Nevada grants Jon Jones one-fight license for March 2 title defense vs. Anthony Smith

Kevin IoleCombat columnist
Jon Jones defeated Alexander Gustafsson at UFC 232 less than a week after his <span>anti-doping sample</span> revealed a trace amount of the banned anabolic steroid oral turinabol. (Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
Jon Jones defeated Alexander Gustafsson at UFC 232 less than a week after his anti-doping sample revealed a trace amount of the banned anabolic steroid oral turinabol. (Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

LAS VEGAS — Jon Jones got a one-fight license by a unanimous vote of the five members of the Nevada State Athletic Commission on Tuesday, allowing his March 2 light heavyweight title defense against Anthony Smith in the main event of UFC 235 at T-Mobile Arena to go on as planned.

But Jones went through a lengthy, broad hearing. He ultimately was cleared to fight in large part because of the testimony of Dr. Daniel Eichner, the executive director of the WADA-accredited Sports Medicine Research & Testing Laboratory in Salt Lake City, Utah.

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As part of the deal to get the one-fight license, Jones again agreed to more enhanced testing. He will be tested at least twice in the 40 days leading up to the fight and likely more, commission chairman Anthony Marnell III said.

At issue were a series of adverse findings for M3, the long-term metabolite of the banned anabolic steroid oral turinabol on anti-doping tests he submitted. Eichner and Dr. Matthew Fedoruk, the science director of USADA, described the positive tests as “a pulsing effect,” that appears randomly in an anti-doping test but which is not evidence of recent usage.

Because oral turinabol is not an FDA-approved drug, no studies can be conducted to determine how long the M3 metabolite will continue to appear in a person’s system. The metabolite is not the drug itself and provides no performance-enhancing effects.

Grigory Rodchenkov, a Russian microbiologist, did research earlier this decade in Moscow that discovered the M3 metabolite and how long it remains in a person’s system after ingesting turinabol.

Precisely why it remains so long is not known. Eichner said studies have found that meldonium has a very short half-life but that it can be detected in the urine for a very long time. He said researchers found meldonium sequestered itself in red blood cells and when the red blood cells died after approximately 100 days, other red blood cells picked up the drug again.

He said that he did not know for certain if that is what is happening with turinabol, but used the example as a way to try to explain its reappearance despite the lack of the presence of the parent compound of turinabol in Jones’ system.

Fedoruk testified that there is nothing in Jones’ steroid passport or blood passport that indicate the presence of anabolic agents.

Jones did not take questions following the hearing, but gave a brief statement and said he would answer questions following a planned UFC 235 news conference in Las Vegas on Thursday.

“I just want to make a quick statement to say thank you so much to USADA, to the Nevada State Athletic Commission, my team, the UFC and many of the fans and everyone for sticking by me throughout this process,” Jones said. “[They allowed me] to say my piece and to go through this process that has proven my innocence. I’m super grateful to be back fighting in Nevada. I’m excited for March 2 and it’s going to be a magnificent event. I’m really looking forward to all of the testing and getting back in front of the fans and putting on great fights.”

Nevada commissioners repeatedly expressed concern that Jones would receive no performance-enhancing benefit as a result of the M3 metabolite showing up in his system and that this wasn’t indicative of new usage.

What is unchallenged is that Jones at some point in his life ingested oral turinabol, either knowingly or through some other means such as a contaminated supplement. Jones was penalized 15 months by USADA after an adverse test the day before UFC 214 in Anaheim, California, in 2017, after an arbitrator found he did not knowingly take the anabolic steroid.

But in his report, arbitrator Richard McLaren noted that the source of the turinabol could not be discovered.

Eichner, who began his testimony by saying “I have no horse in this race,” reiterated statements he’d made in the past when, under questioning from commissioners, he was asked if there was evidence of any recent usage of turinabol by Jones.

Commissioner Dr. Robert McBeath asked Eichner if it were correct that Jones has never tested positive for a parent, short-term or intermediate-term metabolite of turinabol.

“All the data I’ve been provided for review, only the long-term metabolite has been present,” Eichner said.

There was a concern about a 10-month gap in testing, from October 2017 through August of 2018, when Jones was under suspension for the UFC 214 violation and whether he might have been using turinabol during that time.

Jones had picogram levels of the M3 metabolite show in tests conducted on Aug. 28, 2018; Sept. 18, 2018; and Dec. 9, 2018, but all that proved was that at some point, turinabol entered his system.

When Jones was asked by attorney Paul Greene whether he had ever taken oral turinabol, he said, “No.” Asked then by Greene if he had any idea how it showed up in his body, he said, “No.”

The commission decided to give Jones a one-fight license, but required him to be tested at a minimum of twice a month for the rest of the year. In addition, it demanded the results from any test any other agency gave him, such as USADA or the Voluntary Anti-Doping Agency, as soon as possible.

Jones defeated Alexander Gustafsson in Inglewood, California, on Dec. 29 in a fight that was supposed to be in Las Vegas. But Nevada commissioners didn’t learn of it until Dec. 21, and many were out of town for the holidays. They didn’t stand in the way of the UFC moving the event to California because the California commission had been handling Jones’ case and had given him a license earlier in December.

Jones won the title which was vacated by Daniel Cormier by stopping Gustafsson in the third round of a scheduled five-rounder.

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