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Will Jon Jones win his personal battle? One athletic commissioner didn't seem to think so

Kevin Iole
Combat columnist

Van Gordon Sauter, a former president of CBS News and Fox News, made a chilling statement Tuesday during a disciplinary hearing about former UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones’ claims that he did not knowingly take an anabolic steroid prior to a July 29 fight against Daniel Cormier.

“I just think that if we vote against you, in effect, we will pretty much set you adrift in terms of your career and whatever impact that may have on your future,” the 82-year-old commissioner solemnly said to Jones. ” … If we vote against you, I think the game’s over. If we believe what you tell us, and you live as you tell us you will, then you have a chance to continue on and have an opportunity for a better life.

“It’s a very difficult place to be, in my opinion, and we as a commission don’t encounter these circumstances with regularity. … My inclination is, after going through this, I hope what you are telling us is true.”

Jon Jones stands in the Octagon prior to his UFC light heavyweight championship bout against Daniel Cormier during UFC 214 at Honda Center on July 29, 2017 in Anaheim, California. (Getty Images)

Jones did not contest the accuracy of test results that showed the banned steroid, Turinabol, in his system. He did insist, though, that he did not knowingly take the substance and despite having two massage creams he used as well as 15 supplements he was taking tested for contamination, Jones was wholly unable to prove how a metabolite of the steroid ended up in his urine.

He was convincing enough in his effort, though, that commission executive officer Andy Foster, in making a recommendation for punishment to the six commissioners present, said, “I have a personal view and a professional view. My personal view is, I believe him.” Jones later tweeted his thanks to Foster for believing him:


Jones was equally convincing at a U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) arbitration hearing back in October 2016, when he was insistent that despite the banned substances Clomiphene and Letrozole being found in his system, he didn’t intend to cheat. He had, he said rather crassly, taken a “d— pill” given to him by a friend that he believed to be Cialis.

In the written arbitration ruling on Nov. 7, 2016, from McLaren Global Sports Solutions, the arbiters wrote:

“On the evidence before the Panel, the Applicant is not a drug cheat. He did not know that the tablet he took contained prohibited substances or that those substances had the capacity to enhance sporting performance. However by his imprudent use of what he pungently referred to as a “d— pill” he has not only lost a year of his career but an estimated nine million dollars. This outcome which he admits to be a wake-up call for him should serve as a warning to all others who participate in the same sport.”

Remarkably, though, nine months after those words were written, Jones found himself in the identical situation, this time accused of an anti-doping violation in which he managed to convince Foster, a savvy, full-time regulator, that he wasn’t knowingly cheating or attempting to gain a competitive advantage. After saying he believed Jones hadn’t knowingly taken Turinabol, Foster recommended a harsh punishment that the California State Athletic Commission adopted by a 6-0 vote. Jones was fined $205,000 and had his license revoked.

Earlier in the proceeding, when it became clear that attorney Howard Jacobs’ efforts to show that Jones had taken an otherwise legal supplement that had been contaminated with the steroid had failed, Sauter sounded his ominous warning about Jones.

Despite virtually all of the evidence against Jones, Sauter worried what might happen to the 30-year-old superstar should his fighting career be ended by a lengthy penalty. When the commission unanimously voted against Jones, Sauter’s voice cracked as he cast his “aye” vote.

Jones will next face USADA and it’s not likely to go any better than it did on Tuesday in front of the California commission or better than it did in 2016 in front of arbiters Michael J. Beloff, Lars Halgreen and Markus Manninen. Jones is a brilliant athlete, and he’ll likely be able to overcome whatever penalty USADA gives him. A second offense could keep him out up to four years, but it seems two years is the more likely outcome.

If that is the case, he’d be eligible to return two years after the date of the violation, in July 2019. That’s only 15 months from now. Anyone who saw Jones fight Cormier at UFC 214 knows that Jones, even past 30 years old, is talented enough to come back from that and fight at a high level.

The question that only Jones can answer is whether without a fight to train for, if he’ll be able to remain out of trouble and above reproach.

Sauter’s words are haunting, because it seems he’s suggesting he thinks Jones won’t be able to win whatever personal battle is raging inside.

The severity of Jones’ punishment will be handled by experts who have heard it all before, and who will be able to separate fact from fiction.

No one may ever know how that Turinabol turned up in Jones’ system.

This, though, is about something far more important than a fighter’s legacy. This is about a young man’s fight to find his way in life, to support his partner and his daughter, to earn a living to take care of himself.

That is the only fight that matters now. Hopefully Jones, and those closest to him, heard Sauter’s words and took them for what they were meant to be: A plea to get help before it’s too late.

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