Ever since news broke last week, of yet another positive drug test for Light Heavyweight Champion Jon Jones, questions regarding the future of the division have been brought to the forefront. If Jones is indeed suspended for his failed test (anywhere from six months to four years) 205 lbs. will face some significant challenges moving forward.
In cases when it is revealed an athlete tested positive due to a tainted supplement, USADA/NSAC/UFC almost unilateral give out a minimum sentence of six months. At the same time though, disclosing the usage of a relatively benign, but nevertheless banned substance, can result in a two-year suspension (as in the case of Lyoto Machida). Unless a positive test is a result of tainted meat (as was found to be the case for some Mexican and Chinese athletes) USADA never lets a fighter off scot-free.
This means that one could unknowingly take a banned substance and still be punished for it. That means that in the case of Jones a six-month sentence is an absolutely ideal situation. However, “Bones” himself has set a precedent that makes such a light sentence far from likely. He has already been punished for being reckless and his past two drug test failures provide a pattern of operation. Moreover, he is on the outs with UFC President Dana White and will suffer from a lack of corporate support.
The maximum sentence appears to be four years, that is if it can be shown that he knowingly took a banned substance. So while Jones will likely be suspended for 2-4 years, he will at the very least be on the shelf for the next year while adjudication takes place. What then does that mean for the rest of the division?
Should Daniel Cormier be reinstated as the Light-Heavyweight Champion, the UFC would have to deal with re-legitimizing him as a credible title-holder. This situation parallels that of Jose Aldo assuming the Featherweight Championship following the departure of Conor McGregor. Both Aldo and Cormier were brutally knocked out and lost their respective titles. When Aldo was reinstalled as Champion many fans viewed him as illegitimate. Here though, Cormier may have a bit more leeway.
Unlike McGregor who vacated his title more or less by choice, Jones will likely be stripped because of his positive test. Fans will therefore be more accepting of D.C. because he lost to a cheater and therefore remains legitimate. Still though, it will be a hard sell to claim he is the best Light Heavyweight when Cormier’s unconscious body and crying face remain in our minds and memes. What happens after Cormier’s coronation is equally tenuous.
The UFC essentially will have two options to choose from. They can either give D.C. time to rest and put on “The Battle for Europe” or immediately feed him a hungry contender. After such a devastating knockout loss, it seems prudent that Dana White and the UFC’s matchmakers will promote Alexander Gustafsson vs. Volkan Oezdemir, giving Cormier a much-needed respite.
The winner of “The Battle for Europe” will certainly go on to face Cormier but it is strange irony that both now and immediately following UFC 214, fans were talking about the Gustafsson rematch. Following 214 it was Jones vs Gustafsson 2 but instead of replaying his epic war with “The Mauler” Jones must sit on the sidelines. Should the Swede triumph over his Swiss rival we may see him finally claim gold at 205 lbs in another rematch with D.C.
Just one week ago MMA fans were talking excitedly about Brock Lesnar, Stipe Miocic, Gustafsson 2 and the myriad of opportunities for Jon Jones to face. As things stand now, the UFC is on damage control, looking to mitigate the negatives associated with this change of events.
MMA fans know what to expect from Jones: either an incredible performance or a litigious issue. With Jones yet again on the sidelines fans can look forward to uncertain times and fluctuations at 205 lbs. While that may be a headache for the UFC, after all they have just lost their second biggest draw, fans will be interested in seeing what is next for Cormier as well as what will come of the Battle for Europe.
For the UFC, WME-IMG, Light Heavyweight, Jon Jones, and the fans, this latest positive test is unilaterally damaging. There are of course silver linings but on the whole there really isn’t much good to say. Fans are tired of the Jackson/Wink fighter robbing them of performances. They are angry that Daniel Cormier has been cheated (possibly twice). Regardless of his sentence, whether it be six months or four years, fans and media will never look at him the same way again. And yet, with the talent he possess, everyone of us will mark our calendars for the prodigal son’s return.