USADA suspends Jon Jones 15 months, but eligible to return in late October

UFC star Jon Jones will be eligible to return to competition by Oct. 28 -- fifteen months after failing the second drug test of his tumultuous career.

The United States Anti-Doping Agency announced Wednesday it has suspended Jones for 15 months, for testing positive for metabolites of an anabolic steroid on July 28, 2017. The suspension is retroactive to the date of the test, meaning Jones has already served nearly 14 months.

Jones, who is from Rochester, New York, had faced a maximum ban of four years. He also faced potential sanctions from the California State Athletic Commission because the failed test took place in Anaheim, California, but CSAC executive director Andy Foster told ESPN the commission finds a 15-month suspension "agreeable."

Jones must complete three months community service and pay a previously ordered $205,000 fine to regain his fight license.

In a statement posted on social media, Jones said his "heart is filled with gratitude and appreciation" and that "greatness is what I'm chasing and the path to reclaiming my throne is now officially open. Comeback Season begins now."

UFC has a UFC 230 pay-per-view event planned on Nov. 3 in Madison Square Garden, but president Dana White said Thursday that Jones would not be a part of it. He has told ESPN that Jones' return will likely take place in 2019.

"The arbitrator found that Jones never intentionally or knowingly took steroids and the result of the positive test was the result of a contaminated substance," White said. "The science completely supports that finding. The science doesn't lie, so I look forward to getting him back early next year."

An independent arbitrator settled on the 15-month suspension length following a closed hearing last weekend. Jones, 31, has maintained he did not take any performance-enhancing drug around the time of the test, but he did admit to the use of illicit drugs, including cocaine, "prior to and for a period of time after" July 28, 2017.

Jones' case took more than one year to resolve because of several circumstances. He submitted the failed test one day before he knocked out Daniel Cormier to reclaim the light heavyweight championship at UFC 214. The result of that bout has since been changed to a no contest because of Jones' positive test results.

Despite his claims of innocence, Jones has been unable to account for the substance in his system. He submitted 14 supplements to be tested for possible contamination, none of which came back positive for any banned substance.

The details of this case were inconsistent, however, with someone trying to beat a drug test, in that Jones passed five out-of-competition tests in the five months prior to the adverse finding, and presumably would have expected to be tested around his fight at UFC 214.

Even though the substance was never accounted for, the circumstances were such that USADA only sought a maximum 18-month suspension. Although it rarely happens, identifying the source of an adverse finding is not a requirement to reduce sanctions under the UFC's anti-doping program.

USADA also made use of a bylaw in the UFC's anti-doping program, which allows it to reduce a sanction in exchange for an athlete's "substantial assistance" in another anti-doping case. Details of any such assistance provided by Jones was not disclosed.

Richard McLaren, an anti-doping expert and the independent arbitrator who ruled on the case, ultimately reduced USADA's recommendation to 15 months, citing Jones' relatively low degree of fault and the substantial assistance he offered throughout the process.

"There was absolutely no intention to use prohibited substances on the part of the athlete," McLaren wrote in his ruling.

"Jon Jones has gone through a great deal of difficulties. He gave me the very distinct impression that he has learned a lot from the loss of the image of himself that he had as a champion MMA fighter. He has been humbled and humiliated by that experience, but he has learned from his misfortune. He needs the opportunity to regain his dignity and self-esteem."

Jones (22-1) is arguably the greatest mixed martial artist of all time, but he has also been one of the sport's most troubled figures. He served a one-year suspension in 2016 after testing positive for two banned substances. In 2015, the UFC stripped Jones of his 205-pound title after he was involved in a hit-and-run accident in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Jones has taken both of his USADA cases to arbitration and, although he was ultimately suspended in both, arbitrators opined that he did not knowingly cheat in either case. He stated his 2016 positive test was the result of a contaminated sexual enhancement pill.