UFC president Dana White insists the latest controversy surrounding Jon Jones isn’t another stain on the legacy of one of the most successful yet polarizing fighters in the organization’s history.
“Nothing was done wrong here,” White told the Review-Journal in a Monday phone call. “Jon Jones didn’t do anything wrong. We have the science to prove it.”
White elected to move Saturday night’s scheduled UFC 232 card from T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas to The Forum in Inglewood, California, rather than pull Jones out of the main event when abnormalities were discovered in an out-of-competition test administered to him on Dec. 9.
The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency provided documents and expert statements showing that the amount of banned substance found in his system was a residual effect and shouldn’t be treated as a new failed test. But the Nevada Athletic Commission wasn’t going to have enough time to fully vet the science in time to grant Jones a license to fight this week.
“The NAC is very cognizant of the economic impact that the fight has on Las Vegas, but we put the health and safety of the fighters first,” NAC executive director Bob Bennett said Monday. “That is our first priority and fighters have to know that when they fight in Las Vegas, they are playing on a level playing field.”
Bennett said the commission is always willing to work 24 hours a day and seven days a week in order to accomplish its goals of bringing big fights to the state and ensuring the health and safety of fighters, but calling witnesses and gathering the proper research on the issue just wasn’t going to be possible.
The commission has scheduled a hearing for January, but the event is Saturday and Jones has already been through a hearing with the California commission.
So White was left with a decision to pull Jones from the card and move on with a women’s bout between featherweight champion Cris “Cyborg” Justino and bantamweight champ Amanda Nunes headlining the show or endure the logistical and public relations nightmare of looking for a venue where Jones would be allowed to compete.
He chose the latter after, White says, consulting with Gustafsson about whether he would rather move the fight back to UFC 235 at T-Mobile Arena on March 2.
“We’ve got no problem pulling fights,” he said. “It doesn’t matter how big the fight is, if something was done wrong or rules were broken, the fight is off and we move on. We roll with whatever is next. This is the right thing to do. Gustafsson has been off for a year and a half. He hasn’t done anything wrong. Jon Jones didn’t do anything wrong. He’s trained and done all the right things to be here and the fight can’t happen in Nevada so we have to take it to California. It’s the right thing to do for the guys, it’s the right thing to do for the light heavyweight division and we’re going to do it.”
It certainly wasn’t the most popular decision. Social media has been filled with complaints from fans who have hotels and flights to Las Vegas for the event. While tickets will be refunded, changing reservations during a busy travel period isn’t an ideal way to spend Christmas if it’s even possible.
— Pauline McFerran (@TheNotoriousOAP) December 24, 2018
So when I book this, it was 1 of the most exciting days of my life. My first UFC event live. So much for that. Most upset by the fact that the UFC haven't tried to notify me at all. Can I still go in California? #UFC232 #UFC @joerogan @BrendanSchaub @arielhelwani @bokamotoESPN pic.twitter.com/WFMjztD9xT
— Ryan Hunt (@ryanjordanhunt) December 24, 2018
— Al (@fightphoto1) December 24, 2018
Not to mention fighters who have booked travel and accommodations for coaches, cornermen, friends and family. Fighters will now also be hit with California state tax on their purses.
“I’ve got 550 fighters under contract, 350 employees, hundreds of contractors and billions of fans,” White said. “You can’t make everybody happy. It’s impossible. What I have to do is make the right decision on what I feel is right and what I feel is fair and we roll. That’s it.”
The plan is for all the fighters to come to Las Vegas to check in for fight week as usual. White said the organization will then charter a plane to fly fighters and their corners along with staffers to Los Angeles. Tickets will go on sale on Wednesday and said said he doesn’t expect ticket sales to be great, with prices capped around $300.
“It’s going to be the most insane thing we’ve ever done or ever pulled off, but I’m very confident in me and my team and we’re going to make this happen,” White said. “Anybody that shows up in L.A. is going to have a blast and see some incredible fights. We’ll do it. It’s going to cost me a lot of money and we’re going to lose a lot of money, but it’s the right thing to do.
“I’ve been doing this for almost 20 years now. This is a wacky ass business. Stuff doesn’t blow my mind anymore. I thought I’d been through it all, but apparently I haven’t. New (expletive) keeps coming. But I know we can handle it. We’ll get it done.”