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Jon Jones abnormal drug-test results continue into January, no new doping violation filed

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Jon Jones still had a long-term steroid metabolite in his system as of early January.

The UFC light heavyweight champion had ultra trace amounts of the steroid oral Turinabol (4-chloro-18-nor-17β-hydroxymethyl,17α-methyl-5α-androst-13-en-3α-ol (M3) or DHCMT) in drug-test results stemming from samples collected Jan. 6 and Jan. 7, the California State Athletic Commission (CSAC) confirmed with MMA Fighting on Friday.

These results were first mentioned Tuesday at Jones’ Nevada Athletic Commission (NAC) licensing hearing. The drug tests were administered by the Voluntary Anti-Doping Agency (VADA) and reported to CSAC. The results came back Monday, according to CSAC executive officer Andy Foster, and the NAC had them in time for the Tuesday hearing.

At that hearing, Jones was granted a conditional, one-fight license to defend his title against Anthony Smith at UFC 235 on March 2 in Las Vegas. As part of that licensing, Jones will have to be drug tested at least twice monthly by the Nevada commission, in addition to continuing testing done by VADA and USADA, the UFC’s anti-doping partner.

Foster made it clear Friday that the Jan. 6 and 7 results do not constitute a new doping violation. As has been the case with previous trace amounts of the M3 metabolite of DHCMT found in Jones’ system, scientists have testified that this is likely the same long-term metabolite that Jones was already suspended 15 months for after a July 2017 positive drug test.

Like in those previous abnormal results, there were no parent compounds or short- or medium-term metabolites found in Jones — just the long-term M3 metabolite, which Dr. Daniel Eichner, the lab director at WADA-accredited SMRTL in Salt Lake City, testified Tuesday does not likely give Jones any performance-enhancing benefits. Eichner has also stated in a public hearing and in written statements that there is no evidence Jones re-administered a prohibited substance going back to that July 2017 positive.

Since August 2018, Jones has had this “pulsing” effect where sometimes his drug tests come back with the M3 metabolite and sometimes they do not. The M3 metabolite showed up in Jones’ results on Aug. 29, Sept. 18 and Dec. 9, the latter of which led to the Nevada commission declining to license Jones for UFC 232, which was scheduled for Dec. 29 in Las Vegas. Jones was clean of the M3 metabolite in four other USADA drug tests between August 2018 and December 2018.

With the NAC wanting Jones to come for a hearing before licensing him and time running low, the UFC decided to move the entire UFC 232 event to the Los Angeles area. The California commission had already licensed Jones and was familiar with his drug-testing situation since it had jurisdiction in the July 2017 case. Foster, based on the word of Eichner and other experts, decided to approve Jones to face Alexander Gustafsson at UFC 232 on Dec. 29 in Inglewood, Calif.

Jones ended up defeating Gustafsson to regain the UFC light heavyweight title by third-round TKO. In fight-night drug tests conducted by CSAC and USADA, Jones came back clean of the M3 metabolite. However, in a sample collected by VADA on weigh-in day Dec. 28, the metabolite was back. And it was again for the Jan. 6 and Jan. 7 samples.

(Update: Foster informed MMA Fighting that he received another VADA test result back for Jones on Friday evening, stemming from a Jan. 13 collection, and it did not have the M3 metabolite.)

At the hearing Tuesday, NAC chairman Anthony Marnell III described Jones as a “test case,” considering he’s one of the first high-profile athletes to deal with this “pulsing” effect with the M3 long-term metabolite and it is being adjudicated publicly. An increase in the sophistication of testing — down to the low picogram level — has seemingly led to these cases popping up recently.

Eichner said at the hearing that scientists know the previous studies done on the M3 metabolite were wrong and it’s unclear how long it can be detected in a person’s system. UFC vice president of athlete health and performance Jeff Novitzky told MMA Fighting last week that USADA is currently dealing with this same situation in two other UFC fighters, one of which was Grant Dawson, who has been cleared to compete.

Foster, Novitzky and others dealing with Jones have said that these recurring trace amounts found in Jones’ system do not constitute a get-out-of-jail-free card. Other elements are being looked at in each drug-test result, including the potential presence of parent compounds or shorter-term metabolites, as well as any potential changes in Jones’ biological passport, which USADA keeps for every UFC athlete.

“I don’t think it’s a blanket statement that every time that metabolite shows up that it’s automatically considered no re-administration,” Novitzky said last week. “They’re looking at a lot of different factors each time it does show up. They’re looking at biological passport information to determine, are any of these other levels suspicious or raising or dropping. They’re looking to see if they can detect any of the shorter or medium term metabolites. It’s not accurate to say that every time this expresses itself in Jon it’s an automatic free pass. They look at it in detail every time it shows up to make sure that everything is consistent with no re-administration and no performance-enhancing benefit.”

Jones has adamantly denied taking any prohibited substances intentionally. He was suspended one year in 2016 for testing positive for anti-estrogen agents clomiphene and Letrozol. Jones was suspended 15 months in his USADA case in 2017 for the oral Turinabol metabolites. Both times, USADA and arbitrators concluded that Jones likely did not take any banned drug intentionally.

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