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Jon Jones granted one-fight license to compete at UFC 235 after lengthy NAC hearing

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Jon Jones will indeed fight at UFC 235.

The reigning UFC light heavyweight champion was granted a one-fight license to compete on March 2 against Anthony Smith in the main event of UFC 235 at a Tuesday afternoon hearing of the Nevada Athletic Commission (NAC). In a lengthy meeting that spanned over three hours, NAC officials determined that Jones will be required to be drug tested a minimum of twice a month until UFC 235, then continue to comply with a similarly rigorous testing schedule throughout all of 2019 if he wishes to fight in Nevada again.

Jones will be required to pay for the additional drug tests in the lead-up to UFC 235.

“This is on you,” NAC chairman Anthony Marnell told Jones. “It’s on your shoulders. I like what I hear, I like what I see, but the proof’s in the pudding. So I’m happy that you’re back here, you’ll always be treated with respect here, and I wanted to make sure that you understood that today. Welcome back to Nevada, and do the right thing from this point going forward. As you know, we’re going to be visiting you frequently.”

Jones tested positive for trace amounts of a long-term metabolite of oral Turinabol multiple times in the latter half of 2018. An out-of-competition USADA drug screening conducted on Aug. 9 discovered eight picograms of the long-term metabolite in Jones’ system and is the first disclosed instance of such a result for Jones since his 2017 drug-testing failure. A follow-up USADA drug test on Sept. 18 also came back positive for 19 picograms of the same long-term metabolite. Jones then tested negative in four consecutive drug tests — on Sept. 21, Oct. 2, Oct. 11, and Nov. 14 — before the long-term metabolite reemerged in the range of 60 to 80 picograms in an out-of-competition USADA test conducted on Dec. 9.

The Dec. 9 drug test became the catalyst for the UFC uprooting its Dec. 29 show, UFC 232, from Nevada to California just six days prior to the event. With no time to review Jones’ case or conduct a hearing due to the holiday season, the Nevada Athletic Commission was not willing to grant Jones a license to compete at UFC 232.

Due to their familiarity with Jones’ case, however, the California State Athletic Commission (CSAC) was willing to license Jones on short notice for UFC 232. As part of the CSAC’s terms for agreeing to have Jones compete, the light heavyweight champion was required to enroll in additional drug testing with the Voluntary Anti-Doping Agency (VADA). Jones then tested positive for 33 picograms of the same long-term oral Turinabol metabolite in a Dec. 28 in-competition screening conducted by VADA on the day of weigh-ins.

In all four instances of the positive tests, USADA and the CSAC agreed that Jones was not responsible for the dirty results. Instead, both organizations concluded that the presence of the long-term oral Turinabol metabolite was actually a “pulsing” remnant of the same substance that caused Jones to serve a 15-month suspension in relation to his failed UFC 214 drug test in July 2017. Thus, both organizations agreed that Jones be permitted to compete at UFC 232, citing a “double jeopardy” logic similar to the one that prevents U.S. citizens from being charged in criminal cases for the same offense twice.

At Tuesday’s lengthy hearing, testimony was heard from USADA senior director of results management and investigations Jeff Cook, USADA director of science Matthew Fedoruk, and Dr. Daniel Eichner — the executive director of the Sports Medicine Research and Testing Laboratory in Salt Lake City, whose previous testimony led the CSAC to allow Jones to fight at UFC 232. All three individuals answered numerous questions regarding the science behind Jones’ case and handling of his results, and reiterated the point several times that current science is unable to pinpoint an exact timeframe as to how long the long-term M3 metabolite of oral Turinabol can be detected in an athlete’s system.

Chairman Marnell opened proceedings by calling Jones’ situation an “anomaly” that he had never seen before. He explained that the NAC’s decision to allow California to move forward with Jones at UFC 232 on short notice was a decision made based on conscience, not regulation, and that in any other by-the-book situation, “Your career would be over.” Commissioner Chris Ault added that Jones’ case has “backed our asses right into a corner.”

Throughout the meeting, Marnell expressed concern that Jones’ case not be used as a sort of get out jail free card for other fighters in the future and called for all parties involved to work toward more consistent and stringent testing to learn more about the long-term M3 metabolite in Jones’ system. At one point, Eichner noted that other substances have been found to have the same “pulsing” effect as the M3 metabolite, including the anti-estrogen agent clomiphene, which Jones ironically tested positive for 2016.

Notably, several NAC commissioners railed against Cook for USADA’s handling of the case and failing to disclose Jones’ multiple adverse test findings to the CSAC prior Jones’ Dec. 11 licensing hearing in Los Angeles for UFC 232. In one of the more fiery exchanges of the day, Marnell called USADA’s statements regarding the matter “weak and soft.”

A point of contention was also made by NAC commissioners about the 10-month window from Oct. 2017 to Aug. 2018 in which Jones was drug-tested zero times by USADA, despite everything surrounding him. Cook agreed retroactively that testing over that span could have provided helpful data for the commission and USADA to weigh in Jones’ current case.

Jones ultimately defeated Gustfasson via third-round TKO at The Forum in Inglewood on Dec. 29 to recapture the light heavyweight title in the main event of UFC 232. He passed multiple fight night drug tests administered by USADA and the CSAC.

Jones, 31, is a multiple-time offender when it comes to drug testing. “Bones” previously served a one-year suspension for a failed drug test in relation to his ill-fated UFC 200 rematch against Daniel Cormier in July 2016. In that instance, Jones tested positive for two anti-estrogen agents in an out-of-competition USADA screening. The failed test ended up knocking him out of a main-event fight against Cormier just days out from UFC 200.

Jones (23-1, 1 NC) has never truly lost inside of an MMA cage. The only loss in the two-time UFC light heavyweight champion’s career came via disqualification in a controversial 2009 fight against Matt Hamill that Jones was winning handily. Jones’ résumé inside the Octagon includes victories over a host of world-class fighters and former champions, such as Gustafsson (x2), Ryan Bader, Mauricio Rua, Quinton Jackson, Glover Teixeira, Vitor Belfort, and Rashad Evans, among others.

With his latest commission trouble behind him, Jones is expected to appear at a press conference in Las Vegas this Thursday, Jan. 31, to promote his upcoming UFC 235 title defense against Anthony Smith.