UFC after a TKO loss in 2011 to return to his prior life as a pro wrestler. When he came back to fight Mark Hunt as a special one-off attraction at UFC 200 in 2016, he’d been gone a whopping 4 1/2 years, or 1,660 days.

Lesnar opened as a +120 underdog against Hunt, who at the time was seen as a dangerous though somewhat limited knockout artist. Certainly not the best the division had to offer. Lesnar closed at +140 then went on to win a decision (later overturned due to a failed drug test). If anything, Lesnar seemed to have improved some aspects of his game, most notably his standup defense, during his time away from MMA. At least while the win stayed on the books, it was the only time in his UFC career Lesnar had won a fight in which he’d entered as the underdog.


Time away isn’t the only thing that matters in this calculation. It’s also important to consider why the layoff happened in the first place.

Jones wasn’t sidelined by injury or illness. He chose to step away after a somewhat lackluster and even debatable decision win over Dominick Reyes at UFC 247. He said he wanted to go up to heavyweight in part to reinvigorate himself with a fresh challenge, but mainly to boost his earnings with a (literally) bigger fight. The length of his absence was partly due to financial negotiations with the UFC. But, Jones’ own process of slowly adding mass also factored in.

There’s also the question of how a fighter spends that time away. Jones has experienced tumultuous times. He’s been arrested twice since his last fight. The latter incident came with an initial charge of domestic battery, later dropped. That led to his 2021 exile from longtime coach Mike Winkeljohn, forcing Jones to restructure his own training.

Lastly, there’s quality of opponent. Former bantamweight champ Cruz went 1-1 after his layoffs. He beat the lesser opponent in a non-title fight. Then, he lost when he made his other comeback against a reigning champ at the top of his game. St-Pierre, like Jones, left as champ, albeit on the heels of a narrow victory. He returned against a middleweight champ whom many regarded as especially beatable.

As for Lesnar, he went out on a loss against a top heavyweight in Alistair Overeem. But, he received a stylistically easier fight against Hunt upon his return. Jones might also have some of the same advantages over Gane. Francis Ngannou thoroughly exposed the French striker’s weaknesses in the wrestling department.

Given the right circumstances, MMA greats have proven they can return from a long layoff and win. Even if it means showing up as an underdog. Jones has long insisted that he deserves to be thought of among those greats. Maybe even at the very top of that list. Coming back to claim a second UFC title as a heavyweight would be a good way to prove it.

UFC 285 odds

View odds for every bout on the UFC 285 card below.

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Ben Fowlkes

Ben Fowlkes has been a sportswriter for over 15 years, writing for outlets such as USA Today, The Athletic, Sports Illustrated, and others. For many years he specialized in combat sports coverage, and he served as president of the MMA Journalists Association. He's also a published fiction writer whose work has appeared in Best American Short Stories, among other places.

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