Jon Jones will return to the Octagon for the first time in three years, while now-former heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou has become a free agent, UFC president Dana White has announced.

Jones is scheduled to fight Ciryl Gane for the heavyweight championship at UFC 285 on March 5 (AEDT), while White announced the UFC was unable to come to terms with Ngannou on a new contract.

White said the deal offered to Ngannou would’ve made the 36-year-old the “highest-paid heavyweight in the history of the company”.

“I’ve told you guys this before, if you don’t want to be here, you don’t have to be,” White said on Sunday.

“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.”

Jones, according to White, has signed an eight-fight deal with the UFC.

The 35-year-old has been absent since defending his light heavyweight title with a win over Dominick Reyes at UFC 247 in February 2020.

Jones, one of the greatest fighters in the sport’s history, was arrested and charged with misdemeanor domestic battery violence in September 2021, but it was eventually dropped.

He holds a 20-1 record in the UFC, with his sole loss coming via disqualification.

Gane’s last outing saw him knock out Tai Tuivasa at UFC Fight Night 209 in September, with his only loss coming to Ngannou.

Originally published as UFC heavyweight champ stripped, Jon Jones to fight for belt

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