When it comes to where he stands in the hallowed halls of MMA, Jon Jones doesn’t see much room for interpretation.
The 31-year-old UFC star has been the subject of much controversy in recent years, with various legal problems and multiple run-ins with the United States Anti-Doping Agency casting a shroud over his sterling in-cage accomplishments. Jones has never been truly defeated (the lone loss on his 24-fight record came as via disqualification in a bout opposite Matt Hamill back in 2009), but he has lost years of his career to two separate drug tests, the latter costing him a second win over rival Daniel Cormier and a second reign as the UFC’s undisputed light heavyweight champion.
This Saturday, another titanic rematch looms, this time against a man who pushed Jones to his limit in their first five-round encounter back at UFC 165, Alexander Gustafsson. Jones and Gustafsson meet in the light heavyweight championship headliner at UFC 232 on Saturday in Inglewood, Calif., an event that was originally scheduled to take place at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
The venue was changed less than week out from the event when the Nevada State Athletic Commission denied Jones a license to compete in the state after discovering a drug-testing abnormality while analyzing his test samples from the last 18 months. Jones just recently saw himself cleared to compete after a 15-month suspension was handed down to him retroactive to a July 2017 test failure.
With yet another drug-related incident added to his story, Jones was asked to address the possibility that his career will always be tainted in the eyes of some critics at a press conference Thursday for UFC 232.
“There will always be asterisks,” Jones said. “There’s asterisks next to ‘Who’s pound-for-pound the greatest of all time?’ In my mind there is no asterisk. I was afraid of there being an asterisk next to my career when I was uneducated, but as I’m learning what this really is, I’m actually almost mad that it was even mentioned. It’s invisible. You can’t take a picogram. It’s that small, you can’t knowingly take it, that’s how small it is.
“I have completely set myself free from any type of — I listen to fighters from the past be like, ‘This is why he beat me, because he had this in me.’ And I get why they need to do that, to feel better, to feel like I can do it the second time. I get why they’re doin’ that. But I’ve taken off the asterisk next to what I’ve done. I know what I’ve done. Every pushup, every situp, freaking showing up to practice early, leaving there late, wrestling camp since I was 12 years old, endless tournaments, I know what I’ve done. After beating Gustafsson I’m going to be right back on the track that I’ve always been on, which is being one of the all-time greats and I know that in my heart, no matter who believes me or not.”
The picogram that Jones referred to is a unit of measurement being used to express the small the trace amount of a banned substance that was found in his system. He went on to echo the findings of the USADA, explaining that the NSAC decided not to license him based on a long term metabolite stemming from oral Turinabol (the substance that was responsible for his second suspension) that he was told couldn’t possibly have provided any athletic benefit.
Because of the data presented to him, Jones rejected the idea that he’s receiving some sort of special treatment from any officials or commissions, and he thinks that the decision to move UFC 232 from Nevada to California ultimately benefited the fans.
And the more he learns about his own situation, the more justified he feels about how this whole situation has gone down.
“I think through science I will be vindicated,” Jones said. “I passed the [polygraph] test with pretty much the FBI, which means if I was lying, I go to jail for perjury. I passed the polygraph test saying that I’ve never intentionally taken anything illegal to enhance myself and now that science is starting to show itself, you will realize that — half the people that are judging me haven’t opened a chemistry book since high school. It’s true, it’s so true. So people are ignoring the fact that a picogram, this shit is so small it almost should have never been brought up. It’s so small. It’s such a small amount, it has no effect.
“And I think a lot of the professionals, whether it’s USADA or the UFC are realizing Jon has actually been, he’s kind of like a guinea pig in this situation, almost wronged in this situation. Even though it was in me, I think this is a way of fixing a wrong and making it right again, by not canceling this fight and keeping the fight on ultimately for the fans because this could have been canceled. So even though a lot of fans got hurt in this situation, we saved the event. Look at all the people that got to be here, all the people that are planning on ordering the fight around the world. Like Dana said, the organization’s doing everything they can to make it right, giving discounts and comping families and doing all types of stuff. So changing the event instead of canceling the event I feel is the way of making this right.”
Jones agreed that he’s a “polarizing athlete”, but also expressed confidence that the testing being done on him by USADA (and soon the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association as well) will only further his case that his accomplishments require no disclaimers.
If anything, Jones sees himself as being at the forefront of a sea change in drug testing not just in MMA, but on a much grander scale.
“What I’m finding out is this shit is happening all across sports,” Jones said. “There’s so many athletes right now that has M3 metabolite in their body and it’s coming in pulses and it’s coming in waves, but my situation is the most public. The reason why I’m here today being able to fight is because it gives me no advantage. Science is getting so good that they’re finding shit — I guarantee you there’s many people in the audience that has shit that’s on the banned list that’s never done any type of steroids, that wouldn’t even know what this shit is. So the fact of the matter is there is something in bloodstream, it does not give me any advantage, and I’m grateful that USADA found it because I’ll be able to educate myself and no more about it and for fighters in the future it’s going to help out a lot of people. I think the science is just so strong they’re finding shit that — it’s hard to explain.
“But I know for a fact that this is going to help fighters of the future and our sport and no one said it should be easy being who I am. I accept the difficulty in it and I’m up for the challenge and like I said, through science I feel like I’ll be vindicated, so no worries. This is all going to be a blessing in disguise for me.”