UFC 232 is now available on Amazon Prime.
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Let’s take a stroll with the ghosts of Jon Jones’ past, starting all the way back in 2016. “Bones” had just recently torpedoed the blockbuster UFC 200 event by getting flagged for an anti-doping violation three days out from fight night. He was pulled from the card and suspended for a year. His glorious technical knockout return a year later was scratched into a no-contest after he tested positive again. Especially considering the various other genres of Jones’ shenanigans, it’s no wonder why UFC President Dana White said he would “never take the risk of headlining a show with Jon Jones again.”
Yet here we are, less than a week away from Jones’ latest main event, and another last-minute drug fog has emerged. This time, instead of pulling Jones from the card, the card is being pulled from its original venue so Jones can stay on board. Farewell Las Vegas, hello Inglewood, California. A lot can change in two years.
There’s a reason for this change of heart, of course. The Nevada Athletic Commission found a trace metabolite of the same substance that Jones popped for last July, which raises some pretty obvious red flags. A tag-team of the United States Anti-Doping Agency and the California State Athletic Commission, however, have a different interpretation of the situation, claiming this is not a repeat offense but rather the residue of the exact same metabolite for which Jones tested positive in July 2017. Andy Foster, the CSAC executive officer, said in an interview with MMAFighting.com that Jones is “a clean athlete” and that “there’s no evidence of any new ingestion.”
This is a strange situation. On one hand, the organization in charge of drug testing and the commission that busted Jones 18 months ago are both of the belief that he is innocent and is receiving no performance-enhancing benefits from the residual pulsing of the metabolite. On the other hand, this is Jones we’re talking about, a man whose Wikipedia page has as much space dedicated to “Controversies” as “Championships and Accomplishments.” There is more than enough reason to be skeptical of his innocence.
There is ample gray area to understand why there are two sides to the story, but the real shocker here is in the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s response. While it keeps UFC 232 together -- and let it be known that I am in favor of watching Jones fight and largely in opposition to the dubious distinction of “clean athletes” -- it upends a lot of plans surrounding the fight. Primarily, other fighters on the card and fans who traveled to attend the event in Las Vegas have had their plans radically changed on them.
There is enough star power on the main card to reasonably assume that a lot of fans flew in to Las Vegas for the fights. Though their event tickets were reimbursed, everything else -- hotels, accommodations, etc. -- falls on the customer. Of course, to the UFC those things aren’t connected, but to the average fan they most certainly are; they wouldn’t have bought the hotel room in Las Vegas had they not been planning to go to UFC 232. Now, they’ll have to either make the three- to four-hour drive to California, buy a plane ticket or just not go to the event. People bought tickets months in advance, and then the whole thing ups and moves the week of the fights. That’s awful.
Let’s not forget about the other fighters, either. They, too, paid for lodging and accommodations in Las Vegas, not just for themselves but for their entire teams. The UFC has yet to say whether any additional fighter expenses will be compensated or not. Even if those costs are covered -- and they should be, just as a professional courtesy -- fighters are now facing smaller purses anyway since California’s taxes are much higher than those in Nevada. Fortunately for the UFC, it’s unlikely that this stunt will cause any significant backlash from the fighters.
The optics are bad and the process of unilaterally imposing a venue change so close to the fight is bad, so why is the UFC going through all this trouble to keep a proven cheater on the card? It’s both easy and difficult to say. The return of the most talented fighter in history is guaranteed to do big numbers, and most businesses like to make as much money as possible. The hard part is figuring out the exact intentions: Is William Morris Endeavor, the UFC’s parent company, trying to hit a specific financial target for the year in order to potentially sell the promotion next year? Is it banking on the fact that people will forget about all this extracurricular nonsense once the cage doors close? Or are there more altruistic and utilitarian explanations. Perhaps the company is supporting a fighter it believes is being wrongfully treated, or is it prioritizing the happiness of the hundreds of thousands of pay-per-view customers over the tens of thousands of fans in attendance.
Regardless of why this is happening, it’s a bizarre situation to end the year and a bad look overall. As Jones, the Kevin McCallister of MMA, booby-traps yet another event, everyone else has till the count of three to get their lousy, lying, low-down four-flushing carcasses to Inglewood. Merry Christmas, you filthy animals -- and a Happy New Year.
Eric Stinton is a writer and a teacher from Kailua, Hawaii. He has been writing for Sherdog since 2014 and has published fiction, nonfiction and journalism in Bamboo Ridge, The Classical, Eastlit, Harvard Review Online, Honolulu Civil Beat and Vice, among others. He currently lives with his fiancée and dachshund in Seoul. You can find his work at ericstinton.com.
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