Inside the Octagon, Jon Jones has been unbeatable.
But in the court of public opinion, he faces an uphill battle.
The former two-time UFC light heavyweight titleholder found himself in the midst of controversy again this weekend when the Nevada State Athletic Commission decided not to grant Jones a license for his upcoming main event championship bout vs. Alexander Gustafsson at UFC 232 due to a drug-testing abnormality discovered during an analysis of the past 18 months of Jones’s test results.
According to a statement from the United States Anti-Doping Agency, an “extremely low” trace amount of a banned substance that Jones was previously sanctioned for was still present in his system, but he is not being investigated for a violation due to the amount providing “no performance enhancement.” That said, the NSAC is expected to have a hearing with Jones in January, where they will further deliberate his competitive eligibility in Nevada.
With Jones unable to obtain a license to fight in Las Vegas at T-Mobile Arena where UFC 232 was originally booked, Saturday’s event has been moved to The Forum in Inglewood, Calif. State commission executive officer Andy Foster told MMA Fighting that Jones already passed another test over the weekend and that he is “a clean athlete.”
The location change has been met with much public criticism and also renewed skepticism from fans concerning Jones’s reputation. He has twice been suspended for USADA violations; first in July 2016, just days before he was scheduled to fight Daniel Cormier at UFC 200, an infraction that led to the cancellation of that bout and Jones eventually being slapped with a year-long suspension; and again in August 2017, this time after a second victory over Cormier that would subsequently be overturned to a no contest (and cause Jones’s third title win to be stricken from the records). Jones received a 15-month suspension for his second infraction.
All of this has led to Jones’s once untouchable legacy being tarnished in the eyes of many observers, and he told ESPN on Wednesday that there’s no sense in fighting it ahead of UFC 232.
“I think my trying to prove any type of innocence is going to be virtually impossible before the fight, because of the controversial image I have,” Jones said. “People are kind of set in what they’re going to believe. I can’t win over many minds before the fight.”
Jones, 31, has maintained that the banned substance, Turinabol, which was responsible for his second test failure and has apparently remained present in his system to trip him up in his third, came from contaminated supplements and that the amount found was so insignificant as to give him no advantage in competition.
Concerning the Turinabol metabolites in question, Jones is confused as to how evidence of them could be in his body so long after they were first discovered in August of last year.
“Even the scientists that found it, don’t know much about it,” Jones said. “I’m hearing reports this s--- could live in my system for seven years. I’ve learned to say, ‘You know what Jon? You know in your heart you did nothing wrong.’ If I took another polygraph test and answered the question, ‘Have you ever knowingly put this in your system?’ I could confidently say, ‘No, I never knowingly put this in my system.’ And it would be a true statement.
“I just have to surrender to people’s opinions. I gotta surrender to the ignorance our sport is surrounded by. I gotta surrender to the fact most people will never pick up a book and do homework for themselves. I gotta surrender to it all and say, ‘Listen Jon, you’ve had a controversial career. You’re fun for people to pick at. You’re fun for people to talk about. If you are part of anything that’s not positive, it’s going to be huge news.’
“I have to be 100 percent confident in knowing I didn’t do anything wrong.”
Following the news of his latest drug-test related mishap and the commotion surrounding UFC 232 being moved from Nevada to California, Jones issued a pair of statements via social media apologizing to those inconvenienced by the change.
He assured fans that “this is not a mistake I made” and referred to the incident as being “completely out of my control,” though he is vowing to help make up for the chaos that has ensued this week.
“I had to really speed up my healing on this, but I understand there are fans out there who aren’t healed and lost some serious money,” Jones told ESPN. “I’ve almost had to bury my emotions and deal with them after the fight, but I will try to make it better for the fans after the fight.”