Imagine, for a moment, you’re Daniel Cormier.
You’ve submitted to more than 70 drug tests during your career, in all corners of the world, at all times of the day and night. You’ve passed all of them, and there’s never been a question about it.
You’ve never made a mistake by putting something into your body that you didn’t know for certain what it was and whether it conformed with the rules. You never had to explain how something that shouldn’t have been there found its way into your system.
You are known for doing the right thing, for lifting your sport by competing with grace, dignity and integrity, by handling yourself well in even the most difficult of circumstances.
You go to work, a job that essentially enables you to spread the gospel of the sport you love, and discover that your biggest rival, a guy who’s made nearly as many apology speeches as he has title defenses, has gotten away with it again.
Cormier would be right to be angry, to be frustrated, to feel the system doesn’t work viewing Jon Jones’ situation from his point of view. But there are always multiple sides to the same story, and Jones’ side is compelling, if not nearly 180 degrees different, than Cormier’s.
Imagine for a second that you’re Jones.
You’ve had plenty of mistakes, but you own up to them. You admit to using cocaine, even though you’d previously insisted publicly that it was a one-time thing and you didn’t like it. You admit to your role in a hit-and-run auto accident that harmed a pregnant woman.
You pour out your guts to the world and admit all your failings and weaknesses, but you swear that the one thing you never have done is knowingly take a banned substance in a bid to boost your performance in the Octagon.
You’re regarded by many as the greatest mixed martial arts fighter of all time, yet this second drug-test failure has suddenly brought that into question. And that’s where you draw the line. You’ve admitted to everything else, but you vigorously deny cheating.
Those wins? They were a result of your God-given gifts, of long hours in the gym and a willingness to push through unimaginable pain and suffering in order to have your right hand raised every time on fight night.
Being labeled a cheater is a personal affront.
Cormier vs. Jones: A feud for the ages
Jones and Cormier have a feud that was born of competition. They’re alpha males who are several rungs up the ladder ahead of everyone else, competing vigorously to be regarded as the best.
Cormier is a great athlete; one doesn’t make two Olympic teams, including being the captain of one, without being an elite, world-class athlete. Cormier’s MMA career, in which he’s one of only five men to hold UFC titles in two weight classes and one of only two to hold the belts simultaneously, is further testament of that.
Jones, though, seems as if he were put on this Earth to fight. He’s 23-1 and the only loss was a disqualification in a fight he was about to win impressively. He’s 9-0 in UFC title fights and had one, a knockout of Cormier, overturned because of a failed drug test, that would make him 10-0 in championship bouts.
Most of those bouts haven’t been close.
Jones has succeeded in spite of, not because of his lifestyle away from the cage. He’s had multiple DUIs. He failed a test for cocaine prior to his first bout with Cormier, a dominant unanimous decision.
That wasn’t a one-off, as he had insisted in media interviews. In the arbitrator’s report released publicly Wednesday, Jones conceded additional usage of street drugs, including cocaine, that forced him to enter drug rehabilitation.
Cormier found himself in an odd position, because as one of the sport’s leading television analysts – perhaps the finest MMA analyst working today – he’s had to comment on his chief rival’s biggest missteps.
But while the DUIs are all on Jones, an independent arbitrator found that Jones did not knowingly take a performance-enhancing drug in either situation where he failed a test.
He cooperated with investigators to such a degree that even though the source of the turinabol metabolite that was in his system on the July 28, 2017, could never be determined, USADA reduced his penalty from 48 months to 18 months and then the arbitrator dropped it from 18 months to 15 because of the cooperation.
This is where it gets tricky. Chad Mendes, for example, was suspended for two years even though he did not knowingly take PEDs. He was treating a skin condition he’s had for much of his life and the substance he was using had an ingredient on the banned list.
He didn’t get the leeway that Jones did and that has raised eyebrows. Social media is abuzz with people who insist that if Jones were some lower-level fighter he’d have gotten four years, but is being allowed back 33 months early because he’s a cash cow for the UFC.
The problem with that theory is that equity needs to be done. If one did not attempt to cheat and can prove contamination, he or she shouldn’t suffer the full penalty that a fighter who was looking for an edge is given.
Jones’ reduced suspension proves anti-doping efforts are working
It’s tough for the many UFC fighters such as Cormier to stomach, but Jones’ issue with alcohol and cocaine are separate from his issues with performance-enhancing drugs. It should be noted that even though the arbitrator went to great lengths in Jones’ first PED case to write that he didn’t think Jones intentionally cheated, he was still given the full one-year penalty.
In the second case, he was given a significant break.
Isn’t that what we want, though, when a fighter is not a cheater but a victim of circumstance? The purpose of the anti-doping system is to weed out the cheaters and make it a level playing field for all. Skill and toughness, and not science and chemistry, should win.
It’s hard not to feel for Cormier, who has done everything right and has been tortured by seeing the breaks that Jones has gotten in his UFC career.
But having the testing makes the sport safer for all fighters. It’s never going to be perfect, but it’s far better than telling fighters not to take PEDs and then hope they comply.
Fighters need to be more vigilant now than ever. When they purchase supplements, they should keep some unopened from the same lot so that in the event of an unexpected positive test, they can have the unopened bottle as evidence.
They need to spend a significant amount of time researching what is in their supplements and in their medicine and, if they travel to places like Mexico or China, their food.
It’s no fun, but it’s the price that must be paid for those who are really looking to cheat.
They’re the ones the clean fighters should be angry at, because if not for them, there wouldn’t be a need for year-round, random testing. Jones needs to get a better handle on what he puts into his body, because another similar incidence is going to look extremely suspicious.
That there is a need for drug testing at all is because so many are unlike Cormier and will look for any advantage they can get to win.
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