Here are four words that could’ve easily ended up in the script to Groundhog Day: Jon Jones is back. In perhaps the greatest upset in a career where he’s always the betting favorite, Jones is on the verge of putting his latest stretch of trouble behind him. This time he’s returning after popping hot for an anabolic steroid on a test administered a day before he recaptured the light heavyweight title from Daniel Cormier at UFC 214. USADA decided, somewhat arbitrarily (ahem) — if even a little conveniently — that a 15-month suspension was enough.
Jones is eligible to return as soon as Oct. 28, retroactive to the July 28, 2017 date of the failed test, and just a week before UFC 230 in New York City.
Coincidentally, as a native of upstate New York, one of Jones’ known dreams is to headline a card at Madison Square Garden. That’s the kind of coincidence that makes you wonder: Is it really a coincidence? Jones, a religious man, might consider it more providential. Dana White, a businessman, might see it as something else. So far, though, as of Thursday morning at 10:23 a.m. ET, Dana is saying that Jones won’t be considered to headline that big MSG show that desperately needs a headliner.
The situation is very fluid.
And really, this is a good time to remember that White denounced Jones after multiple other screw-ups, most notably UFC 200 when Jones popped for doping the first time, swearing we’d never see him in a main event of a big card again. Of course, we all saw Jonny “Bones” headline UFC 214 against Cormier. Since that day Jones has earned a permanent earmark as “beleaguered” in the sport of MMA, a term that eternally threatens his “GOAT” status, while Cormier has gone on to make improbable history as a dual weight-class champion.
The question has been, can the UFC really trust Jones going forward after so many offenses? The answer seems to be yes. There’s already detectable soft spot in White’s reasoning, which suggests that one of his biggest stars needn’t be gazed on so suspiciously.
“The arbitrator found that Jones never intentionally or knowingly took steroids and the result of the positive test was the result of a contaminated substance,” White told ESPN on Wednesday. “The science completely supports that finding. The science doesn’t lie, so I look forward to getting him back early next year.”
Science might not lie, but Dana’s not above a timely fib or two. Little White Lies could be the title of a best selling tell-all book for when he’s ready to cash in for another eight figures. At the beginning of the UFC’s last big press conference in August, Khabib Nurmagomedov and Conor McGregor wasn’t a done deal yet, according to Dana. Half an hour later, at the end of the same press conference, he cued up a video to announce McGregor vs. Nurmagomedov. Nate Diaz, never one to be toyed with, stormed off the stage. Most just marveled at Dana’s latest sleight of hand.
One way or another, Jones was looking down the barrel of a potential four-year ban from the sport with his second offense. He is lucky to have struck a deal with the third-party governing agency that isn’t supposed to be in the business of preferential treatment. Jones submitted 14 different supplements to USADA to screen for contamination, not one of which came back positive. How did the banned substance get into his body? Beats Jones, but the reduced suspension means USADA is leaning towards his innocence — or naivety — in the ordeal.
The last time it was “dick pills.” This time it was __________. We are forever left to fill in the blanks.
USADA clearing Jones to fight again is problematic on a lot of levels, including the idea that moneyed fighters can work the system (a system that may not even be in place with collective bargaining, by the way). But the timing of it, of course, is where you can’t help but see all the players winking. If Jones truly doesn’t fight at MSG on Nov. 3, then 15 months is really just some arbitrary number that USADA came up with in conjunction with Jones’ ongoing cooperation.
If he fights on the card that desperately needs a headliner? Hmm…
“It’s difficult to express myself at this moment but I can definitely say my heart is filled with gratitude and appreciation,” Jones wrote on his Instagram after the news was broke. “I want to thank all of you who have stood by me during the toughest stretch of my life. It has meant the world to me and always will. But now is the time to shift the focus front and center to the road ahead. Greatness is what I’m chasing and the path to reclaiming my throne is now officially open. Comeback Season begins now.”
Technically it’s Comeback Season III, but who’s counting. Either way, the latest come back is happening sooner rather than later, and that’s the real story out of the gate.