Questions of consistency and fighter health linger in Jon Jones case

A drug test indicated that Jon Jones used cocaine during his training camp for UFC 182. The way regulators and the UFC handled the results leave important questions unanswered.

Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

The fight world was shocked when it was revealed this week that UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones tested positive for cocaine metabolites while in training camp for his January 3 UFC 182 title defense in Las Vegas. Nearly as astounding was that the fight was allowed to continue (despite the presence of a dangerous and illegal substance in the fighter’s system, in the throes of an intense training camp, and just weeks from the biggest fight of his career), and that Jones received no punishment from either the testing regulator, the NAC, or his employer, the UFC.

Furthermore, in a bizarre move, the NAC chose not to even let Jones know about his early December test results, choosing to only tell his promoter, the UFC. The UFC has in the past fined or released fighters for violating code of conduct provisions of their contracts.

Such offenses have included offensive tweets, and use of drugs of abuse like marijuana. When contacted by FOX Sports, UFC officials would not comment beyond their general initial press release on Jon Jones’ positive drug test, to answer questions such as whether the fighter has or will be disciplined in any manner for what was surely a violation of personal conduct portions of his UFC contract, and why or why not.

As for the NAC (which has issued stiff fines and suspensions for positive drug tests in the past), the official line up to this point has been that they hadn’t meant to test for the substance Jones tested positive for in December, and that when he tested positive for it, the commission’s collective hands were tied because cocaine isn’t a banned substance on the WADA "out of competition" list, which the regulator abides by.

However, a Nevada commissioner we spoke with this week who wished not to be named, could not deny that the commission did and does indeed have the ability to discipline Jones under Nevada Administrative Code chapter and point 467.885, but that doing so might be "tricky."

It very well may be, but the Nevada commission doesn’t always shy away from tough legal battles while trying to do the right thing. Take, for example, the commission’s indefinite ban of UFC fighter Wanderlei Silva, and fine of $70,000 for issues of Silva avoiding a drug test.

That disciplinary action has been disputed by Silva – who has never failed a drug test – and his legal representation have fought that decision, but the NAC has stood firm, thus far.

NAC 467.885 outlines the seven broad grounds for when disciplinary action can be taken against licensees of the state, by the commission. The first listed grounds for disciplinary action is having "violated the laws of Nevada, except for minor traffic violations."

The fifth listed grounds for disciplinary action is if a licensee has "conducted himself or herself at any time or place in a manner which is deemed by the Commission to reflect discredit to unarmed combat."

The sixth listed grounds, part "f", states that the commission can consider as grounds for disciplinary action, whether a licensee "is engaged in any activity or practice that is detrimental to the best interests of unarmed combat."

Cocaine is considered an illegal controlled substance in Nevada’s Revised Statutes’ Uniform Controlled Substances Act, so the cocaine use indicated by Jones’ positive drug test would appear to be within the first listed grounds for disciplinary action, as well as the more broad fifth and sixth listed grounds.

When the Commission finds grounds, it may "suspend or revoke the license of, otherwise discipline or take any combination of such actions against a licensee…"

The commissioner we spoke with wouldn’t comment on whether Jones has been or would be disciplined in any way for his positive cocaine metabolites drug test result in December. The commissioner did say that the positive test result might be brought up and considered the next time Jones applies for a license to fight in Nevada, however.

Other reports have indicated that the commission has not and will not discipline Jones for the positive test, because of the WADA out of competition standards, and the fact that they never intended to test Jones for drugs of abuse like cocaine, in the first place.

What we do know, of course, is that Nevada chose not to stop Jones from fighting in Las Vegas at UFC 182, despite the first drug test’s indication that he was using cocaine during his training camp.

The commission did and does indeed have the ability to discipline Jones under Nevada Administrative Code chapter and point 467.885

The commission has made it clear that they felt it would be too difficult for them to take punitive action against Jones. We did ask the commissioner this week if the NAC considered not allowing Jones to be licensed to fight, not as a punishment, but rather as a consideration for his health.

The commissioner told us that Jones’ health was considered, but ultimately they decided to leave the very important fighter safety regulatory decision to the promoter, the UFC. As such, the commission chose not to tell Jones of the test results, instead only letting the UFC know.

When asked why the commission chose to not tell Jones and his management of the first drug test results, and instead only let the UFC know, in order to let them decide what to do, we were given answers ranging from not wanting to disrupt Jones’ mindset heading into a fight, to the holidays getting in the way of proper communication, to the UFC having expert doctors of their own, capable of evaluating Jones’ health.

Regulating fighter health and safety is a job for regulators, not promoters, however. Fight promoters put together matchups and cards, and go to state commissions like Nevada to get approval and validation that the fighters are healthy and eligible, and that the fights will be safe.

Because its budget comes from the state’s general fund, and is set by the legislature, the Nevada Athletic Commission never stands to directly financially benefit from fight cards like UFC 182 taking place. By virtue of their very business model and purpose, promoters like the UFC, of course, do benefit financially from their events taking place as advertised.

The UFC chose not to tell Jones of his first drug test results, and they chose to continue with a main event with the knowledge that one of their fighters was using cocaine during his training camp. Unfortunately, it can hardly be considered surprising that UFC chose not to disrupt the marquee matchup of their biggest card of the past year or so.

The importance of whether or not the UFC chooses to discipline Jones would seem to be much smaller than the health and well being of the star fighter. UFC president Dana White tried to convey that message recently on FOX Sports 1 when he said that he and the promotion’s concern was for "Jon Jones the person," more than Jon Jones the fighter.

That sentiment is certainly the right one, but those words ring hollow in light of what the UFC chose to do. If White and the UFC were concerned about his cocaine use in the days after he won for them last week, and supported him reportedly going to a drug rehabilitation facility, why were they not just as concerned before Jones headlined UFC 182 and they already had the knowledge that he was using cocaine weeks before while training?

Making a decision to pull Jones from his matchup against Daniel Cormier because they knew he was using cocaine during training camp, might have been the right thing to do for his health, but it would have been against the promoter’s financial interest. Instances like this one illustrate why clear delineations between the roles of regulators and promoters are so very important.

The Nevada commission’s good intentions do not seem to matter much, in the face of serious budget constraints, and related over-reliance on promoters like the UFC to make important regulatory decisions for themselves. 

Nevada put the UFC in a situation where it had to make regulatory decisions for itself while weighing the health of a fighter against the prospect of losing out on millions of dollars if UFC 182 were canceled or shaken up, and that was a mistake.

The commissioner we spoke to admitted that the four-person government department does not currently have the resources to continue to do year-round drug tests of combatants without support from promoters like the UFC. The official said that conversations with state leaders have taken place, and that the question of what kind of commission Nevada wants to have is one that needs to be thoughtfully considered, and then funded appropriately.

There is hope, we are told, that the coming Nevada state budget will include added resources for the commission tasked with regulating the fight capital of the world.