Jon Jones will be officially licensed Wednesday to compete at UFC 239 by the Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC), commission executive director Bob Bennett told ESPN. Jones, who has been in an ongoing fight to clear his name of doping questions, will defend the UFC light heavyweight title against Thiago Santos in the main event of the July 6 card in Las Vegas.
In January, the NSAC granted Jones a conditional, one-fight license to face Anthony Smith at UFC 235 in March. Jones had to submit to increased drug-testing for that bout, which he ultimately won by unanimous decision.
Bennett said that Jones, having fulfilled his obligations to the NSAC, will be licensed for the rest of the year Wednesday. Jones has been drug-tested nearly 30 times since January, Bennett said, between the NSAC, Voluntary Anti-Doping Agency (VADA) and the UFC’s anti-doping partner USADA. Jones will not be present at Wednesday’s hearing in Las Vegas.
“He’s been a consummate professional and given his full cooperation,” Bennett said.
There have still been trace amounts of a long-term steroid metabolite found in Jones’ system in recent tests, Bennett said. It is the same metabolite Jones first tested positive for nearly two years ago. Scientists testified in front of the NSAC in January that they believe it is likely Jones has not re-ingested the steroid, but that the long-term metabolite is still lingering in his body at the picogram level, being picked up by increasingly sensitive drug analysis.
USADA had ruled in December that Jones was already suspended for that positive test for the steroid metabolite and should not be sanctioned a second time for the same infraction. The NSAC commissioners followed suit.
Jones, 31, tested positive for a metabolite of the anabolic steroid dehydrochlormethyltestosterone (DHCMT) stemming from an in-competition sample collected in relation to his title fight with Daniel Cormier at UFC 214 in July 2017. Jones’ win over Cormier was overturned to a no contest, he forfeited his title back to Cormier and was later suspended 15 months by USADA after arbitration.
Jones, who has maintained that he never knowingly took a prohibited substance, was eligible to return to the UFC last fall and scheduled to fight Alexander Gustafsson at UFC 232 last December. But several drug tests last fall turned up trace amounts of the M3 long-term metabolite of DHCMT, prompting the Nevada commission to hold off on licensing Jones before a public hearing.
After the NSAC’s decision and on six days’ notice, the UFC decided to pull its entire card headlined by Jones vs. Gustafsson from Las Vegas to Inglewood, California. The California State Athletic Commission (CSAC) had already licensed Jones and was more familiar with his doping case than Nevada, because California is where it originated at UFC 214.
Jones beat Gustafsson by third-round TKO and was licensed by the NSAC at a hearing Jan. 29. Experts testified at that hearing that the peer-reviewed science on the M3 metabolite was outdated and the fact that only the long-term metabolite — not a parent compound or shorter-term metabolite — has ever been found in Jones means that it’s likely this is from the same ingestion two years ago or more. In addition, experts testified that Jones was getting no performance-enhancing benefits from the trace amounts.
As a condition of licensing, Jones had to enroll with increased drug testing from NSAC, VADA on behalf of the CSAC, and USADA.
“He’s legitimately, I think, the most tested athlete in professional sports in the world right now,” UFC vice president of athlete health and performance Jeff Novitzky told ESPN. “At least these last six months.”
Novitzky, who has been involved in sports doping cases since 2002, first as a federal agent, said the frequency with which Jones is being tested means that there’s almost no way he could be re-ingesting the steroid.
“You’re reaching a point now where he’s tested so frequently that if he was continuing to ingest it, either purposely or accidentally, you would one-thousand percent be seeing parent compounds, as well as short- and mid-term [metabolites],” Novitzky said. “Because he’s literally tested every week and you never see that.”
The advanced drug-testing analysis is of concern to Novitzky, he said, because it could be starting to show substances ingested by athletes two to three years in the past, or more. UFC bantamweight prospect Sean O’Malley is going through something similar right now with the prohibited substance ostarine and several UFC fighters have had this happen with the M3 long-term steroid metabolite, including featherweight prospect Grant Dawson.
“I think everybody has to have an open mind to this and not just jump all over these athletes, because something is appearing in picogram amounts,” Novitzky said. “You’ve gotta take a look at each case on its own facts and merits and take it from there.”
Jones first ran afoul of USADA and the Nevada commission when he tested positive for two banned anti-estrogen agents in relation to UFC 200 in July 2016. Jones was pulled from a title fight with Cormier at the time and suspended by both bodies for one year.