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Be it our willingness to indulge the trope of our many beloved movies or books, or simply to answer the mounting questions which populate over a period of absence. The comeback story never fails to capture the imagination.
Last week, UFC fans received a double shot of adrenaline with the announcement of two highly anticipated returns.
After an almost two-year hiatus from MMA, featuring a lucrative boxing endeavour and a brush with the New York City legal system, Conor McGregor will finally return to the octagon. The former dual champion will have the chance to re-gain his lightweight title against undefeated Russian Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 229 on October 6.
His storied rival, Nate Diaz, will also return after a similar stint of absence. He will meet Dustin Poirier in the co-main event of UFC 230, which takes place on November 4 at Madison Square Garden in New York.
The fights were officially announced at the 25th anniversary press conference held at The Orpheum Theatre in Los Angeles on Friday.
With a quasi-tournament to take place amongst the top of the middleweight division, UFC 230 is already brimming with excellent fights. Yet none of them are slated as the main event, which begs the question, what bout could possibly sit atop that level of talent?
Following the press conference, former light heavyweight champion Jon Jones tweeted a photo featuring McGregor and himself with the caption, “Game always recognizes game. Welcome back @thenotoriousmma #comebackseason.”
The day prior, Jones posted a throwback photo from his fight with Lyoto Machida using the same hashtag.
Though far-fetched it may seem, that small – most likely insignificant – detail ignited my imagination of a scenario in which that main event spot could be half-occupied by one of New York’s own.
No stranger to the comeback story, Jones, 31, has made more than one anticipated return to the octagon in his career. The former champion was stripped of the title twice previously, following a violation of the UFC’s conduct policy and for his first infraction with the United States Anti-Doping Association (USADA).
In July last year at UFC 214, Jones again usurped his title, that time in devastating fashion, knocking out Daniel Cormier with a head kick. Alas, it was a short-lived moment of glory. The bout was soon after overturned by the California State Athletic Commission (CSAC) to a “no contest” after Jones tested positive from an in-competition drug test for the steroid, turinabol.
In February, he was fined $205,000 and had his MMA license revoked by the CSAC who recommended that any reinstatement occur pending the completion of his case with the USADA. Now, over one year since the announcement of the failed test, and still there is no resolution.
In his absence, Cormier was reinstated as light heavyweight champion, successfully defended the belt and more recently won the heavyweight belt. While Jones remains the only blemish on Cormier’s record, a fight between the pair at heavyweight would certainly make for an interesting new wrinkle in their historic rivalry.
Before any such bout however, Jones must first receive an outcome from the USADA. As his second offence, he is potentially facing a four-year suspension, though notable figures have indicated a lesser sentence may be more likely.
UFC Vice President of Athlete Health and Performance Jeff Novitsky appeared on the Joe Rogan Experience podcast in January and spoke about Jones’ situation.
“I don’t necessarily think that we put up a four-year sanction for a second-term offence, when the first-term offence was shown that that person didn’t cheat intentionally – just operated with careless disregard,” Novitzky said.
“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 continued. “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.”
CSAC Executive Officer Andy Foster expressed his personal belief that Jones did not take the banned substance intentionally at the hearing in February.
“This doesn’t make any sense,” Foster said. “He passed all the tests that were surprise tests, the out-of-competition tests, but then he fails the one he knows is coming? That doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. And with a drug that is easily detectable. There’s a lot of things that doesn’t make any sense about this.”
Last month, Jones’ manager Malki Kawa appeared on Ariel Helwani’s MMA Show and said he believed a resolution to come by the end of July. Although that date has now passed, does his recent teasing of a comeback suggest things are soon to be ironed out?