UFC 232 has been moved from Las Vegas to California after the Nevada Athletic Commission refused to license Jon Jones due to an abnormal finding in his drug test results.
The NAC released a statement on Sunday announcing that it will require Jones to appear at an evidentiary hearing in January after “extensive analysis” of the former light heavyweight champion’s previous 18 months of USADA drug testing results.
“Today, Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC) Executive Director Bob Bennett announced that, in consultation with NSAC Commission Chair Anthony Marnell, III, unarmed combatant Jon Jones will be allowed to withdraw his pending application for licensure, which was intended to clear him to fight in a major contest in Nevada later this month,” read a statement from the commission.
“After extensive analysis of Mr. Jones' prior 18 months of USADA in- and out-of-competition anti-doping drug testing results, Director Bennett, Chair Marnell, and Mr. Jones agree that he will appear at an evidentiary hearing in January. This will allow for a measured, thoughtful, and comprehensive discussion of his anti-doping testing protocol and results and provide an opportunity for the NSAC to determine the appropriate path forward for him in Nevada. We look forward to his hearing.”
As a result, UFC President Dana White appeared on ESPN’s SportsCenter to announced that UFC 232 will be moved from the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas to the Forum in Inglewood, Calif. Jones will face Alexander Gustafsson for the vacant light heavyweight crown in the Dec. 29 headliner.
“We were informed early this week by the United States Anti-Doping Agency….that a urine sample collected from Jon Jones on Dec. 9 of this year tested positive for a very small amount of the same metabolite of the same prohibited substance for which he was sanctioned in July 2017,” UFC VP of Athlete Health and Performance Jeff Novitzky said on SportsCenter.
“Both USADA and world-wide anti-doping experts told us that this was not a re-ingestion of the prohibited substance, but was remaining effects from the July 2017 positive test for which he had already been sanctioned. Probably more importantly, he retains no performance enhancing athletic benefits from the small presence of this substance,” Novitzky continued. “We took this information to the Nevada State Athletic Commission, and while I think they understood the issue, I think partly because of the Christmas holiday here they didn’t feel they had the time to fully vet this issue. We then went to the state of California, and their executive director, Andy Foster, who was intimately familiar with the issue because he had jurisdiction over Jon’s July 2017 positive test, understood the issue, relied on USADA and the experts who testified that this was residual effects and he had no performance enhancing effects from that….decided to grant Jon a license for this fight on Saturday.”
Jones tested positive for the anabolic steroid Turinabol in relation to his third-round technical knockout victory over Daniel Cormier at UFC 214. The victory was overturned to a no contest and Jones was given a 15-month suspension by USADA. It was his second anti-doping violation after testing positive for estrogen blockers ahead of a proposed UFC 200 bout with Cormier in July 2016.
Both Novitsky and White were adamant that Jones did not test positive in this instance and that it was a “residual effect” from the previous failed test.
“Not only USADA, that administers our program, but other experts throughout the world verified this was the case and that he retains no performance enhancing benefits from this small amount. So let’s make this very clear this is not another positive test,” Novitzky said.
White has not hesitated to criticize Jones for his many transgression in the past, but the UFC boss is confident that in this instance the Jackson-Wink MMA product was not in the wrong.
“I haven’t heard anything negative about Jon Jones leading up to this fight – nothing,” White told reporters in a separate interview (video via MMAjunkie.com). “He was willing to jump on a plane yesterday and go take a drug test -- like, immediately. If I want to plan a PR for Jon Jones in two months, try pulling that together. It’s tough to get Jon Jones. He’s willing to do anything. So, I believe that Jon Jones is clean. He’s in fight shape, and I believe that he’s been doing the right thing.”
White added that if any evidence pointed toward a Jones’ anti-doping violation, the UFC 232 headliner would have been pulled from the card.
“We wouldn’t do it,” White said. “We’d pull the fight, and [Cristiane Justino vs. Amanda Nunes] would be the main event and the fight would roll. That’s it. We’d roll on. Jones would either go away forever, or -- you know how I am … If these guys even doubted that something bad happened here and he was wrong or whatever, the fight’s off. We’d pull the fight. Jones didn’t do anything wrong here. All the biggest experts, the smartest people in the world that deal with this are saying that he did not cheat, he didn’t do anything. So how do we not do this fight?”
Jones was granted a temporary license to fight at UFC 232 by CSAC but elected to bypass the additional voluntary drug testing recommended by the commission.
According to multiple reports, Jones flew to California to be drug tested over the weekend and the results were negative.
“We’ve got a statement from three difference scientists, from the [WADA-accredited] lab director [at SMRTL in Salt Lake City] saying there’s no evidence of any new ingestion,” Foster told MMAFighting.com. “This isn’t a new thing. This is what he’s been punished for already. He’s already served his time on this.”
Coincidentally, California recently had a pay-per-view canceled when the promotion was unable to find a suitable headliner for the UFC 233 card scheduled for Jan. 26 in Anaheim. According to White, tickets for UFC 232 will go on sale in Inglewood on Wednesday. Those who had purchased tickets for the event in Las Vegas can either receive a refund or have their tickets transferred to attend the event in California.