The Potential Wide Ranging Legal Fallout After Jon Jones’ UFC 214 Failed Drug Test

TMZ reports that Jon Jones tested positive for the steroid turinabol during an in-competition drug test at UFC 214.

While Jones is entitled to due process before facing any sanctions, if the report is accurate and no mitigating factors exist he is facing a wide range of steep consequences for this doping violation.

First, under s. 10.1 of the UFC/USADA Anti-Doping Policy “ADP” his victory against Daniel Cormier can be overturned to a no-contest and the UFC can strip him of his title and purse with the section providing as follows:

An Anti-Doping Policy Violation occurring during, or in connection with, a Bout
may, upon the decision of UFC, lead to Disqualification of all of the Athlete’s results
obtained in that Bout with all Consequences, including, without limitation, forfeiture
of title, ranking, purse or other compensation

Next he can be facing a suspension under the ADP.  Turinabol is a “non-specified substance” under the policy with a default 2 year suspension.   Section 10.2.1 reads as follows:

The period of Ineligibility shall be two years where the AntiDoping
Policy Violation involves a non-Specified Substance or
Prohibited Method

Moving on to section 10.7 things can get worse for Jones as this would be his second ADP violation.  This section requires a doubling of the penalty stating “For an Athlete or other Person’s second Anti-Doping Policy Violation, the period of Ineligibility shall be…twice the period of Ineligibility otherwise applicable to the second Anti-Doping Policy Violation treated as if it were a first violation“.  In short 4 years.

Next the UFC can fine Jones up to $500,000 with section 10.10 stating “In addition to the other Consequences described under this Article 10, UFC may impose a fine on an Athlete or other Person who commits an Anti-Doping Policy Violation up to the sum of $500,000 depending on the seriousness of the violation and the relative compensation of the Athlete or other Person“.

Things don’t end there.  The California State Athletic Commission, who regulated this bout, share concurrent jurisdiction with USADA to impose sanctions.

In addition to having the authority to suspend Jones’ licence the CSAC can hit him with a steep fine.  Specifically “the commission may also assess a fine of up to 40 percent of the total purse for a violation of Section 18649 related to the use of prohibited substances.”.  If you are asking, yes, turinabol use is a violation of section 18649 which adopts the WADA prohibited list.

Last but not least Jones may be vulnerable to civil liability if Cormier alleges he never consented to fight a doping competitor.  Such a lawsuit can have legs if intentional doping can be proven.  Given the bout ended with Cormier suffering a traumatic brain injury this is no small risk.  Basically a fighter can argue that doping is fraud and fraud vitiates consent to fight.  If this is proven a Court can find that any damage suffered in a bout is a result of an unlawful battery.  This is not unprecedented as can be seen from the Collins v. Resto lawsuit for battery via glove tampering and the Ruiz v. Toney doping lawsuit that was resolved via out of court settlement. 

So, in short, Jones can be looking at

  1. Having his victory against Cormier overturned
  2. Forfeiture of his purse
  3. Forfeiture of his title
  4. 4 years of ineligibility imposed by USADA
  5. a $500,000 UFC fine
  6. A CSAC imposed suspension
  7. A fine of up to 40% of his purse imposed by the CSAC
  8. A potential civil lawsuit by Cormier alleging battery

Lastly it is worth noting that an arbitrator found Jones “reckless” with respect to his last ADP violation so leniency may be in short supply this time around.

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16 thoughts on “The Potential Wide Ranging Legal Fallout After Jon Jones’ UFC 214 Failed Drug Test

  1. Great article. HBO made a documentary on the Collins vs Resto fight a few years back called “Assault in the Ring”. It’s well worth a watch for those who haven’t seen it.

    Also, 7th paragraph, 2nd “section” should be “second”. 😉

  2. Thanks a lot for the great article EMagraken! How about hypothetical options for Jon Jones related to fighting outside of UFC if he gets a long-term suspension? Would his contract with UFC explicitly prohibit certain or any activities given this type of suspension?

    Thanks

    1. He would remain under contract with the UFC for the duration of the suspension. They would need to release him (or he would have to find a way to successfully challenge the contract in court) to have any hope of fighting outside of UFC during course of any upcoming suspension.

  3. What about other implications of the substance use? Jones might have to forfeit his lurse but 1. what happens, legally, to bets on the fight that have already settled? 2. What class action ootential is there for fans who spent money buying tickets and pay per views? Thank you.

    1. Wagering would simply be a matter of contract law (and any applicable regulation). I imagine contractually parties agree to live by fight night results.

  4. Are you a 1L? There is no precedent whatsoever for a civil lawsuit coming out of a fight where the bout agreement isn’t breached.

  5. Collins v. Resto as cited in the article. Bout agreements often state that fighter agrees to abide by all State/Provincial laws for bout. Those rules, agreed to in writing, include anti-doping rules. When a fighter signs and is knowingly doping that is fraud. I don’t think a court would have a hard time agreeing. If you are aware of any precedent concluding otherwise I’d be happy to review.

    1. Recheck the Second Restatement of Torts which lays out the rules of this kind of scenario. Your Collins v. Resto misses the mark quite badly, in that loaded gloves are miles apart from using steroids, and the logic behind banning each is completely different. Loaded gloves take a boxing match to an assault on their face, no questions asked. But, for example, the rules prohibiting use of steroids or PEDs in MMA are easily just as much about protection of the drug user and supposed “sanctity of competition” than it is about protecting an opponent from injury.

      And even putting aside how problematic your analysis of the situation through Collins v. Resto is, I think you’d be extremely hard pressed to convince a judge that DC didn’t assume the risk, given how utterly normal positive tests for steroids are.

      But let’s say you can miraculously get past all that. Prove it isn’t a tainted supplement. The circumstances behind the positive are suspect, to say the least, given the Jones passed all his tests in camp, and failed the pre-fight.

  6. I take it then that you have no precedent to point to that doping would not vitiate consent to combative sports?

    Yes, things obviously change if we are talking about a tainted supplement. That is different scenario than intentional doping. All I am suggesting is that if there is proof of intentional doping there is a strong argument that consent is vitiated.

    A few other interesting precedents worth noting

    There is caselaw suggesting doping in sport is criminal fraud. That is fraud beyond a reasonable doubt.

    https://combatsportslaw.com/2015/12/18/supreme-court-of-canada-doping-in-sports-criminal-fraud-against-gambling-community/

    There are also cases of fraud vitiating consent to sexual activity making that activity a battery. I’ve canvassed that here and explain how that can parallel doping in sport

    https://combatsportslaw.com/2013/03/08/does-failing-to-disclose-illegal-ped-use-take-away-consent-in-mma/

    In short consent to contact which would otherwise be valid can be taken away if a participant

    Fails to disclose a key fact
    The other participant would not have participated had that fact been known
    The activity consented to poses ‘a significant risk of or causes actual serious bodily harm’ by virtue of the non-disclosed fact.

    Point #3 is the biggest practical barrier requiring expert evidence. But not such a barrier to make successful litigation far fetched,

  7. I have a precedent for you: Mark Hunt v. UFC and Brock Lesnar (D. Nevada). Same scenario, Lesnar was juicing and Hunt didn’t consent to fight a juicer. Hunt’s case just survived the defendants’ motion to dismiss. Still a long way to go but he got over the first hurdle.

  8. Thanks for your comment Jay. It is unclear what the final outcome of that claim will be but it is surviving for the time albeit on life support.

    Two of the biggest challenges in that case is it tries to paint a RICO conspiracy which is a stretch and Hunt is on record before the bout he has no issue fighting Lesnar if Lesnar’s on steroids.

    That said, if a case presented itself with a fighter saying they do not consent to fight a doper (and they relied on opponent’s bout agreement or pre-fight medical questionnaire made under penalty of perjury that they are not doping) I think there is a strong chance a court will impose liability.

    Facts make cases. I suspect it is just a matter of time until the right case comes along.

    1. EMag,
      As you know, those RICO claims are thrown in for laughs. But the defense on the merits to Hunt’s claims will be interesting. I don’t think the UFC and DW want to advance the “everybody knew Lesnar was juicing” so there could not be any reasonable reliance to support fraud. That would be a tough place to go from a PR standpoint. And, of course, don’t forget Lesnar himself is a defendant. I doubt he will go along with the “everyone (including Hunt) knew I was juicing” defense. By the way, I thought your analysis in the article that got this all started was spot on. J.

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