LOS ANGELES — Jon Jones' latest troubling drug test compelled the UFC to move an entire pay-per-view show from Nevada to California on six days' notice, disrupting thousands of fans' holiday plans and shrinking his fellow UFC 232 fighters' paychecks.
Yet Jones believes he's also a victim in this whole bizarre situation.
The former light heavyweight champion defiantly defended himself Thursday during a passionate, occasionally ridiculous performance at a news conference in a Los Angeles airport hotel. Jones, who has served two previous suspensions for failed drug tests, tested positive earlier this year for very low levels of a banned steroid, and the Nevada Athletic Commission wouldn't license him to fight in UFC 232 in Las Vegas on Saturday night.
"Even though a lot of fans got hurt in this situation, we saved the event," Jones told a rowdy crowd of his supporters. "Look at all the people that got to be here, all the people that are planning on ordering the fight around the world. The organization is doing everything they can to make it right. Changing the event instead of cancelling the event is the way of making this right."
Two days before his title fight against Alexander Gustafsson at the Forum in Inglewood, California, Jones (22-1) apologized to fans for the enormous inconveniences caused by his latest trouble with the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.
Yet the troubled superstar also boorishly berated a reporter asking about his doping history and went on several lengthy rants about the unfairness of the entire situation, even suggesting the latest test should have been ignored.
"This probably shouldn't have even been brought up," Jones said. "It's such a small amount that it has no effect. I think the professionals whether it's USADA or the UFC are realizing, 'Jon is kind of like a guinea pig in this situation.' I was almost wronged in this situation. Even though (the substance) was in me, I think this is a way of fixing a wrong and making it right again by not cancelling this fight."
After the Nevada Athletic Commission said it wanted to postpone Jones' return until the latest test could be addressed in a hearing in January, the UFC took the extraordinary step of moving its entire year-end show 250 miles southwest to Inglewood, the suburb south of downtown Los Angeles.
Gustafsson (18-4) is fed up with Jones' posturing ahead of the rematch of their highly competitive 2013 meeting, a narrow decision won by Jones. The Swedish contender declined the UFC's offer to delay the fight until March if he was uncomfortable with the late venue change.
Gustafsson on Thursday flatly labeled Jones as a cheater, saying he believes Jones knowingly took steroids.
"Whatever this guy is saying, it's just (nonsense)," Gustafsson said. "He's just terrible. This guy is terrible. I'm here to fight. I'm flexible. It's all good, but we have friends, family coming into town, having plans. They have their budgets. They have to reschedule, re-plan everything, whatever. Whatever this guy is saying, you can't take it serious. He's just terrible, and he will eat it on Saturday night, I'm telling you."
UFC 232 is an excellent card that also includes bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes' move up to challenge featherweight champion Cris "Cyborg" Justino in arguably the biggest women's fight in MMA history.
But Jones is the show's most famous fighter and likely the biggest pay-per-view attraction. The UFC decided to stick with him after it determined that the levels of banned substance in Jones' current tests were too low to be a considered a new positive test by USADA, which administers the UFC's anti-doping policy.
Thanks to the UFC's decision to keep Jones on the card, the other 25 fighters on the show and their coaches, employees and families had to alter their plans — during a holiday week, no less. They'll also end up making less money due to California's state income tax and additional fees.
"It's a really crummy situation, but we've got to focus on what's important," welterweight Michael Chiesa said. "The tax man always takes your money. I'm not too stressed about this right now. Dana said it best: we're all taking losses right now. I'm not stoked on it."
The UFC has helped out the fighters' retinues with moving arrangements, but UFC President Dana White apparently doesn't plan to compensate his fighters for their losses due to Jones' troubles.
"Who's going to pay my income tax in California?" asked White, who estimates the UFC lost $6 million by moving the show. "It is what it is. It's either that or not fight, and nobody gets paid and nobody gets anything. We had to move it. It's costing everybody more money."
Jones has denied ever knowingly taking performance-enhancing substances, and his agent has suggested a tainted supplement caused the trouble. Jones hasn't given an explanation for his failed doping tests, but his increasingly unrepentant comments on the subject suggest he's tired of apologizing for something he didn't do.
Jones has fought only twice since January 2015, with his career repeatedly derailed by a stunning array of misbehaviours including admitted cocaine use, a hit-and-run accident and a high-profile scuffle at a promotional event.
He has been out of action since July 2017, when he stopped Daniel Cormier to reclaim his light heavyweight title — only to have it stripped due to a failed test for the same substance that triggered the most recent failure.
"I am in an interesting spot in the UFC," Jones said. "I feel like I'm a polarizing athlete, and it's just going to follow me. The way I deal with that is by waiting for USADA and now VADA (the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association) to continue doing their research with what's going on in my body, and I think through their study I'll be vindicated."