I believe it was the great Stephen A. Smith who once said, “you don’t have the right to hold somebody accountable for standards you refuse to apply to yourself.” I only mention it because Smith figured into Tuesday’s California State Athletic Commission (CSAC) doping hearing for the UFC’s own Jon Jones. Old John Frierson — one of six CSAC commissioners on the hearing panel — mystified those gathered at the DoubleTree Suites in Anaheim by citing the outspoken Smith not once but twice in between cautions that he’d forgotten his hearing aid. How can you have a hearing without a hearing aid, you ask?
Tuesday was filled with such extraordinary questions.
Chief among them — how did those pesky Turinabol metabolites show up in Jones’ system in a July 28 USADA-administered in-competition test for his title fight with Daniel Cormier at UFC 214? Did somebody…was it possible that…that somebody sabotaged him?
Jones, wearing a white polo shirt and a look of innocence, actually openly wondered about that very thing. He said upon hearing that he popped hot he proceeded to rack his brain, wondering if somebody might have given him something to raise Yet Another Red Flag in a career full of them. Because he swore on the Heavenly Father that he has never knowingly taken any steroids, and never would. He quoted Michael Jackson and the great Dan Gable to convey the sincerity of his claim. Jones might not have had a defense, but he came equipped with inspirationals.
So how did Turinabol show up on his test? That’s where the thing kicked off — in that familiar state of conjecture, scientific deduction and bewilderment as to how something illegal came to take up occupancy in his system. Jones’ defense was a shrug the shoulders, and a strong “search me.” Though Daniel Eichner, the president of the SMRTL lab in Salt Lake City, stated that he never knew of a tainted supplement producing Turinabol, the notion that prevailed was that Jones didn’t knowingly take it. Andy Foster, the executive director of the CSAC, threw his support behind this version.
After all, why would he? Jones said it himself: He’d have to be an idiot to take an easily detectable steroid before a fight that he knew he’d be tested in.
And get this: It worked. Mostly. Now comes the real hurdle.
Jones was handed down a fine of $205,000 (40 percent of his fight purse for the Cormier fight), plus another $5,000 in additional fees. He had his license to fight in California revoked, and can only reapply again in August, at which time — the commission made clear — a determination will be made whether he can be deemed worthy of reinstatement (pending, of course, how things go with USADA).
It was, as always, a bit of a mess. There’s nothing more mind-numbing than listening to men in suits try to figure out if another man — sitting right there in the room — intentionally ingested a banned substance or not. Jones has already been down this road before, most recently in the great “dick pills” scandal of 2016 that got him suspended for negligence. In that case, there was taint alright. In this one, well, that’s still to be determined.
What the CSAC did was essentially pass the 30-year-old Jones off to USADA, who has every reason now to levy a monster suspension on him as a repeat offender — maybe even as many as four years, which would cripple his career. Should USADA look at the CSAC hearing for cues, it will learn that Jones’ defense is simple honest-to-god oblivion.
“You can call me many things. You can call me a party boy, wild child, knucklehead…but a cheater is something I will never admit to,” he said, before realizing how that sounded and reclarifying. “That’s something I’ll never say that I am.”
Of course, the doping case in question isn’t that simple, not with such high-profile context. Jones is a man who splits time between being the greatest mixed martial artist on earth and making poor decisions outside of the cage. He has appeared in an orange jumpsuit in courtrooms after a felony hit-and-run, the incident that cost him his title. He has wrapped his Bentley “around a utility pole,” to use commissioner Martha Shen-Urquidez’s words, back in 2012 during a DUI incident. There was the drag racing thing and the cocaine…
Shen-Urquidez ran down the entire scroll of misdeeds, making Jones — and his agent Malki Kawa seating directly behind him — squirm a bit in their seats. Why was she going there? Because somebody with a pattern of poor judgment could very well have taken a risk so close to a fight. Because innocence is subjective. If Jones isn’t defending titles these days, he’s defending his character. Shen-Urquidez got Jones to admit that he’d never watched the USADA tutorials, though he’d certified that he’d done so on at least two occasions. The truthful Jones is always outing the liar Jones, the one is always intercepting the other.
Tuesday, they were again at war.
And yet, there’s still a belief in him that he has turned the corner — that he’s not the incorrigible screw-up that so many see him as. That he’s a right-living human being, unafraid to be a role model for youth. Jones still views himself as a redemption story, even if his particular redemption has many chapters. He made those ideas clear before the CSAC. Even as the water began to boil around him, he talked about his image, and managing it the right way. He swore his innocence. He pleaded for leniency, and — for the most part — the CSAC gave it to him. The panel seemed to empathize, to an extent, with a young man asking not to be judged by his past, but on what he was telling them about the situation at hand.
USADA may not be so kind. Jones’s career now comes down to whatever USADA feels is the right disciplinary action against a proven pay-per-view draw as a repeat offender. Best-case scenario for Jones — and obviously the UFC, which employs USADA as a third-party anti-doping measure — he fights again before 2018 lets out.
Worst case, the Jones we saw Tuesday is how he’ll remain for a long time. Dressed and defenseless. A man who could slip punches, but not the books being thrown at him by those with much stronger arms.