Jon Jones faces uphill climb in latest bid to clear his reputation

Kevin Iole
Combat columnist

Jon Jones might have gotten a sliver of good news among the bad on Tuesday when his B-sample confirmed the findings of a July 28 urine test that discovered he had the anabolic steroid turinabol in his system prior to his light heavyweight title fight with Daniel Cormier at UFC 214 on July 29 in Anaheim, California.

But Jones, widely regarded as the greatest mixed marital arts fighter of all-time, nonetheless faces an uphill climb in his bid to avoid another lengthy suspension.

He still remains the UFC light heavyweight champion following his third-round knockout of Cormier, though that could be taken from him without him ever stepping foot into the Octagon again.

His reputation is in tatters, and the news that Jones’ B-sample was confirmed made him guilty in the court of public opinion, if not yet in the eyes of those who will rule upon his fate.

This is a guy who has had two DUIs, a positive test for cocaine less than a month before a fight, a drug-test failure in 2016 that cost him a one-year suspension, and now another failure before a bout that was to be his fight for redemption. In addition, he’s been involved in a hit-and-run auto accident and got into a widely publicized dispute with the Albuquerque, New Mexico, police over an accusation he was drag racing.

Jones has the right to appeal and if his appeal is denied by USADA, he has a right to go to arbitration to have his case decided.

Jones was given drug tests on July 6 and July 7 and was clean on both occasions. They were urine tests, which would have discovered any chlorinated steroid such as turinabol. On July 28, the day of the weigh-in for his bout with Cormier, Jones was given another urine test. He failed that one, testing positive for turinabol.

That means that the turinabol got into his system sometime after July 7 and before July 28.

The B-sample showed that Jones had M3, which is a metabolite of turinabol, in his system. M3 is detectable in the urine for between 45 to 60 days, and perhaps longer. The parent compound, though, has a half-life of just 16 hours. That means that it would be fully out of one’s system about a week after it was ingested.

It appears that to defend himself, Jones will have to rely on the same argument that he made to an arbiter last year regarding the positive test he had prior to UFC 200. Jones was yanked from that card three days before he was to fight Cormier after results from a random test administered on June 16, 2016, turned up positive for the banned substances clomiphene and letrozole.

Jones admitted taking a pill that was similar to Cialis that he was given by a teammate for sexual performance. Jones said the pill was Tadalafil, which is the active agent in Cialis.

USADA ruled against Jones and so Jones, as was his right under the UFC’s anti-doping policy with USADA, went to arbitration.

Will UFC fans ever see Jon Jones in the cage again? (Getty)

Jones testified that he asked Malki Kawa, his manager, if it was permissible under the anti-doping rules to take Cialis. He did not ask if it was OK to take Tadalafil. That was noted in the arbitrator’s decision, which essentially found that he did not intentionally try to cheat, but it still penalized him.

Michael J. Beloff, the chairman of the arbitration panel, wrote in his conclusion, “On evidence before the Panel, the Applicant is not a drug cheat. He did not know that the tablet he took contained prohibited substances or that those substances had the capacity to enhance sporting performance.”

But Beloff also wrote, “The Panel repeats that the Applicant’s fault was at the top end of the scale. In short, the applicant made an advance enquiry about a product Cialis which he did not take. He made no enquiry at all about the Tadalafil pill which he did take. He simply relied upon his teammate to tell him what it was and how it could enhance sexual pleasure. His degree of fault in fact verged on the reckless.”

Advancing to this latest case, Jones is insisting he did not knowingly take turinabol and his team is in the process of working with the UFC and USADA to have the supplements he took tested for potential contamination.

There have been cases involving UFC fighters – notably Tim Means and Yoel Romero – where the athlete failed a test only to have found it came via taking supplements which were contaminated with banned substances. USADA recommends athletes not use supplements and urges caution for those who do because of the heightened risk of contamination.

If Jones argues on his appeal and potential arbitration that he took a supplement that was contaminated, his prior issue with Tadalafil is going to come back to haunt him.

Jeff Novitzky, the UFC’s vice president for athlete health and performance, conceded that Jones will likely be held to a higher standard in arguing supplement contamination because of the 2016 case.

“Jon definitely has an uphill battle in those regards because of his first violation under the program,” Novitzky said. “Ultimately, because USADA independently administers the program, that decision falls under them. But I would have to believe that standard with which he is held to when it comes to unintentional ingestion of a prohibited substance is going to be a higher standard than someone who has not had a previous circumstance like he did.”

Here is why the metabolite being discovered could be some good news for Jones. If he is found simply to have knowingly and intentionally taken an anabolic steroid, he would be looking at a four-year penalty. But should it be discovered that he took a contaminated substance, it could be mitigating and potentially reduce the penalty he received. Because he was clean on July 7 and not clean on July 28, the turinabol got into his system in the three-week window between those dates.

Turinabol is not a fast-acting drug, so it doesn’t seem a fighter could benefit from using it after July 7 and before July 28 for a July 29 event. It would need to be used longer term to have that benefit.

Given that the metabolites stay in the system for 45 to 60 days, this gives Jones an argument that had he been using turinabol for performance enhancement, it would have shown up in his earlier drug tests.

But it is only a mitigating factor, at best, in a contamination defense and could be ignored by USADA and/or the arbiters entirely.

It’s sad to see such a great talent wasted so spectacularly.

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