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Does positive drug test signal the end for Jon Jones?

“Suck one” is the message Jon Jones tweeted to his ‘haters’ last week; a sentiment he has shared throughout his career with anyone who suggests  he is not a clean fighter.

However, the UFC star may have incriminated himself during a recent California State Athletic Commission (CSAC) hearing.

Awaiting punishment for a failed drug test, the former champion admitted to having his management forge signatures on documents relating to anti-doping enforcement.

At the age of 30, and with his career dogged by plenty of other controversies, Jones’s time among MMA’s elite might well be ended by a lengthy ban.

This latest episode relates to a positive urine sample he submitted prior to his eagerly anticipated rematch with Daniel Cormier at UFC 214 of last year.

Appearing before a panel of six CSAC commissioners, Jones appeared visibly nervous.

Having only returned from a 12-month drugs suspension last summer, he’s all too familiar with being on the ropes (to use a boxing metaphor).

The hearing resulted in his licence being revoked, but Jones was told he can re-apply for in a year. To get it back, Commissioner Shen-Urquidez said the CSAC would need to see evidence of rehabilitation.

However, Jones also has to answer to the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), which might well decide that he deserves a ban of up to four years.

So how exactly how did metabolites of the anabolic steroid turanibol get into his urine?

Sitting in front of his manager, wearing a plain white polo and the look of ‘It wasn’t me’, Jones requested that he begin with a statement before stumbling and quickly changing his mind.

“I’m sorry it’s just… where do I start?” he asked plaintively.

Instead, Team Jones decided his attorney Howard Jacobs would ask him a series of questions about the weeks leading up to and following the test.

“You can call me many things; a party boy, a wild man, a knucklehead… but being a cheater is something I’ll never admit to,” the two-time UFC light-heavyweight title-holder said. “[It’s]…something I’ll never say that I am.”

Controversy

Jones has been before his fair share of these panels. His rap sheet also includes hitting a pregnant woman in his car and then fleeing the scene in April 2015.

There’s no doubting he is a substantial talent, but one that’s been hampered over the years by a severe lack in judgement.

The youngest of the three brothers, his talent undoubtedly has strong genetic foundations; his siblings are both NFL players.

A supreme athlete and technician inside the cage, Jones finds the perfect balance between crazy and calculated, speed and strength. He has is possessed by an overwhelming and incessant urge to win.

Having never been beaten in the octagon, aside from a disqualification to Matt Hamill, perhaps aligning himself with the laws of the land was always going to be his greatest challenge.

Jones and Mr Jacobs shared a fairly unconvincing back and forth, outlining the dubious precautions that his team took in the lead-up to the Cormier fight, before handing over to the panel.

The cross examination indicated quite clearly the commission’s wishes. They wanted to see Jones point towards an explanation, some sort of reasoning as to why he tested positive – if conscious consumption of the substance was as ridiculous as he suggested.

Jones failed to make a compelling case, however. At one point even suggesting sabotage from inside his circle. Surely not?

His answer to most of the questions was to repeatedly deny ever taking the drug, citing “common sense” as his key disposition. Although CSAC executive officer Andy Foster expressed sympathy, he made his point well with a pithy“…and yet, here we are.”

Interrogation

In hindsight, Jones’s testimony was destined for a squeeze into submission the moment commissioner Martha Shen-Urquidez’s took the mic.

She began her questioning with a polite “Good morning, Mr Jones,” accompanied by a wry smile.

What followed was a damning assessment on what she described at one point as “a continual lack of diligence and responsibility”.

Clearly having done her homework, the commissioner pitched hard balls for the best part of 30 minutes.

“The UFC gave you a Bentley. Which you wrapped round a utility pole. Correct?”

Oh, Jon. I’d actually forgotten about that one.

She even had the UFC’s unconquerable talent admit to having never disclosed 10 supplements to USADA, despite him signing a document specifying that he had. The supplements only came to light when submitted for banned substance testing, post-positive test.

“You’re saying all 10 supplement weren’t listed? Probably like fish oil and protein?” said Jones.

“… and endura, melalite and…” continued Shen-Urquidez.

“Very healthy things people should take,”  Jones mumbled nervously.

Incrimination

The last line of a shaky defence crumbled when a thread of questioning intended to rob Jones of his ‘USADA-oblivious narrative’, led to the assertion that Jones, in fact, took part in an online USADA training programme.

His response was: “I’m going to be honest with you guys. I never did that. My management did that for me.”

Cut to Jones’s manager sat behind him, now looking rather uncomfortable.

“I’m just here to be super honest and open with you guys,” he added.

When Jones was asked to clarify whether the signature had been forged on his behalf, he confirmed this.

His intention seemed to be to over-compensate with honesty in the hope it would equate to leniency from the commission. But with the definitive USADA hearing into his case to be held within the next few weeks, this strategy was questionable.

Despite imposing a maximum fine of $205,000 and revoking his licence, ultimately the Commission’s verdict seemed to be that of faith in USADA’s process and final judgement.

It will be the second time the Agency and Jones have collided in as many years, typically meaning the doubling of a previous sentence. Which in this case would suggest a four-year suspension in the prime of his career.

Would a 34-year-old Jones be able to reclaim his mantle?

It is, however, USADA policy that mitigating and aggravating factors are considered in a case of this nature. However, it’s hard to imagine Jones’s admission to having had his management complete his online training has helped his cause.

Change

“Have you considered a change in management?”

It was clear from the commission’s comments that any sign of character rehabilitation would’ve gone a long way.

Instead when questioned on the subject, Jones appeared lost in the line of questioning. Commissioner John Carvelli echoed that point and suggested a crack in his foundations.https://www.google.co.uk/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=2ahUKEwifzduJ98vZAhUHBMAKHRX9D5sQjB16BAgAEAU&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.reviewjournal.com%2Fsports%2Fmma-ufc%2Fformer-ufc-champ-jon-jones-license-revoked-in-california%2F&psig=AOvVaw2YdZOhNaN5t-4nUW4KnkZA&ust=1520016345175429

“You’ve been asked time and time again to show evidence of changes you’ve made based on the things that keep happening to you. I see no changes.

“Have you considered a change in management?”

Jones turned to his manager and joked about his sacking.

“Yes, I have actually. A few times.”

Jones’ flippant nature seems to be the bedrock of his problems. His lack of preparation and whimsical approach may well have buried his career this time.

An inability to see past the end of his nose and take responsibility for his actions may have cost him the “immortality” we hear him speak of increasingly.

Talk of heavyweight title fighting has cooled and a ‘super fight’ with Brock Lesnar may now just be an opportunity missed.

But rest assured that Jones’ ‘the fairies did it’ argument won’t hold up in front of USADA.

‘I just want people to see me as a good fighter, not a disabled one’

Despite having cerebral palsy, mixed martial arts fighter Jack West aims to turn professional at the end of the year. By which point he says, his doubters will have been forced to accept him.

At the BST MMA Gym in the heart of Northampton town centre is where you’ll find ‘The T-Rex’ five nights a week, practising his skills and gaining respect with each passing fight.

As we sit bare footed on wrestling mats, the thud of blows being landed on a chained heavy bag resonates through a space whose sweat-soaked atmosphere captures years of primal aggression being channelled into physical prowess.

The man responsible for the noise is Jack’s main coach, former World Cage Warriors and British Tae Kwon Do champion Danny Batten, snapping a series of unrelenting low kicks into 180lbs of leather and sand.

West tells me: “My coaches and training partners are the best about. Technically, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone better in the country.”

Physical pain

As well as being his coach, Batten also plays the role of sparring partner from time to time.

Attesting to his ferocious abilities, West speaks of the pain he often endures after training.

“With my condition, I have restricted use of my right side with little range of motion. It’ll usually cause me pain after training, but I’ve never known any different.

“Submission wise, because I don’t have full extension of my right arm, anything on that side I’ll tap to immediately, unlike my left arm where I could possibly twist and wriggle out. I’m not going to risk it.”

‘People don’t want to fight me, and I get it. It’s a lose-lose situation for them’

Despite being born with a hemiplegia of the right side, West has managed to make a name for himself in the amateur ranks of MMA.

With a record of three wins and one loss so far, it’s hard to deny his talent, although some try to.

“People don’t want to fight me, and I get it. It’s a lose-lose situation for them. Losing means they got beat by the guy with cerebral palsy. Win, and it’s only a guy with cerebral palsy. There’s little to gain from their side.”

His solution to this problem? “If I keep working, at some point I’m going to be of the skill level where they’re forced to accept me.

“When I turn pro, I’m going to be there through ability not sympathy, and they’re going to have to fight me.”

Currently, there is no MMA organisation that has disabled-specific platforms for fighters. As a result, West has always trained and fought with abled-bodied competitors and says he’d not have it any other way.

“I don’t want to be known as a disabled fighter. I want people to say ‘he’s a good fighter’ regardless. I want people to see me as a good fighter in spite of my disability.”

Overcoming the odds

Ahead of meeting West, I was slightly nervous and unsure as to how I’d approach the topic of his disability. Rightly or wrongly, I adopted a position of sympathy.

My perception shifted dramatically when after a toilet break, I returned with two packets of dry roasted peanuts for us.

After passing West his and then woefully attempting to open mine, I felt a sudden rush of anxiety and thought ‘I should’ve opened the bloody nuts myself.’ I looked up to find him making light work of the wrapping, utilising his teeth and self-proclaimed ‘piston’ of a left hand.

“I call it the money-maker,” he tells me in jest.

“I know that sounds silly, but my condition is something other fighters don’t have. When we step inside the octagon together, I’m beating you even with cerebral palsy. I have an obstacle to climb that you don’t.

“I’m as good a fighter as anybody that I’ve stepped in there against. I have obvious disadvantages, but I make up for them in other ways. Fighting is what I’m best at.”

Researching cerebral palsy threw up a list of problems associated with the condition including poor co-ordination, stiff and weak muscles, bad posture, problems with balance –  all things you’d assume mitigate against a successful career in combat sports.

West is, however, made of sterner stuff. “Everything you’ve said there is true, but I’m overcoming it.

“I’m just as capable as everyone else. When I first started in MMA, that was exactly what it was – showing I’m just as physically capable as you lot.

“I’m actually good at sport. I can’t kick a ball to save my life, but I’m a good goalkeeper!”

Anxious

Having joined a boxing class with friends at the age of 13, West continued even after his mates lost interest. He then transitioned in MMA and found his “calling”.

“I loved thinking I was the man,” he tells me. “Playing sport (at school) people would say ‘sit down’ or whatever but I knew my potential. I knew I was strong.”

‘I’m not scared, and my mum sees that. She sees that I love it’

Now, if you were to ask most parents which sport they’d least like their child to show an interest in, MMA would probably be right up there. Add in a serious birth defect, and West admits his mother was initially extremely anxious about her son’s passion for fighting.

“When I began training at 13, obviously like most mums she was worried. Like most people, she was unaware that there is an art to mixed martial arts.

“Soon enough, she stopped worrying and just watched. Now she’s a fan of the sport.

“It’s like, if she saw I was scared, then she would be, too. But I’m not scared, and she sees that. She sees that I love it.”

No limits?

Although Jack’s situation is rare, he’s not the first disabled mixed martial artist to fight inside the cage.

Nick Newell, formerly of America’s XFX fight organisation, tasted success when he defeated Eric Reynolds to become champion of the world in their 155lb division, despite being born with a congenital amputation ending below the elbow on his left arm.

Newell is a hero to West, who takes much inspiration from his example.

“He’s someone I look up to massively. We’ve actually exchanged emails on various occasions and he’s wished me luck for upcoming fights and stuff.

“When I was younger, it was a dream of mine to fight him. I’d still love to. We’re basically the same weight.”

In 2015, Newell retired from MMA despite winning a unanimous decision in his final fight. West explained how following the American’s career opened his eyes to his own limitations.

“There’s a ceiling. It’s important to not be deluded about this. He knows, like I know, that there’s a limit to what we can do with our disabilities, and I think he’d reached his.”

Two fights prior to his retirement, Newell lost a bout to Justin Gaethje, a top fighter who currently poses a challenge to UFC superstar Conor McGregor’s lightweight crown. West remembers it vividly.

“It was tough to watch. He obviously took a proper beating, but it goes to show that there really is a gap, and that’s cool.

“I’m not ever going to get lost in the emotion of it and think ‘I’m going to be the next UFC lightweight champion’ or anything. I know what I’ve got.”

Newell held an impressive 9-1 professional record, with nearly all of his victories coming via submission. I, like most, interpreted this as Newell recognising his disadvantage on the feet (having one arm significantly shorter than the other). West’s victories, however, have come via KOs and TKOs.

“Stand-up fighting is what I’m best at. I hit hard, I know that. Everything I’m doing is setting you up to land my big left hand.

“I don’t want to use the ground and for people say I’m just using it because I can’t stand. I’m a good striker and they learn that quickly.”

Perspective

A habitual reader and appreciator of philosophy, West’s outlook and demeanour took me back, admittedly. Articulacy accompanied by a defiant aura, I had no qualms in telling him I felt he’d go far.

“That whole philosophy that Conor McGregor holds of ‘believe in your surroundings’ is one that I share and agree with wholeheartedly. This is a gift.

“You have to love yourself, and every part of you.”

I end our interview by asking where he sees himself in the near future.

“I’m looking to turn professional at the end of the year,” he replies.

“Then from there, I can hand on my heart say I’m going to be world champion. I believe that, absolutely.

“When I retire, maybe I’d like to start something to help others in my situation. I’ve been approached before about teaching a disabled class. That’s something I’d love to do in the future.

“Right now, I’m fighting.”