Yesterday in the midst of the uproar over the Kyrie Irving-Isaiah Thomas swap, a stunning moment of its own took center stage for mixed martial-arts.
Jon Jones — fresh off his triumphant return and redemption story in his win over Daniel Cormier — failed his post-fight drug test, which returned positivefor an anabolic steroid.
UFC chief Dana White confirmed reports and Jones was once again stripped of his UFC Light Heavyweight title.
The news of Jones’ impending USADA ban brings up many thoughts and leaves a wake of different angles to explore. From the impact to Jones’ own legacy and the legacy of his rivalry with Cormier to the future of the UFC, there is a lot to unpack here.
Following is my best attempt to address the wake of perhaps the biggest scandal in MMA history:
Jon Jones is still the greatest Light Heavyweight of all-time
As someone who considers Barry Bonds to be the greatest hitter in the history of baseball and Ben Johnson as the rightful 100 meter winner at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, I would be hypocritical to not still consider Jon Jones to be the greatest Light Heavyweight in MMA history.
Yes, Jones cheated and tainted his legacy in the minds of many in the process. At the same time, PED use is not new to the UFC and it is a safe bet to assume many of the legends in the sport were saved by a lack of USADA testing during their careers.
That doubt and the prevelant culture of PED use in the sport saves Jones’ legacy. While it is a disappointment such a dominant force felt the need to tarnish an unblemished career, Jones’ performances in the Octagon stand up.
Daniel Cormier’s legacy now takes a massive leap
Right behind Jones in the hierachy of the greatest Light Heavyweight fighters in MMA history is Daniel Cormier. Jon Jones’ biggest rival earned respect in two close losses and now Cormier receives a further boost with the news of PED use before the rematch at UFC 213.
Those who already backed Cormier in the epic rivalry between the two will now point to Jones’ win as a tainted one. Fairly so as Jones had already blown the first scheduled rematch with a prior suspension before this fallout.
This makes the debate between the two far more interesting than if Jones ended their feud with a 2-0 record over his closest foe to knocking him off his unbeatable perch.
With Jones now presumably out of the UFC picture for the rest of Cormier’s prime, the window is now open for a beloved fighter to end his career on the top of the mountain. The rest of the division was already a notch below both Cormier and Jones and now it looks as if Cormier is in line for a proper title reign to ride off into the sunset.
Cormier may never get his holy grail and beat Jones in the Octagon. The chance to match and perhaps surpass Jones’ as a Light Heavyweight champion is the consolation prize and Cormier should make his own case now that his hated rival is back on the shelf for good.
Dana White is screwed with no Lesnar-Jones or Jones-Cormier III on the table
Past the impact of Jones’ failed test on his own legacy is the impact his suspension has on the UFC’s future plans once Dana White turns his focus from the Mayweather-McGregor circus back to his own promotion.
A second USADA suspension will put Jones away from competition for a considerable amount of time. An amount of time that poses a serious risk to Dana White’s two biggest money fights for Jones.
Both Brock Lesnar and Cormier are in the tailend of their careers and a two plus year ban for Jones might kill any chance of both fights. The build towards a fight with Lesnar particularly is in question with the 40-year-old Lesnar running out of time to fight Jones.
White wants the UFC to touch boxing’s potential for blockbuster PPV events, especially after a 2017 spent in the mix of a Floyd Mayweather fight build. Now without his biggest talent, White is under the spotlight to finally develop stars out of his roster.
Expect White to convince McGregor to return to the Octagon and build towards a third McGregor-Diaz bout. Without Jon Jones, it is the only PPV megafight on the table.
After that, White will need to come up with ideas if the UFC is going to see any forward growth in buy rates.