Brett OkamotoESPN Staff WriterClose
- MMA columnist for ESPN.com
- Analyst for “MMA Live”
- Covered MMA for Las Vegas Sun
LAS VEGAS — UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones is cleared to compete in the state of Nevada.
The Nevada State Athletic Commission voted unanimously in favor of granting Jones a one-fight, conditional license on Tuesday, which will keep him eligible to compete even if he tests positive for the specific, banned M3 steroid metabolite at a picogram/Ml level.
The decision was rendered one month after the UFC moved an entire event from Las Vegas to Los Angeles at the last minute, due to concerns over Jones’ license in Nevada.
Jones (23-1) is scheduled to defend his title against Anthony Smith in the main event of UFC 235 on March 2 at T-Mobile Arena. The NSAC licensed Jones for that event on the condition that his level of M3 metabolite stays consistent with where it has been the past 18 months. The NSAC will conduct its own testing of Jones during that time.
Tuesday’s decision is a clear deviation from Nevada’s standard practices, but the commission was open to licensing Jones despite the metabolite issue after listening to more than an hour’s worth of testimony from multiple experts in the drug testing field.
Jones tested positive for a trace amount of M3 steroid metabolite on Dec. 9, which prompted the UFC to move his Dec. 29 title fight against Alexander Gustafsson to California. That test was administered by the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA).
Jones was allowed to compete in California despite the banned metabolite because the state had already suspended him 15 months for its presence in July 2017. Experts testified Jones’ recent test could have been the result of a residual amount of that long-lasting metabolite, and not a re-ingestion of its parent drug, oral turinabol, an anabolic steroid.
Very little is known scientifically about oral turinabol, as it is an illegal substance. According to Dr. Daniel Eichner of a WADA-accredited laboratory in Salt Lake City, it’s possible the M3 metabolite in Jones’ system could stay there for years without re-ingestion of its parent drug.
California already was familiar with those details of Jones’ case in late December, whereas Nevada was not. One twist in those proceedings, however, was that USADA did not alert California of two additional positive tests in August and September 2018 for the metabolite in Jones’ system prior to licensing him last year.
After learning of the Dec. 9 test, Nevada agreed to table Jones’ case until 2019, which essentially allowed him to go to California where he was already licensed. Jones defeated Gustafsson via third-round knockout on Dec. 29.
NSAC chairman Anthony Marnell told Jones that decision, to allow him to withdraw his license application at that time, was a courtesy. Marnell told Jones had the commission “followed the book” and treated the Dec. 9 test results simply as a failed drug test, as it traditionally has done, “your career would be over.”
Jones has denied knowingly taking oral turinabol, but does not have an explanation as to how the metabolite got into his system. He is currently subject to testing by USADA, the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association (VADA) and any athletic commission he’s licensed with.
“We agree with and support the NAC decision today to license Jon Jones to fight in Nevada and while USADA does not have jurisdiction over the licensing, we appreciate being able to collaborate with the NAC to ensure a fair outcome,” USADA spokesperson Adam Woullard said in a statement. “This decision is the same conclusion we reached based on the facts and science under the UFC Anti-Doping Policy and the California Commission reached under its rules. The NAC conducted a hearing, weighed the facts, listened to the independent experts, and appropriately determined that the trace amounts of M3 found in Jones’ samples were residual and provided no performance-enhancing benefit and respected the principle of double jeopardy.
“Anti-doping cases in all sports are sometimes complex and a fair system must look at each one individually, taking all evidence into account to reach a just conclusion ensuring intentional cheats are punished. We look forward to coordinating efforts with the NAC to ensure our programs complement one another moving forward.”
Jones has served two drug-related suspensions in his career. In addition to the 15-month suspension for the metabolite, Jones served a one-year suspension in 2016, for testing positive for multiple banned substances ahead of a title fight at UFC 200. Jones said that positive result was caused by a tainted sexual enhancement pill.