The USADA Conundrum
The USADA Conundrum By Jody Jamieson It was August 22nd 2017. I remember it well enough that I didn’t have to look up the date. After being on fire in 2015 and 2016, the UFC had cooled off considerably in 2017. MMA had essentially three true needle moving stars in Ronda Rousey, Brock Lesnar and Conor McGregor, but all were missing for different reasons. Rousey ended 2016 with a drubbing at the hands of Amanda Nunes, and most of us expected to never see her in the Octagon ever again. A year later, that still seems the most likely scenario. Lesnar had just ended a one year suspension for an in-competition USASA failure after his UFC 200 win over Mark Hunt, but hadn’t re-entered the testing pool yet, so his return wasn’t on the horizon. As for Conor? It was fight week for him, but he was facing Floyd Mayweather in a boxing match. A fight that captured the imagination of the public, and in truth would end up being better than it had any right to be. And while the boxing match had its merits in helping the UFC potentially get back to the heights of the previous two years, we had just come off UFC 214 a few weeks prior which was the first event that got the fans excited about the state of MMA again in months. It was an excellent card from top to bottom, and was highlighted by a fantastic main event between Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier. A very competitive bout ended with Jones winning by TKO and then calling out Brock Lesnar for a super fight that everyone wanted to see. Was the sport about to catch fire again? Was Jones about to become the megastar he really should have already been? That buzz was promptly ended on August 22nd. A lot of us hardcore MMA fans were sitting enjoying another episode of Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series. Still a widely underrated show stashed on UFC Fight Pass. During the show the news broke that Jones has tested positive for Turinabol. We knew straight away this wasn’t a potential tainted supplement issue. This was an anabolic steroid issue that could potentially end Jones’ career. The Jones-Cormier fight was originally scheduled to headline UFC 200 before Jones was pulled on short notice for clomiphene. Clomiphene is a legitimate medication in the real world, though if you google it, you’ll understand why a male MMA fighter doesn’t need it. Jones was suspended for a year, and his latest test was unlikely to see anything nearly as lenient. Tack on the public knowledge of Jones’ previous cocaine habit and rehab stint, it seemed more likely that we’d see Jones retire than fight in 2018. Yet here we are. Jones, for reasons we’ll get into, has been given a retroactive 15 month suspension for his second failure, and will be available for UFC 230 in November at Madison Square Garden should the promotion decide to schedule him on this date. Sure, his suspension is lifted the week of that card, but they had him doing promotion for UFC 214 while suspended so the precedent is there. For what it’s worth, Dana White has said he isn’t planning for Jones to fight that night. Any knowledge of Dana’s track record of promises knows to take that with a pinch of salt. Whether Jones fights in New York or not isn’t the issue however. It’s how we’ve arrived at this junction, and how Jones’s second suspension is so lenient, especially when you compare it to other instances. Francisco Rivera was suspended in January after clenbuterol was discovered in a 2016 test. He was facing a two year suspension, but attempted to falsify information regarding the failure stemming from contaminated meat. USADA not only didn’t buy the explanation, but literally doubled down, deciding to whack him with a four year suspension for trying to lie his way out of trouble. Tom Lawlor became so worried about tainted supplements he decided the supplements weren’t worth the risk. He later tested positive for ostarine. Lawlor was often so outspoken about the need for drug testing in MMA that his worries about taking a tainted supplement gave him no viable explanation/excuse as to how this happened. He was banned for two years. These are just two of the punishments in recent times that jump out at you. It’s not that I disagree in any way with the punishments handed out. Rivera was made an example of, and that’s without a doubt a good thing in the long term. Lawlor’s failure came as a complete shock, but you can’t bring the sentence down because he talked an extremely good game about drug testing in the past. The problem stems from the inconsistency. So how did Jones, who was facing a potential four year suspension, manage to get just 15 months? Just a week ago USADA felt it was necessary to release a statement denying they were being paid off to minimise Jones’ suspension to ensure he returned as soon as possible. This was certainly peculiar, though potentially 100% honest and with the best of intentions. Though while we spoke of Rivera earlier who’s suspension was doubled due to the falsifying of evidence, Jones did admit a few months back during his hearing with the California State Athletic Commission that his team had signed off on Jones reviewing the USADA mandatory instructional materials without him bothering to read it. While in the court of public opinion, lying about how you failed a drug test is worse than lying about reading the small print, falsifying a document is falsifying a document. And while Jones is I’m sure not the only fighter to have signed off on that without bothering to read or understand it, it looks terrible on the record that you couldn’t be bothered to read about a policy you then violated twice in as quick a succession as is possible. The CSAC hearing was an incredible spectacle in its own right. It opened with a commissioner saying he’d left his hearing aid at home, before chastising Jones for personal responsibility. It didn’t get much better. Bizarrely, Jones himself did as good a job as anyone on the commission in making the case as to why he should be suspended, pointed out he paid close to $1 million to a pregnant woman after a hit and run incident (if you don’t know the full story here, it’s as bad as it sounds) and of course, admitting under no pressure that he forged the documents on the USADA tutorial. It was a disaster, and seemed to have sealed his fate. Section 10.6.1 in the USADA handbook is titled “Substantial Assistance in Discovering or Establishing Anti-Doping Violations.” In other words, Jones has used this clause to turn someone else in. While we don’t know yet who has been thrown under the bus by Jones, there is certainly an argument to be made that this is absolutely a positive. Jones has identified someone or perhaps multiple people who are in violation of the rules of the sport. That can definitely be seen as a good thing, but given his track record, it looks like the desperate last throw of the dice by a guy in full self-preservation mode. USADA knocked 30 months off Jones’ potential suspension for this. Chop off another three months for “Jones not intentional cheating” (whatever the hell that means) and he’s eligible to return on October 28th. Many people in the MMA community are disgusted by the reduced sentence, and it’s hard to argue with those who feel like the process lacks integrity. While USADA has gone a long way to making the sport cleaner, it’s easy to argue that it has favoured fighters based on name and drawing value, which is not what a doping agency is there to do. Without his indiscretions, Jones would almost certainly be known as the greatest of all time. His only MMA loss was against Matt Hammill in a fight he was dominating and won by TKO before controversially being ruled a DQ loss due to 12-6 elbows finishing the fight. In truth, he was very unfortunate to be disqualified in that fight, and should really have an unblemished record in the cage. It’s impossible though to discount all the madness outside the cage when discussing Jones’ legacy. He’ll get the chance to add to that legacy inside the cage soon enough however, for better or worse.
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