UFC VP of Athlete Health and Performance Jeff Novitzky gives his take on the latest Jon Jones drug test results ahead of UFC 235.
Las Vegas, NV — Officially, Jeff Novitzky holds the title of Vice President of Athlete Health and Performance for the UFC. However, in the past several months, he’s become better known as “that guy always stuck answering questions about Jon Jones.” Jones is “pulsing” again heading into UFC 235. Which means, he failed a pair of drug tests, while passing several others, all on account of what is believed to be trace elements of turinabol (more accurately, its metabolites) remaining in his system long after they were originally administered. Sometime, small amounts turn up. Other times, they don’t. It’s a matter of picograms (a picogram is one trillionth of a gram).
Jones, as it’s well known, was suspended following UFC 214 in 2017, and stripped of his light heavyweight title. It was the third time the fighter had been stripped of a belt during his UFC career. After reaching a settlement agreement with USADA for a suspension of 15 months, he returned to action at UFC 232 in December. But not before failing multiple drug tests, a result of what USADA (U.S. Anti-Doping Agency) believed to be the aforementioned pulsing effect.
On Thursday, Jones’ latest drug test results came back, and as mentioned, he failed two of them. Novitsky, once again, was the man marched in front of reporters, during the UFC 235 open workouts.
“A couple, again, low level, positive M3 metabolites for Jon Jones. Not going to effect the fight this Saturday,” Novitzky opened with. That much was a given. Jones had already addressed reporters.
“It’s not great that every time Jon fights, an issue like this comes up,” Novitzky admitted. “However based on the amount of testing he’s had over these last two months, these recent low-level positives I think are the best evidence we’ve seen of what these experts are telling us. That is, no re-administration of this substance, and no performance enhancing benefit.”
In other words, no, Jon Jones isn’t cheating, and these tests, if taken at face value, help prove that.
“We now have two very low level picogram positives, book-ended by two negative tests, within a week and a week and a half,” Novitzky continued. “If there was re-administration of the substance, you would clearly see the parent compound, you would see short and long-term metabolites which science has shown could be in existence for several weeks.”
Yet that has not happened. And beyond that, Jeff Novitzky has faith in the system. That’s been a common theme during UFC 235’s fight week, from all parties in the main event. Jon Jones has put his faith in the system for allowing him to fight. Anthony Smith has put his faith in the NSAC, believing they’d never let Jones get away with cheating. Novitzky puts his faith in numbers. “I’ve never in the history of my experience in anti-doping, 15, 16 years, seen as many entities testing one athlete,” he pointed out.
The numbers are interesting, mind you. Curiously, only the NSAC tests collected in February tested positive for the turinabol metabolite in question. USADA and VADA tests came back clean.
In way of explanation, Novitzky explained that “the reality is, while you have different entities doing the collecting, they’re all going to the same laboratory, SMRTL, Salt Lake City testing laboratory. They go to that laboratory with just a number, so nobody at that laboratory knows they’re looking at Jon Jones’ sample. So when you look at all those facts together, and kind of see the layout of these negative, positive, negative again, it’s really solid science evidence of what these experts have been saying all along.”
This is where things get a little confusing. An NSAC report released Thursday refers to “multiple drug tests conducted by the NSAC, the Voluntary Anti-Doping Agency (VADA), and the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA).” However, it appears those agencies only collected samples, and did not actually do any testing themselves, if Novitzky is accurate. That same release noted that Jones’ samples were analyzed by the Sports Medicine and Research Laboratory (SMRTL). It seems this was the only analysis done. The Utah lab has handled everything from Olympic athletes to boxer Canelo Alvarez.
Yet that also means there’s been no second opinion. Whether or not that sits well with the MMA world at large remains to be seen. And why the pulsing during the middle of February? Early theories claimed that weight cutting could be part of the reason Jones only tests positive occasionally. Jones wouln’t have been cutting weight mid-month when the failures took place. Novitzky suggested Thursday that the mid-month failures co-coincided with Jones “peaking” during training.
“That’s a good question. I just got off the phone with Jon’s camp,” Novitzky revealed. “They told me that that period of time is when he was peaking in his training. Typically, a fighter getting ready for a fight will gradually increase that intensity, peak, then maybe a couple of weeks out, taper off, so that they’re fresh for the fight.”
As to how long this “pulsing” of turinabol metabolites will go on for, well that’s “the million dollar question. I don’t think science knows right now.”
Additional reporting by Jay Anderson.