The first thought upon hearing the news that an injury forced Jon Jones out of his heavyweight title defense against Stipe Miocic on Nov. 11 at Madison Square Garden in New York in the main event of UFC 295 was that it likely meant we'd seen the last of the greatest fighter ever in the Octagon.
Jones is 36 and has been making noises about retirement for a while. A win over Miocic, widely regarded as the greatest heavyweight in UFC history, at "The World's Most Famous Arena" would have been a great stage to exit from.
It just didn't seem right to see the sport's GOAT go out getting injured while attempting to execute a takedown in sparring that he'd done literally thousands of times before.
Hunter Campbell, the UFC's chief business officer and one of the few people to have spoken to Jones since the injury that forced the cancellation of his bout with Miocic, doesn't believe the injury will mean the end of Jones as an active fighter.
He's actually bullish on it.
"I'm extremely optimistic that he'll fight again," Campbell told Yahoo Sports.
The UFC bumped the light heavyweight title bout between Jiri Prochazka and Alex Pereira from the co-main to the main event, and added a fascinating bout between Tom Aspinall and Sergei Pavlovich for the interim heavyweight title as the new co-main.
UFC CEO Dana White said in a video released late Tuesday that Jones would be out eight months. Dr. David Abbasi, an orthopedic surgeon in Delray Beach, Florida, who frequently treats MMA fighters among other athletes, said without having examined Jones, he believed White's estimate of a return to competition in eight months is conservative.
"Usually, these guys are good to go closer to four-to-six months, so maybe they're just long-shooting it and then if he comes back earlier, it's a bonus," Abbasi told Yahoo Sports on Wednesday. Abbasi has a video of himself performing the exact surgery on his YouTube channel that Jones will have. It is graphic but it shows him pulling the muscle across and reattaching it.
He said it's not a difficult surgery and doesn't expect Jones to have any issues coming out of it and returning safely to competition.
"I expect a full recovery," Abbasi said. "This is not that uncommon of an injury. It's one NFL guys get. [Former All-Pro defensive lineman] J.J. Watt had it. If the surgery's done well, with good technique, and it heals properly, [any lingering issues] would hopefully be a non-issue."
Now, since Campbell believes Jones will return and Abbasi believes he'll be as good as ever following the surgery, the issue turns to Miocic. Miocic didn't come back simply to fight for the heavyweight title again. He hasn't fought since losing his belt to Francis Ngannou at UFC 260 in Las Vegas on March 27, 2021. He's already been out 30 months, and the fact that he didn't step in to face either Aspinall or Pavlovich for the interim belt is a strong signal about his intentions.
For him, it's Jon Jones or bust.
So, using Abbasi's six-month timeline for a return to competition for Jones, that would put it at late April. So it would be fair to assume the UFC could rebook Jones and Miocic for anywhere in that period after late April. But with International Fight Week looming in July, one of the big annual events on the UFC calendar, the promotion could opt to put the fight together for July. That would have Miocic out of action for over 40 months at that point.
So Campbell's point that he's not sure what will occur following UFC 295 other than that Jones will compete again is valid.
The Apsinall-Pavlovich winner will be an exceptional opponent for Jones. But so, too, would Miocic. And Jones-Miocic would be the two OGs going at it with everything on the line, with the winner still available to face the Aspinall-Pavlovich winner.
This remains a fluid situation, but the best news to come out of a clearly bad situation is that it seems highly likely, if not certain, that Jon Jones will return to fight again.