On Tuesday, just days removed from his dominant title defense against former Olympian Daniel Cormier, UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones surprised many in the MMA community by checking himself into a drug rehabilitation clinic. The move came after a December 4, 2014 drug screening by the Nevada State Athletic Commission revealed benzoylecgonine, the primary metabolite of cocaine.
While the UFC issued a short statement, little is known about how the promotion intends to proceed or what will happen to Jones in the aftermath. While jokes have flowed freely through social media, solid information has not. What follows are some of the facts and information about UFC's code of conduct and Nevada's drug testing policies and procedures.
Why Wasn't Jones Punished and the Fight Stopped?
Nevada, following the guidance of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) makes a distinction between in-competition and out-of-competition use.
While performance enhancers like steroids are banned at all times, cocaine and most recreational drugs are banned only in-competition. WADA defines in-competition as:
the period commencing twelve hours before a Competition in which the athlete is scheduled to participate through the end of such Competition and the Sample collection process related to such Competition.
Since Jones was tested almost a month before his fight with Cormier, his test failure was out-of-competition and not punishable based on WADA standards. This is different than other fighters, like the UFC's Nick Diaz, who failed drug screenings for recreational drugs while in-competition.
In fact, according to Nevada Athletic Commission (NSAC) Executive Director Bob Bennett, Jones should not have been tested for cocaine at all. He told MMA Fighting's Ariel Helwani the test was "an anomaly."
According to Bennett, when Jones was tested again on December 18, cocaine was not one of the drugs screened. Yahoo's Kevin Iole, however, posted a copy of the December 18 test that shows Nevada did indeed screen Jones for narcotics on that date. He did not test positive for benzoylecgonine.
Wait, Is There Really Nothing Nevada Could Have Done?
Iole wrote "The Nevada commission did nothing because it had no legal authority to do anything. Period." Based on the WADA standard explained above, you can see how that would be an easy mistake to make.
But Nevada allows the Athletic Commission great leeway. In fact, Nevada code allows the Athletic Commission to revoke a fighter's license for:
cause deemed sufficient by the Commission upon a hearing as provided for in NRS 467.113.
The state likely could have stopped the fight had they desired to based on this catch-all provision. Of course, Nevada is the same state that allowed Floyd Mayweather to delay his jail sentence in order to fight Miguel Cotto in 2012. Combat sports are big business in Nevada, capable of injecting upwards of $100 million into the local community with each major bout.
Can Nevada Punish Jones For His Failed Test?
Though they can't punish Jones under their provisions against drug use because his failure wasn't "in-competition," the state does allow the Athletic Commission to discipline a fighter for a wide variety of reasons:
The Commission may suspend or revoke the license of, otherwise discipline or take any combination of such actions against a licensee who has, in the judgment of the Commission:
1. Violated the laws of Nevada, except for minor traffic violations;
2. Violated any provision of this chapter;
3. Provided false or misleading information to the Commission or a representative of the Commission;
4. Failed or refused to comply with a valid order of a representative of the Commission;
5. Conducted himself or herself at any time or place in a manner which is deemed by the Commission to reflect discredit to unarmed combat (emphasis added);
6. Knowingly dealt or consorted with any person who:
(a) Has been convicted of a felony;
(b) Engages in illegal bookmaking;
(c) Engages in any illegal gambling activity;
(d) Is a reputed underworld character;
(e) Is under suspension from any other Commission; or
(f) Is engaged in any activity or practice that is detrimental to the best interests of unarmed combat; or
7. Had personal knowledge that an unarmed combatant suffered a serious injury during training for a contest or exhibition and failed or refused to inform the Commission about that serious injury.
Bennett told the Los Angeles Times that punishment was indeed an option for Jones:
“The commission will address this [out-of-competition] anomaly. That is an issue we will take up and [fighter discipline] is certainly an option available to the commission.”
Last year the Commission gave boxer Adrien Broner a warning for remarks they said "brought discredit" to the sport, citing paragraph five in the regulation. In the end, Broner wasn't fined or suspended. Jones, too, may likely get off with a warning.
The controversy does offer Nevada an opportunity to clarify their stance on out-of-competition testing and make more clear what drugs will be screened and what punishments are potentially in play. Right now there is no precedent for how they will proceed. The Jones case, at the very least, should change that.
What Can the UFC Do?
Violations of the UFC's Code of Conduct can result in discipline to include:
fines, suspension and cessation of service and may include conditions to be satisfied prior to the resolution of the incident.
Determination of the appropriate discipline for an incident will be based on the nature of the misconduct and other relevant factors.
The standard UFC fighter's contract also includes broad language requiring the athlete to:
maintain a high standard of sportsmanship and conduct themselves in a professional manner prior to, during, and following each Bout.
The UFC has set these baseline standard for fighter conduct, but how they handle missteps seems to vary greatly depending on the fighter. It's safe to say the UFC's decision whether or not to punish Jones is a complete mystery.
The danger here is the creation of a two-tiered system of justice. There is a perception that the UFC harshly penalizes undercard fighters while letting the superstars who bring in pay-per-view buys and plenty of media attention slide by despite similar infractions.
That kind of double-standard doesn't sit well with many in 2015.
Why Are Athletic Commissions Testing For Cocaine?
While cocaine is not considered a performance enhancer by WADA, it's use during any athletic pursuit has proven extremely dangerous. A study in the International Journal of Cardiology (via The Chicago Tribune) showed:
Cocaine is a potent stimulant that makes your heart beat faster. Low doses of cocaine usually do not cause significant irregular heart beats, while higher doses often do. This study shows that a low dose of cocaine can cause irregular heart beats during exercise. Cocaine augments the effects of the body's own natural stimulants, which raise blood pressure and makes the heart beat faster, stronger and more irregularly.
The NSAC's mission is to "ensure the health and safety of the contestants." While Jones' drug use likely didn't place his opponent in any additional danger, he did likely place himself at the risk of great harm. Though it has been nearly 30 years, the death of basketball star Len Bias still resonates in the sports world.
Jones has created quite a conundrum for the NSAC and the UFC. While not technically in violation of the Commission's policy, it doesn't quite feel right to simply let him off the hook. At the same time, calls to punish him severely for behavior that is basically unrelated to his job as a fighter seem too harsh.
The Nevada Athletic Commission will meet on Monday. Among the items on the agenda:
15. Discussion and possible action regarding the Commission’s out-of-competition drug testing program, for possible action.
It's likely we will all know much more about what's next for Jones then. Our own Jeremy Botter will be in attendance and will have the latest information as soon as it's available.