Jon Jones sounds like a man who wants to tackle the PED issue. | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
Change in its most significant form starts at the top.
When it comes to exacting change in mixed martial arts, the individual --not the brand -- is responsible for breaking new ground. Jon Jones, like Georges St. Pierre before him, recognizes that fact.
Jones last week revealed to UFC Tonight that he and his management team requested random drug testing ahead of his light heavyweight title defense against Glover Teixeira at UFC 172.
“The Maryland commission sent a lab to drug test me, and I’m glad they did,” Jones told Ariel Helwani on April 2. “It was urine and blood. They had a test for HGH, I think it was HGH, then they had a urine test that detects all other type of stuff.”
Anyone with access to a dictionary knows that liberties were taken with the definition of “random” here; and the fact that Jones’ test occurred on the exact same day that the Ultimate Fighting Championship just happened to hold a national media day at the Jackson-Wink MMA gym in Albuquerque, N.M., makes the whole thing seem a bit odd, although in fairness, Teixeira’s random test took place 10 days earlier.
Forget about the surrounding circumstances for a moment, because this is still a big deal. Yes, Jones may have known a test was coming within a certain timeframe, but unlike usual drug testing procedures, he would not be able to pinpoint exactly when it would happen. To alter an old promotional mantra, that is as random as it gets, at least for now.
When St. Pierre elected to take an indefinite hiatus from the sport, one of the reasons he cited was the UFC’s reluctance to back him in his push for enhanced drug testing through the Voluntary Anti-Doping Agency prior to his fight with Johny Hendricks in November. Hendricks’ camp backed out of the testing, but St. Pierre went through the VADA program on his own. Both fighters passed post-fight drug screens administered by the Nevada Athletic Commission.
St. Pierre expressed his disappointment with the UFC’s stance on drug testing in an interview with RDS.ca in January.
“Everyone knows who, when, where and how,” he said. “There are people, some doctors, and everyone will see the same. It’s like all sports. Where there is money, there are ways to cheat, and it will always be so. But I think we should take steps to minimize those things, because it is not fair. I tried to change things remaining diplomatic. Unfortunately, people were not ready to change. This is OK, but I was disappointed.”
St. Pierre did not get his wish for better drug testing prior to UFC 167, but a seed was planted. It is not surprising that Jones -- a devoted student of the game who takes notes on everything from fights to interviews -- followed the lead of his celebrated predecessor.
The difference: This time the UFC is fully behind the process. While the Maryland commission is conducting the drug tests on both Jones and Teixeira, the promotion is the one funding it. It is no secret that state athletic commissions cannot afford to pay for testing, which is why St. Pierre footed his own bill prior to UFC 167.
If someone else on the April 26 card -- Max Hollaway, Tim Elliott or anyone else without a belt and a Nike deal -- requested similar measures, would the UFC have backed it financially? Probably not, but that is why it is important someone with a voice audible enough for Zuffa to acknowledge, like Jones, makes a stand.
The UFC, as it demonstrated by sitting on its hands until the NAC voted unanimously to ban testosterone replacement therapy earlier this year, is more likely to follow the lead of a prominent figure or organization than it is to set an example itself when it comes to cleaning up MMA.
Enhanced testing was important to GSP. Now it is also important to Jones. When the biggest stars take a stand, the people in power are forced to take notice.
“I just think it’d be great to know that the athletes that are competing are competing clean,” Jones told UFC Tonight. “I’ve never taken any kind of performance-enhancing drug and I don’t think any of my opponents should. I know that I’ve probably fought people in the past that have, and I’ve still come up with a way to win, but I just think it’s important that it goes away. I want our sport to be a clean sport. I want athletes to have pride and hard work and that’s why I thought I would put my money where my mouth is and get the test for myself.”
The synergy between fighter, promotion and commission was critical in enabling random drug testing leading up to the UFC 172 headliner. However, athletes should not have to request random drug screenings on an individual basis. In a perfect world, the UFC would foot the bill and the athletic commissions would provide the testing -- to everyone on a random, year-round basis.
Thanks to Jones taking the initiative, that day might be a little bit closer.