The highly anticipated rematch between Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier is off the UFC 200 card after the former tested positive for a banned substance.
The Unites States Anti Doping Agency (USADA) informed UFC officials on Wednesday that they had flagged an out-of-competition sample taken from Jones on June 2016.
UFC president Dana White broke the news in a press conference in Las Vegas on Wednesday.
“The way this process works, the Nevada State Athletic Commission is told first, then we are told and then they notify the fighters,” White said.
“Obviously, he’s got the chance to prove himself innocent before being held guilty, but if it’s true, obviously super, super disappointing.”
Jones has priors, having tested positive for a cocaine metabolite in the lead-up to UFC 182 in January 2015.
He was scheduled to face Cormier that day as well, but withdrew after citing a leg injury.
The 28-year-old was also arrested for leaving the scene of a hit and run last year – an incident which saw him stripped of his title and suspended from fighting.
Although they insisted Jones’s case would be treated impartially and with due process, organisers said time constraints left them no choice but to dump him from UFC 200.
“It is important to note under the UFC anti-doping policy there’s a full, fair legal review process that is afforded to all athletes before any sanctions are imposed,” said Jeff Novitzky, the UFC vice president of athlete health and performance.
“However, because Jones was scheduled to compete against Daniel Cormier this coming Saturday, July 9 in Las Vegas, there’s insufficient time for a full review before the scheduled bout and therefore the fight has been removed from the fight card.”
As a result, the heavyweight bout between Brock Lesnar and Mark Hunt will now be the main event at the Las Vegas MGM Grand this Sunday.
Lesnar has come in significantly from the $3.25 on offer last week against the heavy-hitting Hunt.
The 38-year-old, who had his UFC career interrupted by a debilitating intestinal injury in 2009, said the fight on Sunday was all about recapturing the glory days inside the octagon.
“I’m just trying to enjoy this and make every minute count,” Lesnar told the press this week.
“The last couple fights, from Carwin to Velasquez to Overeem, aren’t very fond memories.
“In my mind, it was just a struggle to be healthy and a struggle to be in the right mind-set.
“I should have stepped away from the Octagon and let my body and my mind heal and become one again. But that fighter inside of you just doesn’t want to quit. And so for years, I pondered it and wondered.
“Now I feel rejuvenated, I feel healthy, I feel grateful for the opportunity, and here we are.”
Still an employee of the WWE, the company granted arguably their most marketable star a special opportunity to fight in a one-off event.
There are fears from within the company that a loss to Hunt could see some of the beast-aura wane from Lesnar, but the man himself was not concerned.
“I really don’t give a s***,” said Lesnar.
“I don’t sit up at night and wonder, ‘Is my drawing power going to be hurt?’ or ‘Are my WWE fans going to tune in and watch me to do this?’ I don’t give two s**** about that.
“This is about me. I want to get in there and be an athlete again, that’s what it’s about.”
All the press in the lead up might be about the ‘Beast’ and his return to the UFC, but his opponent is not to be taken lightly.
Hunt is the $1.60 favourite to defeat Lesnar at UFC 200, and the man they call the ‘Super Samoan’ is supremely confident extending his three fight win streak to four.
The rejuvenated Hunt is not sure what will happen on Saturday, but he has a dream scenario heading into Las Vegas.
“I’m hoping he comes in like a crazy man and then I put him to sleep,” said Hunt, who was born in New Zealand and now resides in Sydney.
“That’s basically what I hope is going to happen.
“But I don’t think he’s that stupid. I think he’s going to be a bit smarter and test the waters first, but we’ll see what happens on the night.”
Also in action at UFC 200 this weekend are bitter foes Jose Aldo and Frankie Edgar, while Amanda Nunes will challenge Miesha Tate for the women’s bantamweight title.
The preliminary fights are scheduled to kick off at 9:30am AEST on Sunday, July 10.
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