Jon Jones, the best fighter ever, has finally beaten himself

Dan Wetzel
Columnist

Cocksure and full of crap, Jon Jones was talking about redemption in the days before his July return at UFC 214.

He was talking specifically about USADA, the anti-doping agency that had busted him for elevated estrogen levels before the July 2016 UFC 200 card. That led to a one-year suspension, the latest in a litany of personal failures that include recreational drug issues, a hit-and-run car accident involving a pregnant woman and a brief jail stint, all of which had derailed his spectacular career.

USADA was “beautiful” now, though, Jones said. The “No. 1 drug-testing agency in the world” full of “brilliant people.” Sure they’d caught and crushed him in 2016, but now that the suspension was over, he would be able to defeat Daniel Cormier, reclaim his light heavyweight championship and then point to USADA’s clean tests as proof he was legit all along.

“There will be no excuse for me winning, but my hard work, my heart, my faith and my belief,” Jones said. “I am so excited [that] USADA is full intact.”

As he said those words, those ridiculous, arrogant, empty words, he allegedly had a steroid pulsing through his body.

USADA informed Jones and the UFC on Tuesday of a “potential Anti-Doping Policy violation stemming from an in-competition sample collected following his weigh-in on July 28, 2017.” USADA offered no details, but TMZ reported it was turinabol.

As a repeat offender, Jones’ suspension could reach up to four years.

“It might be the end of his career,” UFC president Dana White said Tuesday. “It’s probably the end of his career.”

Jones has the right to appeal, including a testing of B-samples and all the due process he deserves. His camp expressed surprise at the positive test, but offered few details.

“We are all at a complete loss for words right now,” Jones’ team said in a statement. “Jon, his trainers, his nutritionists and his entire camp have worked tirelessly and meticulously the past 12 months to avoid this exact situation. We are having the samples tested again to determine the validity or source of contamination. Jon is crushed by this news and we are doing whatever we can as a team to support him.”

Jon Jones reacts after beating Daniel Cormier at UFC 214. (Getty)

It could take weeks or months to fully sort it out. White, while noting there is an official process to stripping a title belt, was already declaring Cormier, who suffered a vicious beating at 214, the rightful light heavyweight champion.

“I don’t even know what to say,” White said solemnly. “And I always know what to say.”

The most destructive fighter the UFC has ever known is also the most self-destructive fighter the UFC has ever known. Jones was supposed to be the Michael Jordan of this sport, a breakthrough star with as much crossover charisma as talent. He was the youngest champion ever. He had a Nike deal. He was outrageously exciting.

Now he’s just outrageous. At age 30, he’s about out of chances. Slow to accept responsibility, slow to acknowledge, perhaps even to himself, his actions, he’s pissed away almost everything.

“You look at what he could’ve been, what he could’ve done,” White said. “It’s sad.”

It’s confusing. Why? Why the PEDs? Unless USADA got this wrong, it makes no sense. At 6-foot-4, with speed and strength and skill, he was the one guy who seemingly never needed it. He was a born natural. Both his older brother (Arthur in Baltimore) and younger brother (Chandler in New England) are Super Bowl champions, yet he was the one they called gifted.

He was so good that Jones admitted he coasted on his talent, eventually losing his way with cocaine and marijuana, with boorish behavior and selfish actions.

“Somewhere along the way I got lost, man,” Jones said in July. “And I got caught up in my own [expletive], and having fun and partying and still winning. I just took it all for granted. I mean, I genuinely wanted to be an inspiration to other people and inspire people and be a role model. That was my original thought.”

Maybe the lies he told publicly are the lies he told privately. And maybe the only way to maintain the dominance he needed for the redemption to be real, for him to reclaim his title and remind the world of his power, was to cut corners.

Yet once the UFC outsourced its drug testing to USADA in 2015, giving it the most stringent program possible, there is nowhere to hide.

The 2016 positive came courtesy of a sexual-performance pill, at least as Jones explained it. USADA agreed, although it still suspended him. Jones bawled his eyes out and apologized to everyone. He then bristled at the suggestion that he was a cheater. He was just sloppy, he said – which, even if true, was inexplicable considering the money at stake.

“To have the world try to delegitimize 10 years of being undefeated … it really hurt, it really hurt,” Jones said in July.

Now it’s a potential second positive test and no one is going to buy any more excuses. Jones is being labeled a cheat, but not merely from PEDs. He cheated the UFC out of cards and fans out of memories and opponents out of chances. Through it all, he mostly cheated himself, cheated his own potential.

White said he was working on a deal to put Jones up against heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic at UFC 2018 in Detroit this December. It would have been a huge night, Jones stepping up in weight to attempt to capture a second belt. Now it’s gone, with nothing even remotely as interesting to replace it.

Gone, too, is any hope for a Jon Jones-Brock Lesnar mega-fight, or Jones inventing new ways to win at light heavyweight or Jones doing much of anything. So desperate for acceptance, so determined for a return to glory, he brought it all down on himself these past few years.

“The potential this kid had,” White said, shaking his head.

It turned out Jon Jones, who never could be stopped, stopped himself.

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