The entire sport of mixed martial arts is still spinning today from the UFC’s decision to move its UFC 232 pay-per-view event from Las Vegas to Los Angeles just six days before fight night.
Picking up a major event and moving it from T-Mobile Arena to The Forum on such short notice, during a holiday week no less, is a monumental task. It’s ensnared everyone from athletes to regulators to UFC staff.
What is going on with UFC 232? Here is a quick rundown of what we know.
Why did this happen?
The simplest answer boils down to this: Jon Jones had a licensing issue in the state of Nevada.
Jones, 31, submitted a drug test to the United States Anti-Doping Agency on Dec. 9, and it showed a very small amount of a metabolite of a chlorinated steroid. The metabolite, known as M3, is the same metabolite that was found in Jones’s system in July 2017, for which he received a 15-month suspension.
Based on an investigation and input from multiple experts, USADA ruled that the amount of the substance indicates Jones did not re-ingest a banned substance, that this was most likely a “residual amount” from the same exposure that caused him to test positive in 2017. In other words, this is essentially confirmation of something Jones has already been penalized for.
Because Jones was scheduled to fight in Nevada, however, USADA was obligated to share the test result with the Nevada State Athletic Commission, which was overseeing the bout. The NSAC was not made aware of the test until late last week, and did not have enough time to hold a hearing to review it. So, Nevada was a no-go for Jones.
UFC president Dana White believes Jones has paid the price for his past transgressions and should not be further punished for a test result that is not even technically classified as a positive. Thus, the UFC looked to move the event to California.
Why will California license Jones to compete, when Nevada won’t?
It’s probably inaccurate to even say Nevada “won’t” license Jones. The commission never officially declined Jones a license, it just didn’t have enough time to hold a hearing on this Dec. 9 test result before Saturday. Jones is expected to go before the Nevada commission early next year, and while nothing is guaranteed, it’s quite possible he could receive a license at that time.
California doesn’t need to hold a hearing, because that state’s athletic commission already had one. When Jones first tested positive for this metabolite in July 2017, it was in California. Essentially, the commission there has already ruled on this case. Medical experts have said this Dec. 9 test result was caused by whatever caused the July 2017 test failure, so as far as California is concerned, there is no new issue here.
Why did we find out so late?
Some bad luck, and a bigger issue involving dual jurisdiction between USADA and state athletic commissions that we won’t go into in detail today. USADA is testing Jones relatively frequently, with a big title fight coming up. Results can take time to get back, so it’s not unusual for a Dec. 9 test to not produce results until later in the month.
How did the other UFC 232 fighters find out about this news, and what were their reactions?
How they found out: Twitter and other social media. The UFC did not inform athletes or their managers of the move beforehand, not even Jones’ opponent on Saturday, Alexander Gustafsson. The promotion has always been protective of internal discussions — presumably, even more so when it involves sensitive and complicated drug testing information on one of its stars.
What were the fighters’ reactions? Mixed, of course. Personalities are different, so responses were different. Generally speaking, this is a hassle, obviously. And it affects a lot of their friends and families who planned to be in Vegas for the fights.
Bantamweight Brian Kelleher wrote on social media, “We should all say no, see what happens. Then again we’re all trying to make a pay check and pay our bills so we [can’t] risk it.”
Light heavyweight Corey Anderson also posted a passionate message, describing the money he spent on family travel and the stress this adds to his pregnant wife traveling with him. Anderson said he is not mad but very disappointed with the UFC.
How does this impact the fighters’ preparations?
Well, their training camps are done. So, as far as any impact on their training, not much. But it impacts them in other ways.
For one, most of the fighters on the card need to submit new medicals to the state of California. That means money and time — trying to book blood work and neurology exams at the last minute, during a holiday week (while they’re also cutting weight).
There also are some changes fighters will feel specific to their situation. Featherweight Ryan Hall, for example, was supposed to have retired fighter Kenny Florian in his corner in Las Vegas, but Florian’s role as an analyst for Fox has changed with the venue switch, and Florian will no longer be able to work the corner.
Overall, this affects the preparations athletes are making for their respective teams. Fighters absorb travel costs for some team members. Now those travel plans need to be changed, and some of the cost might be nonrefundable. There is also no state tax in Nevada but a high one in California. So whatever net income the athletes at UFC 232 were expecting, that number just went down because of the different tax rate.
Some of the fighters on the card haven’t traveled to Las Vegas yet. Some are already there. Welterweight Michael Chiesa is in an AirBnB he rented for his entire family. The UFC is in the process of working through logistics of getting everyone to Los Angeles. It is unclear at the moment what additional expenses fighters may incur from this, and how the UFC will respond.
What does this mean for fans who bought tickets to the Las Vegas event?
A full refund. Tickets for the new location go on sale Wednesday.
White mentioned the possibility of the UFC working with ticket holders who want to still attend in Los Angeles, but no additional details have been made available at this time.