LAS VEGAS — I wanted to believe Jon Jones.
When we sat down in Los Angeles last week to talk about his life and career heading into UFC 200, he was like a movie producer scripting out his improbable comeback story and the happy ending that was awaiting him around the corner.
“I want to show the world that you can be down but never out,” Jones told me. “I want to be a story where someone risked losing so much but ultimately turned everything around. A lot of times you hear these stories about athletes who ruined their career and they go away and no one knows what happened to them, or they’re bankrupt or they end up in jail. They just ruined a great career. I want to be one of the few stories you hear where I was ruining things but ultimately turned things around and became a hero. That’s my vision for the way my story is going to play out.”
Like most scripts in Hollywood, however, it became apparent Wednesday night that Jones’ comeback story was nothing more than a facade — a fictional tale that would never play out the way he had envisioned it.
Jones was pulled from his UFC light heavyweight championship fight against Daniel Cormier, the main event of Saturday’s UFC 200, after the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency informed Jones of a potential doping violation Wednesday night. On Thursday morning, an emotional Jones apologized for the incident at a news conference.
“I want to apologize; I really don’t know what to say,” Jones said. “I’m really sorry about this happening.”
Jones wiped away tears during the news conference, leaving after five minutes to compose himself before returning to a dais that was stripped of any UFC signage before the news conference began.
“The whole situation really sucks,” Jones said. “It really sucks, really hurts a lot. They supposedly found something in one of my samples that I have no clue what it is. I don’t even know how to pronounce it. I’ve been taking the same supplements for the majority of my career. I’ve been so outspoken about being against any type of performance enhancers. I’m still to this day extremely against performance enhancers. The whole thing sucks. Being labeled as someone who would cheat hurts me more than anything else I’ve ever been through in my career.”
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Although this is the first time Jones has tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug, he did test positive for traces of cocaine prior to a fight against Cormier at UFC 182 last year. Jones, who turns 29 later this month, could face a two-year ban as a first-time offender under the anti-doping program.
“If I do have to sit out two years, I will definitely be back,” Jones said. “I’m already thinking about the good that can happen. I’m optimistic. But man, at the end of the day, I’m a fighter. I’m a fighter. Even though I may seem broken up here, I’m not broken. I’m just really upset.
“For all of the people who believed in me, continue to believe in me, because this story isn’t over and the best is yet to come.”
It was hard to hear Jones talk about a reboot of his comeback story on Thursday and not be incredulous. As much as we’d like to see a happy ending to this comeback story, the warning signs won’t stop popping up.
Jones, who has won 13 straight fights since 2010, has a pristine record inside the Octagon. If his career ended today, he would go down as one of the greatest pound-for-pound fighters in UFC history, but his biggest opponent has consistently been himself. No one has done more damage to Jon Jones during his career than Jon Jones.
The only reason he was even talking about a comeback story heading into UFC 200 was because he was involved in a hit-and-run accident in New Mexico that led to him being sentenced to 18 months of supervised probation and forced the UFC to strip him of his light heavyweight title. He talked about his changed ways after being reinstated, only to be arrested and booked for violating his probation in an alleged drag racing incident.
Jones denied drag racing at the time, and he denied taking any performance-enhancing drugs on Thursday, but he has lost the benefit of the doubt with the public. The mistakes or accidents we could once chalk up to misunderstandings or aberrations no longer apply. Jones’ missteps are starting to frame a legacy that he always wanted to be defined by his record in the Octagon, not outside it.
“I’ve always thought about my legacy,” Jones told me last week. “I had always envisioned going down as the greatest of all time and that’s never left my sights. I’m very conscious of my legacy and how I’ll be remembered down the road. I also realize now how you live your life outside the sport is important to your legacy, and I’m trying hard to do things right from here on out. I’m in the fight of my life for my legacy inside and outside of the Octagon.”
It’s a fight that became significantly harder on Wednesday, against an opponent Jones has proved he has had a hard time dealing with — himself.