The world of MMA was rocked late Wednesday night when news emerged that Jon Jones was suddenly off the card for UFC 200 because a potential failed drug test. That event takes place Saturday, and Jones was set to headline it with his fight against Daniel Cormier for the light heavyweight championship.
Instead, Brock Lesnar will top the card with his return to the UFC, in a heavyweight matchup with Mark Hunt. It is unclear if the UFC will find another opponent, at a very late hour, for Cormier, who had been engaging in a war of words with Jones. The two were supposed to fight at UFC 197 in April, but Cormier pulled out with a shin injury, leaving to Jones to notch a relatively unimpressive victory over unheralded Ovince Saint Preux.
This is the second failed test for Jones, 28, who was fined $25,000 for testing positive for trace elements of cocaine about a month before he defeated Cormier at UFC 182 in January 2015. In April of that year, Jones was stripped of his light heavyweight title and handed a lengthy suspension for his role in a hit-and-run incident in Albuquerque, where he trains.
Jeff Novitzky, a former federal agent who spearheaded the BALCO probe and now runs the UFC’s anti-doping operation, announced that Jones had been flagged by the USADA for a potential violation for an out-of-competition test on June 16. The news reportedly blindsided UFC president Dana White, who hastily convened a press conference in Las Vegas.
According to reports, White said that he did not know what substance triggered Jones’s failed test, but that it could lead to a two-year ban for one of MMA’s most revered figures, one who has often been hailed as the best pound-for-pound fighter in the sport. White described the situation as “devastating” for Cormier, and said that he hoped to quickly line up another opponent for the 37-year-old, who beat Anthony Johnson for the light heavyweight title that Jones was forced to vacate.
“USADA, the independent administrator of the UFC Anti-Doping Policy, will handle the results management and appropriate adjudication of this case,” the UFC said in a statement. “It is important to note that, under the UFC Anti-Doping Policy, there is a full fair legal review process that is afforded to all athletes before any sanctions are imposed.
“However, because Jones was scheduled to compete against Daniel Cormier this coming Saturday, July 9 in Las Vegas, there is insufficient time for a full review before the scheduled bout and therefore the fight has been removed from the fight card. As a result, the three-round heavyweight bout between Brock Lesnar and Mark Hunt will become the UFC 200 main event.”
Cormier also addressed reporters Wednesday, saying that he was “very disappointed” and had “worked really hard for this.” He added, “This chapter in my life has been dragging on me and it’s making me ugly. I need to move on.”
The episode added another bizarre chapter to the saga of UFC 200, which was originally supposed to feature Conor McGregor in a rematch with Nate Diaz. However, White pulled McGregor off the card, in a dispute over promotional appearances and/or compensation, and, eventually, Diaz, as well.
The Jones-Cormier rematch was quickly added to the card, providing a more-than-acceptable substitute for many MMA fans. More recently, the company dropped a bombshell by bringing back Lesnar, who had been working for WWE and hadn’t had an MMA fight since 2011. Even that coup, though, came with its share of melodrama, as a widely respected MMA reporter, Ariel Helwani, was temporarily banned from covering UFC fights as punishment for scooping the Lesnar news.
As drugs such as cocaine and marijuana are only tested by the UFC within 24 hours of a competition, Jones likely tested positive for a performance-enhancing substance. Despite the blow Jones’s departure inflicted on UFC 200, White insisted that “this is how it should be,” claiming, “We have the best [drug-testing] program in all of sports.”
(H/T MMA Fighting)