Even after convincingly defeating his most bitter rival during the most anticipated MMA fight in years, UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones just can’t stay out of the headlines.
On Tuesday, news broke that Jones had tested positive for benzoylecgonine, a primary metabolite of cocaine, during a pre-fight drug screening and had subsequently checked himself in to a drug treatment facility. According to reports, Jones was tested on Dec. 4, with the results being delivered to Jones, his representatives and presumably the UFC on Dec. 23. Jones would go on to defend his belt against Daniel Cormier on Jan. 3 in front of more than 11,000 people in an event that reportedly drew in $3.7 million.
Now, to some people, there’s something not quite right about this series of events. Those people are probably asking themselves why the UFC, which had to know about the positive test before UFC 182, allowed Jones to fight if the champion is apparently having enough trouble with cocaine to warrant a stint in rehab.
There are a handful of speculative answers to this question, but the concrete one is money. The UFC already had to postpone the first scheduled Jones/Cormier encounter (slated for September’s UFC 178 card), and fans both casual and seasoned were absolutely salivating in the weeks leading up to their re-scheduled showdown at UFC 182, so canceling the fight for reasons other than physically handicapping injury was out of the question from a business standpoint. Remember that 2014 was not a strong year for the UFC’s pay-per-view numbers, and Jones vs. Cormier was supposed to generate the sort of positive momentum that would renew fan interest in the UFC’s premium offerings. Without the fight, UFC 182, if it ended up happening at all, would have generated maybe 10 percent of whatever the estimated pay-per-view buy rate actually ends up being.
Of course, the UFC itself was not the only group to benefit from this convenient Jones timeline of positive test, title fight, rehab. Jones walked away with a disclosed $500,000, plus another $50,000 after winning a “Fight of the Night” award. We’re probably getting into some presumptuous territory here, but one has to imagine that Jones will also receive some percentage of the pay-per-view buys, since he and Cormier alone were the draws for UFC 182. Needless to say, Jones also had a lot to gain by putting off rehab until after his big fight.
This is certainly not to omit the other 21 fighters on the UFC 182 card from consideration, either. If Jones had opted for rehab before the event, there’s a good chance UFC 182 would have become UFC 176; that is, it would have been a card that never ended up happening. Perhaps, in this situation, the UFC would make considerations for the other fighters on the card, but maybe those fighters just have to wait longer to get paid again. Let’s also not forget the Nevada State Athletic Commission itself, which, while technically incapable of suspending Jones for the positive “out-of-competition” test, also stood to rake in a hefty sum from the aforementioned live gate at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
The bottom line is that too many people would have lost too much money if Jones didn’t fight Cormier at UFC 182, so it would seem that everyone with a say in the matter decided to worry about it afterward. The problem here is that the order of events calls into question the reasons Jones entered a treatment facility in the first place. In most cases, when a story begins with a person testing positive for cocaine and ends with them going to rehab, the middle part does not involve training and competing at the most elite level of professional mixed martial arts.
What’s more, inpatient drug treatment, while certainly helpful to many people battling substance addiction, is not cheap, and is therefore typically not the first step one takes when trying to kick a habit. Instead, such steps are usually taken when someone’s addictions have become so severe that he needs extended removal from his usual environment. Everyone is different, but the idea that Jones could be battling a cocaine addiction so severe as to necessitate a stint in rehab while simultaneously training and competing in one of the most grueling professional sports in existence seems a little far-fetched.
Look, if Jones is truly struggling with a substance-abuse problem, it’s good that he’s getting the help that he needs. The trouble here is the timing of it all. Had Jones tested positive for cocaine, then chosen to enter rehab instead of fighting at UFC 182, that would make more sense with regard to Jones actually having a significant substance abuse problem. So, paradoxically, would Jones testing positive for cocaine, fighting at UFC 182 and then not entering rehab. At least that would indicate that Jones perhaps dabbles in the world’s various powders but doesn’t have a “drug problem.”
This second situation is (and I’m speculating hard here) probably closer to reality, given Jones’s continued ability to train and compete following the positive drug test. The problem with that chain of events is that it doesn’t appeal to the public. Jones is already disliked by a large percentage of the UFC’s fans, so him testing positive for cocaine and then fighting Cormier without any consequences definitely would not have flown with that group. Instead, we as a sports-loving public demand contrition for any perceived slight, and therefore Jones’s entry into rehab was almost necessary from a public-relations standpoint. That is, in order to satiate the public, the revelation of the positive cocaine test was married to Jones’s decision to seek drug treatment, thus providing a public-friendly solution while simultaneously announcing the problem. The hope, of course, is that fans will be so focused on the test and subsequent decision to go to rehab that they’ll forget that the test results were released on Dec. 23, Jones fought on Jan. 3 (a night a lot of people made a lot of money) and then announced his rehab decision on Jan. 6.
This week, fans are being told that Jones has a cocaine problem so severe that he needs to go into drug treatment, but not so severe that he couldn’t wait for treatment until after a major money-making event. They’re being told that Jones tested positive for cocaine and as a direct result elected to enter drug treatment for his illness, but also that it took two weeks and a UFC title fight to make that determination. Basically, they’re being told Jon Jones is sick enough for treatment, but not so sick that he couldn’t fight first. Do you believe it?