Jon Jones given 15-month suspension after arbitration in USADA case

Jon Jones might get the chance to headline a huge card in his home state after all.

The former UFC light heavyweight champion — and one of the greatest to ever step in the Octagon — was given a 15-month suspension in his USADA case by an arbitrator, following his failed drug test for a steroid metabolite, multiple sources told MMA Fighting on Wednesday.

The suspension is retroactive to when the sample was collected July 28, 2017 and Jones will be eligible to fight again Oct. 28. An official announcement from USADA with a full arbitrator decision came later Wednesday night.

The arbitrator’s decision means Jones would be eligible to fight at UFC 230 on Nov. 3 at New York’s Madison Square Garden, a card that is currently without a main event. Jones is a New York native.

Jones, his legal team and USADA representatives met with arbitrator Richard H. McLaren last Saturday, per the release. Going into arbitration, USADA already determined there should be a reduction of two years and six months to a potential Jones suspension “based on Jones’ delivery of substantial assistance,” the release stated. Jones was facing a four-year ban, because this was his second UFC anti-doping policy violation.

McLaren then reduced the suspension to 15 months based on Jones’ degree of fault, which took into account that he had passed multiple out-of-competition drug tests leading up to UFC 214, before failing the in-competition test — the one he knew was coming. Jones was tested eight times in 10 months around UFC 214 and failed just the one test.

Jones argued that he did not knowingly take a banned substance and had no idea how a steroid metabolite got in his system. Jones submitted more than a dozen dietary supplements to USADA and none came back contaminated. McLaren is a highly regarded name in anti-doping and was on the independent panel commissioned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) to investigate allegations of state-sponsored doping in Russia.

“The independent arbitrator found that Jon Jones was not intentionally cheating in this case, and while we thought 18-months was the appropriate sanction given the other circumstances of the case, we respect the arbitrator’s decision and believe that justice was served,” USADA CEO Travis T. Tygart said in a statement. “This case is another strong reminder that athletes need to be extremely cautious about the products and supplements they use to ensure they are free of prohibited substances.”

Per the decision document, the “substantial assistance” is in reference to article in the UFC anti-doping policy, which has to do with a fighter helping USADA or another anti-doping organization with “discovering or bringing forward an Anti-Doping Policy Violation” by another person or something else that “results in a criminal or disciplinary body discovering or bringing forward a criminal offense or the breach of professional rules committed” by another person (h/t @dimspace). If Jones no longer cooperates, he runs the risk of getting time tacked on to his suspension, per the UFC anti-doping policy.

Jones tested positive for a steroid metabolite (4-chloro-18-nor-17β-hydroxymethyl,17α-methyl-5α-androst-13-en-3α-ol, a metabolite of dehydrochlormethyltestosterone, or another chlorine-substituted anabolic steroid, per USADA) in relation to his UFC 214 title fight with Daniel Cormier on July, 29 2017 in Anaheim, Calif. Jones won that fight by third-round knockout, but the result was overturned to a no contest by the California State Athletic Commission (CSAC) following the positive drug test.

In February, Jones had his MMA license revoked by CSAC and he was fined $205,000. CSAC executive officer Andy Foster said at the hearing that the commission would honor Jones’ suspension in the USADA case.

“As announced by USADA today, an independent arbitrator determined that Jon Jones should receive a 15-month sanction for his second violation of the UFC Anti-Doping Policy,” CSAC executive officer Andy Foster said in a statement. “Although the Commission has not had the opportunity to review the decision at this time, the Commission is agreeable, in concept, to the 15-month sanction time period. In order to have his license reinstated, Mr. Jones will be ordered to complete three months of community service, pay the previously ordered $205,000 fine, and finish out the remainder of the 15-month sanction.”

Jones, 31, was facing a four-year USADA suspension as a second-time offender of the UFC’s anti-doping policy. “Bones” failed an out-of-competition drug test for two anti-estrogen agents in 2016, knocking him out of a main-event fight with Cormier at UFC 200. Jones was given a one-year suspension by an arbitration panel in that case.

Per the arbitration agreement in this current case, Jones entered into a full-time rehabilitation program “to regain a level of health and independence even if it meant prolonging resolution of his second anti-doping rule violation.” McLaren wrote that he found Jones to be “very credible” and “well meaning” during the arbitration.

“Jon Jones has gone through a great deal of difficulties,” McLaren wrote in his decision. “He gave me the very distinct impression that he has learned a lot from the loss of the image of himself that he had as a champion MMA fighter. He has been humbled and humiliated by the experience but has learned from his misfortune. He needs the opportunity to regain his dignity and self-esteem.”

Before the two failed drug tests and assortment of outside-the-cage issues have kept him away from the Octagon during a sizable chunk of his prime, Jones was considered the greatest MMA fighter of all time. He held the UFC light heavyweight title from 2011 to 2016 and never lost in competition. Jones had his title stripped following a felony hit-and-run arrest.

Jones (22-1, 1 NC) has still not truly lost in earnest inside the cage. His only defeat came against Matt Hamill in 2009 due to disqualification.

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