LOS ANGELES — UFC officials apparently felt moving one of its biggest events of the year to a new city on less than a week’s notice wasn’t enough of a negative public relations hit.
So they decided to let beleaguered former light heavyweight champion Jon Jones berate reporters in defending himself for the better part of 40 minutes on Thursday.
It was a surreal scene at the UFC 232 news conference as several of Jones’ sycophants shouted questions deemed too probing and cracked jokes about his past use of both recreational and performance-enhancing drugs.
Saturday night’s card, which features a rematch between Jones and Alexander Gustafsson for the light heavyweight belt, was moved from T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas to The Forum in Inglewood, California, because of abnormalities discovered in tests that still show traces of the steroid metabolite for which Jones was suspended for 15 months in July 2017.
The Nevada Athletic Commission didn’t have enough time to vet U.S. Anti-Doping Agency claims the presence of the metabolite didn’t represent a new ingestion, but California’s commission had already been working on the case and offered the UFC a sanctuary for Jones to compete.
Jones, whose career has been besieged by controversy, fought back on Thursday.
“I passed a polygram (polygraph) test with pretty much the FBI, which means if I was lying I’d go to jail for perjury,” said Jones, who scheduled his own polygraph examination last year in New Mexico that was not ordered by the UFC, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency or a state athletic commission. “I passed the polygraph test saying I’ve never intentionally taken anything illegal to enhance my performance. Now that the science is starting to show itself, you will realize it. Half the people judging me haven’t opened a chemistry book since high school.”
Jones eventually came around to painting himself as a victim in entire fiasco.
“(The amount) is so small that it probably shouldn’t have even been brought up,” Jones said. “It’s such a small amount that it has no effect. In a roundabout way, I think a lot of 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.”
Jones, who told a female reporter, “You suck,” and asked for her microphone to be taken away, was able to remain on the card where he has a chance to collect the light heavyweight title and millions of dollars.
It’s the undercard fighters who were most inconvenienced and more significantly, the fans, who truly took the hit.
UFC president Dana White, who said the move cost the organization $6 million that could eventually be recouped and more in pay-per-view sales by keeping Jones on the card, defended the decision to move the event instead of canceling.
“You have to pull the trigger and make moves,” he said. “You’re not going to make everybody happy. We did everything we could to make it better. We did what we could do.”
Several fighters have complained about having to pay state tax in California instead of the more business-friendly Nevada, but White said the pay scale wouldn’t be adjusted.
“Who’s going to pay my income tax in California?” he retorted. “It is what it is. It’s either that or not fight and nobody gets paid. We had to move it, and it’s costing everybody more money.”
Gustafsson, who gave Jones the toughest test of his championship run in 2013, was mostly a spectator at the bizarre news conference.
“We’re here now and the fight is happening,” Gustafsson said. “That’s all that matters. I’m flexible. It’s all good for me, but we had friends, family and fans came into town. They have a budget and they have to try to reschedule and shuffle everything. Whatever this guy says, you can’t take him serious. He’s just terrible.”
“He will eat all his words on Saturday night.”
Some of them may not taste so good.
Jones, 31, continuously tried to explain how small the amount of “pictograms” of a turinabol metabolite found in his sample were, though the actual term he was seeking was picogram.
The fighter and his crisis management PR team will be happy it’s all over and all that’s left is a weigh-in and a fight.
That’s where Jones performs best.
Main card bouts for Saturday’s 7 p.m. pay-per-view event at The Forum in Inglewood, Calif.
— Jon Jones (23-1) vs. Alexander Gustafsson (18-4), for the vacant light heavyweight title
— Cris “Cyborg” Justino (20-1, 1 No Contest) vs. Amanda Nunes (16-4), for Justino’s women’s featherweight title
— Carlos Condit (27-5) vs. Michael Chiesa (14-4), welterweights
— Ilir Latifi (15-5, 1 No Contest) vs. Corey Anderson (11-4), light heavyweights
— Chad Mendes (18-4) vs. Alexander Volkanovski (18-1), featherweights