Former champion Jon Jones will make his UFC comeback after three years out when he fights Ciryl Gane for the heavyweight title in March.
Jones, who has not competed since beating Dominick Reyes in February 2020, gave up his light-heavyweight title over a pay dispute.
He was expected to return against heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou at UFC 285 in Las Vegas on 4 March.
But UFC president Dana White said Ngannou has left the UFC.
Widely considered one of the best mixed martial arts fighters of all time, 35-year-old American Jones has a 26-1 record at light-heavyweight but will make his heavyweight debut against Frenchman Gane at the T-Mobile Arena.
White said Ngannou was offered a deal that would have made him the highest paid heavyweight in UFC history.
“We did everything we could to try and make this fight happen and try to give him a fight, but he has got it in his head that there are bigger opportunities outside of UFC with lesser opponents,” said White, who this month apologised for slapping his wife on New Year’s Eve.
“We’re going to let him do that. We’re going to release him from his contract. We’re going to give up our right to match and he can go wherever he wants and do whatever he wants.”
Jones holds the record as the youngest champion in UFC history, having won the title for the first time at the age of 23. He successfully defended it a joint-record 11 times and the only defeat on his record came via a disqualification.
He was stripped of the title in 2015 after being involved in a hit-and-run incident and lost it again in 2016 after testing positive for a banned substance.
“Jon Jones has been willing and ready and able to fight anybody – he didn’t care who it was,” White said.
Gane, 32, missed out on the heavyweight title by unanimous decision to Ngannou at UFC 270 in January 2022. (BBC)