The starting point for Jon Jones' punishment following a second potential U.S. Anti-Doping Agency violation is a four-year suspension.
But the UFC's anti-doping czar thinks it should be less.
“I don't necessarily think that we put up a four-year sanction for a second-term offense when the first-term offense was shown that that person didn't cheat intentionally – just operated with careless disregard,” UFC VP of Athlete Health and Performance Jeff Novitzky said.
Novitzky appeared today on the “Joe Rogan Experience” podcast and discussed the publicly known details of Jones' case, which stems from a positive in-competition test for the steroid oral turinabol following his third-round knockout of Daniel Cormier (19-2 MMA, 8-2 UFC) at UFC 214 in July. Jones (23-1 MMA, 17-1 UFC) has publicly denied using performance-enhancers.
In giving his opinion, Novitzky referenced Jones' first case with UFC anti-doping partner USADA, a positive pre-fight drug test that led to the cancellation of a title unifier with Cormier at UFC 200.
After Jones contested USADA's findings, an independent arbitrator ruled that he had not intentionally cheated but had been reckless in his use of an over-the-counter supplement.
Still, Jones received the maximum punishment allowed under the UFC's anti-doping rules.
USADA has the ability to take into account mitigating or aggravating factors when deciding how long a UFC athlete can be suspended.
Jones could have his suspension reduced if he's able to convince the third-party firm his use was unintentional.
Conversely, he could be found to have knowingly used the banned substance and receive a longer suspension.
Novitzky indicated the circumstances surrounding Jones' second positive test point to unintentional use.
“It would not make a lot of sense for an individual, a UFC athlete, especially a championship contender like Jon Jones who knew, 'I'm tested quite regularly in this program' – it would not make a lot of sense that that would be your drug of choice if you're trying to cheat,” Novitzky said. “I think it's come out after the fact that USADA did another test on Jon a month or two months after his positive test, and he was negative.
So that would be indicative that the prohibited substance entered his system sometime after July 7th or 8th, and that was likely a pretty small amount and that cleared his system pretty quickly.
“Again, who knows where it plays out? But on the surface of things, at this point in the game with that type of information out there, it wouldn't indicate intentional use. That could be wrong. I don't know that definitively, and we'll see how this plays out.”
Novitzky clarified that USADA will ultimately decide Jones' punishment as the results management process unfolds.
He said Jones' camp and USADA are “working closely” and had a “productive” meeting one or two weeks ago.
Jones anti-doping attorney Howard Jacobs confirmed the meeting to MMAjunkie but declined to provide further details.
Jones has the right to appeal USADA's punishment to an independent arbitrator. Jacobs said no hearing has been scheduled as of yet.
Jones' second positive drug test marked another devastating blow in his decorated career.
After UFC 214's overseeing athletic commission declared the fight with Cormier a no contest, he was stripped of the UFC light heavyweight belt, the second such time his title was taken away.
Reinstated as champ was Cormier, who will defend the belt at UFC 220 against Volkan Oezdemir (15-1 MMA, 3-0 UFC).