Jon Jones defiant after failed drug test forces UFC 232 move to LA

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FILE - In this Nov. 2, 2018, file photo, Jon Jones, left, pushes Alexander Gustafsson out of the way during a news conference about their light heavyweight bout at Madison Square Garden in New York. UFC 232 is on track to sell out the Forum in Inglewood just six days after the end-of-the-year show was moved from Las Vegas to Southern California. That is a testament to the quality of a card headlined by Jones' return to the UFC against Gustafsson. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez, File)

Jon Jones’ latest troubling drug test compelled the UFC to move an entire pay-per-view show from Nevada to California on six days’ notice, disrupting thousands of fans’ holiday plans and shrinking his fellow UFC 232 fighters’ paychecks.

Yet Jones believes he’s also a victim in this whole bizarre situation.

The former light heavyweight champion defiantly defended himself Thursday during a passionate, occasionally ridiculous performance at a news conference in a Los Angeles airport hotel. Jones, who has served two previous suspensions for failed drug tests, tested positive earlier this year for very low levels of a banned steroid, and the Nevada Athletic Commission wouldn’t license him to fight in UFC 232 in Las Vegas on Saturday night.

“Even though a lot of fans got hurt in this situation, we saved the event,” Jones told a rowdy crowd of his supporters. “Look at all the people that got to be here, all the people that are planning on ordering the fight around the world. The organization is doing everything they can to make it right. Changing the event instead of cancelling the event is the way of making this right.”

Two days before his title fight against Alexander Gustafsson at the Forum in Inglewood, California, Jones (22-1) apologized to fans for the enormous inconveniences caused by his latest trouble with the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.

Yet the troubled superstar also boorishly berated a reporter asking about his doping history and went on several lengthy rants about the unfairness of the entire situation, even suggesting the latest test should have been ignored.

“This probably shouldn’t have even been brought up,” Jones said. “It’s such a small amount that it has no effect. I think the professionals whether it’s USADA or the UFC are realizing, ‘Jon is kind of like a guinea pig in this situation.’ I was almost wronged in this situation. Even though (the substance) was in me, I think this is a way of fixing a wrong and making it right again by not cancelling this fight.”

After the Nevada Athletic Commission said it wanted to postpone Jones’ return until the latest test could be addressed in a hearing in January, the UFC took the extraordinary step of moving its entire year-end show 250 miles southwest to Inglewood, the suburb south of downtown Los Angeles.

Gustafsson (18-4) is fed up with Jones’ posturing ahead of the rematch of their highly competitive 2013 meeting, a narrow decision won by Jones. The Swedish contender declined the UFC‘s offer to delay the fight until March if he was uncomfortable with the late venue change.

Gustafsson on Thursday flatly labeled Jones as a cheater, saying he believes Jones knowingly took steroids.

“Whatever this guy is saying, it’s just (nonsense),” Gustafsson said. “He’s just terrible. This guy is terrible. I’m here to fight. I’m flexible. It’s all good, but we have friends, family coming into town, having plans. They have their budgets. They have to reschedule, re-plan everything, whatever. Whatever this guy is saying, you can’t take it serious. He’s just terrible, and he will eat it on Saturday night, I’m telling you.”

UFC 232 is an excellent card that also includes bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes’ move up to challenge featherweight champion Cris “Cyborg” Justino in arguably the biggest women’s fight in MMA history.

But Jones is the show’s most famous fighter and likely the biggest pay-per-view attraction. The UFC decided to stick with him after it determined that the levels of banned substance in Jones’ current tests were too low to be a considered a new positive test by USADA, which administers the UFC‘s anti-doping policy.

Thanks to the UFC‘s decision to keep Jones on the card, the other 25 fighters on the show and their coaches, employees and families had to alter their plans _ during a holiday week, no less. They’ll also end up making less money due to California’s state income tax and additional fees.

“It’s a really crummy situation, but we’ve got to focus on what’s important,” welterweight Michael Chiesa said. “The tax man always takes your money. I’m not too stressed about this right now. Dana said it best: we’re all taking losses right now. I’m not stoked on it.”

The UFC has helped out the fighters’ retinues with moving arrangements, but UFC President Dana White apparently doesn’t plan to compensate his fighters for their losses due to Jones’ troubles.

“Who’s going to pay my income tax in California?” asked White, who estimates the UFC lost $6 million by moving the show. “It is what it is. It’s either that or not fight, and nobody gets paid and nobody gets anything. We had to move it. It’s costing everybody more money.”

Jones has denied ever knowingly taking performance-enhancing substances, and his agent has suggested a tainted supplement caused the trouble. Jones hasn’t given an explanation for his failed doping tests, but his increasingly unrepentant comments on the subject suggest he’s tired of apologizing for something he didn’t do.

Jones has fought only twice since January 2015, with his career repeatedly derailed by a stunning array of misbehaviours including admitted cocaine use, a hit-and-run accident and a high-profile scuffle at a promotional event.

He has been out of action since July 2017, when he stopped Daniel Cormier to reclaim his light heavyweight title _ only to have it stripped due to a failed test for the same substance that triggered the most recent failure.

“I am in an interesting spot in the UFC,” Jones said. “I feel like I’m a polarizing athlete, and it’s just going to follow me. The way I deal with that is by waiting for USADA and now VADA (the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association) to continue doing their research with what’s going on in my body, and I think through their study I’ll be vindicated.”

 Dana White knew the UFC would take some pretty big hits, both financial and otherwise, when he moved its traditional end-of-the-year show from Las Vegas to Southern California on six days’ notice to keep Jon Jones on the card despite his latest positive drug test.

Some hits are more damaging than others, however. According to White, UFC 232 is going to sell out the famous Forum on Saturday night, even though tickets only went on sale Wednesday.

That’s a statement on Los Angeles’ passion for mixed martial arts, but it’s mostly a testament to the quality of a show that compelled fans to travel countless miles to Vegas _ and then about 250 miles more to LA.

UFC 232 is headlined by Jones’ return to the sport in a rematch with Alexander Gustafsson for the light heavyweight title. The penultimate bout is featherweight champion Cris “Cyborg” Justino’s superfight with bantamweight champ Amanda Nunes in perhaps the best matchup in women’s MMA history. The big-name undercard includes former UFC champions BJ Penn, Carlos Condit and Andrei Arlovski, along with former title contenders Chad Mendes and Cat Zingano.

With such an irresistible slate of fights, the UFC is closing out the year with style _ even if it’s under weird circumstances for the fans and fighters.

“It’s not an easy decision to make,” White said. “You’ve got to pull the trigger and you’ve got to make moves. You’re not going to make everybody happy. You can’t make every fan, every fighter happy. We did everything we could to make it better.”

Not every fighter will agree after getting a shrunken paycheque due to California’s state income tax. White flatly said the UFC won’t compensate the fighters for any lost income due to the move.

But the pay-per-view audience still gets a stacked show headlined by the first fight in nearly 1 1/2 years for Jones (22-1), the self-sabotaging superstar who tested positive for very low levels of an anabolic steroid earlier this year.

The result isn’t considered a failed doping test by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, but the Nevada Athletic Commission wanted a hearing on the matter in January. Its California counterpart had no such qualms, prompting the UFC‘s extraordinary move.

Jones has made innumerable mistakes outside the octagon, but that bad-boy persona combined with his brute brilliance in competition has made him irresistible to many fight fans. According to Jones, some root for his success, while others yearn for his failure with similar passion _ but both camps buy his fights.

Jones claims he thought about quitting the sport while he spent the past year pounding a heavy bag in his garage in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He reclaimed his light heavyweight title in July 2017 with a win over Daniel Cormier, only to lose it again due to another failed doping test.

“I was hated, and turning it all off is the easy way to deal with it,” said the 31-year-old Jones, who is fighting for only the third time in nearly four years of his athletic prime.

“Financially, I didn’t have to fight anymore. I could afford to delete my social media accounts and just ride off into the sunset. But I didn’t want to do that. I still want to compete and be the best.”

He returns to fight Gustafsson (18-4), who provided Jones with the toughest fight of his life in 2013. Jones won the decision, but was battered and humbled by the Swedish contender.

Gustafsson has stewed over the loss for years, and he was infuriated by Jones’ latest doping troubles. He labeled Jones a cheater Thursday and vowed to make the former champion “eat everything he says on Saturday night.”

“You put illegal stuff in your body, but it won’t help you this time,” Gustafsson said. “I’m ready to end this. I’ve learned how to dig deeper.”

The other championship bout at UFC 232 is every bit as compelling as the main event thanks to the bravery of Nunes (16-4), who is moving up 10 pounds to challenge the most feared women’s fighter in MMA history.

Justino (20-1) hasn’t lost a fight since 2005, battering every contender with her peerless power and athleticism. She has long been reluctant to fight Nunes because she is a fellow Brazilian, but changed her mind after Nunes repeatedly called her out.

“After everything she has said, I know that if I beat her now, nobody back (in Brazil) will look at me like I did the wrong thing,” Justino said. “She is asking for it, so she can get it now.”

Nunes scrapped her way to the top of the bantamweight division and subsequently battered Ronda Rousey into retirement. Although she is an obvious underdog, Nunes believes she can claim Cyborg’s mantle as the greatest female fighter.

“This is for the (title of the) baddest woman on the planet,” White said. “I love this fight. I’ve wanted this fight for a long time. Anytime you can put a fight together between two champions, I love that.”