Reverberations continued Wednesday from news that UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones tested positive for a substance found in cocaine, as UFC president Dana White made his first public appearance since a statement released just after the athlete was admitted into a recovery center for treatment.
Jones’ positive test for metabolites found in cocaine came as a result of a pre-fight screening done by the Nevada State Athletic Commission that was administered on Dec. 4. The results were returned Dec. 23, and the UFC was notified of the positive test.
"I was shocked obviously and it’s one of those situations where it’s so different than if a guy gets busted for performance enhancing drugs. You worry about the person first," White said during an appearance on "America’s Pregame." "You forget about the fighting, the work side of it, and you worry about the person. Jon Jones is a person.
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"So he got checked into rehab, they’re going to evaluate him and then we’ll go from there."
White confirmed that the promotion was informed about the test just after the results were returned to the Nevada State Athletic Commission from a testing facility in Salt Lake City, Utah.
He was evaluated by doctors. If you look at how shocked everybody was by this, nothing you saw in Jon Jones leading up to that fight would make you think that he used drugs
— Dana White
The test conducted by the commission was actually supposed to just check for performance enhancing drugs, but through what Nevada State Athletic Commission executive director Bob Bennett called an "administrative oversight," the additional testing was requested for drugs of abuse — including cocaine.
Because cocaine is not a drug that’s deemed illegal out-of-competition by the World Anti-Doping Agency, the commission was unable to punish Jones for the infraction under the strictest letter of the law. The information was then turned over to the UFC, which then allowed Jones to continue with his training camp and preparation for the Jan. 3 bout with Daniel Cormier.
"So what happens is, they do these tests leading up to a fight, these random drug tests, and he tested positive. (The fight was allowed to go on) because, No. 1, he was healthy. No. 2, the reason you would stop the fight and drop the hammer on a guy is if he tested for performance enhancing drugs," White explained.
"He was evaluated by doctors. If you look at how shocked everybody was by this, nothing you saw in Jon Jones leading up to that fight would make you think that he used drugs."
White also said that because Jones had a contract to fight and by commission standards he did nothing wrong by using cocaine four weeks out from his bout against Cormier at UFC 182, the UFC’s hands were tied in terms of pulling him. The UFC does hold broad powers under the athlete code-of-conduct policy that would have allowed them to stop Jones from competing, but it doesn’t appear the promotion wanted to exercise that option.
"Jon Jones was contracted to fight. We have a contract with him. Everybody thinks we can just say, ‘Hey, the fight’s off, fight’s not happening,’" White said. "Damn right he had the right to fight."
Jones defeated Cormier by unanimous decision in a fight that will likely stand as one of the UFC’s biggest and most lucrative cards in 2015. Three days later, the UFC’s reigning and defending light heavyweight champion checked into rehab, where he’ll stay until his course of treatment is determined.
White did get a chance to speak with Jones briefly before he checked into the facility, and he hopes to speak with him again in the coming days.
"I talked to him yesterday before he went in. He was in a good place going in there. I’m sure he’s in an even better place today," White said.
The fight was allowed to happen regardless of the test results, but there remains a question about the potential punishment that could rain down on Jones for abusing cocaine while under UFC contract. The policy that allows the UFC to suspend athletes for infractions is similar to the NFL, where anything deemed detrimental to the league or the league’s image could result in a penalty.
It seems as of now, Jones’ only punishment will remain the black eye he received in the public spotlight for testing positive in the first place, although the UFC reserves the right to enact a penalty under the code-of-conduct policy at some point in the future.
"In a situation like this, the last thing you worry about is his image right now. You worry about getting the guy healthy and he’ll come back and whether you like him or you don’t like him, he’s the baddest dude in the world. What’s even crazier, you do these tests to look for performance enhancing drugs — the stuff he was doing hurts you, it doesn’t help you in any way," White said.
"We’re worried about Jon Jones, the human being, the person. We’re not worried about the image of the sport or any of that right now."