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Top MMA storylines of 2017: 2. Jon Jones fails drug test (again)

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Maybe Jon Jones was trying to tell us all something.

It was deep into a California summer night, in the bowels of Anaheim’s Honda Center. Jones had just made a triumphant comeback after two years of outside-the-cage setbacks to regain the UFC light heavyweight title, which he never lost in the Octagon.

And then, a little more than an hour after he knocked out Daniel Cormier in the third round of the UFC 214 main event, he laid out some foreshadowing. “Bones” said he’d be a better man — the hit-and-run charges and cocaine addiction were all in the rear-view mirror. But, he cautioned, he had to be realistic.

“I don’t want to sit here and make promises and say that I’m going to be a saint,” Jones said, “because I’m a wild motherf*cker at the end of the day.”

Three weeks later, we were going through all the same motions with him.

On Aug. 22, news broke that Jones had tested positive for a steroid in an in-competition USADA drug test in relation to his fight with Cormier. It was the second straight year in which Jones came up positive for a banned substance.

In 2016, it was clomiphene and Letrozol that knocked him out of the UFC 200 main event against Cormier just three days out of the event. This year, it was the steroid Turinabol. The California State Athletic Commission (CSAC) overturned Jones’ win over Cormier to a no contest after Jones’ ‘B’ sample confirmed the positive in September. The UFC then stripped Jones of the title — how could he be champion if he technically no longer won the fight? — and gave the belt back to Cormier.

How big of a news story was this in not just MMA, but the entire sports world? When news broke of Jones’ drug-test failure, members of the combat sports press corps were inside the Floyd Mayweather vs. Conor McGregor media tent in Las Vegas. All the television screens showing ESPN and FS1 turned from MayMac coverage to Jones.

The crux of most of the takes that day was this: The legacy of perhaps the greatest MMA fighter of all time was now forever tainted.

Whether that’s true or not remains to be seen and will probably forever be up for debate. Jones has not gone through the entire USADA adjudication process yet. He and his team have said adamantly that he did not knowingly take a banned substance. He still needs to have his case heard in front of independent arbitrators. And Jones’ CSAC hearing will be in February.

No suspension length has been decided yet by either body. Jones received a one-year suspension in his USADA case after arbitration and from the Nevada Athletic Commission (NAC) after his 2016 drug-test failure. Arbitrators ruled then that they believed Jones when he said he did not knowingly take those two substances, instead ingesting what Jones referred to as a “dick pill” that was contaminated. The one-year suspension was for reckless negligence in not doing any due diligence about what he was putting in his system.

It’s anyone’s guess what kind of suspension he’ll get in 2018. Jones is facing four years from USADA, because he is now a repeat offender. Without knowing Jones’ defense, outside the fact that his team has intimated the substance could have come from a tainted supplement, it’s hard to speculate what any sanction might look like.

But regardless of how long he’ll be out from this, it feels like this is not how it was supposed to go down. This year was supposed to be about Jones’ redemption story — that is what should have been among the top storylines of 2017.

Jones, 30, was furious at Cormier for saying he had tested positive for steroids last year and had always been on them. Jones had a right to be upset. He did not fail for steroids in 2016; clomiphene and Letrozol are anti-estrogen agents, a lesser classification in the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) Code. But now Jones has proven Cormier right in a way, after actually popping for steroids the day before their second fight.

It’s been six months since Jones’ return knockout of Cormier. We should be talking about Jones headlining UFC 219 this week in Las Vegas. Perhaps in a super fight for the heavyweight title against Stipe Miocic. We should be talking about future, high-profile Jones fights. After beating Cormier in July, Jones called out Brock Lesnar. Who would not want to watch that?

Who knows if we’ll ever get to see it now? Who knows when Jones will be back? The year 2017 will end for Jones much like his last two, riddled with outside-the-cage issues like felony hit-and-run arrests, positive tests for cocaine, probation violations and performance-enhancing drug red flags.

Were we all naive to think Jones had cleaned himself up heading into his third decade on this planet? Maybe it’s just something we all wanted to believe, because there isn’t an MMA fan on the planet who doesn’t want to watch Jones perform in the Octagon. He’s likely the very best to ever do it, a virtuoso inside the cage.

Sometimes, we guess, it’s best to adapt an old Maya Angelou saying, though.

When a “wild motherf*cker” shows you who they are, believe them.

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