In a perfect counterpoint to all the promotional clamor that accompanied the run-up to UFC 200, and in particular the main event resurrection of Jon Jones and the return of amateur wrestler-turned-pro-wrestler-turned-mixed-martial-artist-turned-pro-wrestler-turned-mixed-martial-artist Brock Lesnar, both fighters were very quietly removed yesterday from the official rankings on the UFC’s web site, a subtle, blink-and-you’d-miss-it message from the promotion that following Jones’ and Lesnar’s disastrous positive tests for banned substances (Jones before he fought, Lesnar right afterward) it will be a long, long time before we see either of the two disgraced superstars in the Octagon again, if we ever do. The fact that the UFC made such a move with less fanfare than they would usually make while announcing the inclusion of some preliminary fight on some incidental UFC on Fox card six months from now just goes to show how devastating those test results could be to the promotion’s push toward mainstream legitimacy and how desperate they are to change the narrative. Like a government official dropping bad news on a Friday afternoon, the UFC is burying the lede.
And it’s hard to argue with them. The UFC gains nothing by making a fuss about erasing their two most famous cheaters from their site, like Stalin wiping Trotsky out of photographs of the Russian Revolution. Jones has been the promotion’s most reliable disappointment for years, the golden-child gone repeatedly off the rails, a fighting genius with the self-preservation skills of a child, and, as arguably the best fighter the sport has ever known, living proof to MMA haters that cage-fighting mastery goes hand and hand with misbehavior and social deviance: the exact message the UFC has spent the last 15 years killing itself to counteract. Every time Jones got arrested for some driving offense or got popped for some drug, whether performance-enhancing or very recreational, you could almost feel MMA taking one giant step back into sports purgatory, forced to once again climb the mountain back into the good graces of mainstream America. At this point, for all his athletic brilliance, Jones is probably more trouble than he’s worth to the UFC: a walking millstone of self-destruction and disappointment.
Lesnar, meanwhile, is a strange case, a figure unprecedented in the history of the sport and whose like we probably won’t see again. God willing. Granted all kinds of concessions and exemptions and leeway from the UFC and their anti-doping partner, USADA, so that he could make the transition from the hormonally suspect world of professional wrestling to the newly fumigated world of MMA in time for UFC 200, Lesnar’s return was probably destined to blow up in the promotion’s face. Love professional wrestling or hate it, there’s no reason to trust a man coming from a “sport” whose very existence is predicated on a fabrication and a fantasy, and where the aesthetic value of the human body takes precedent over its purity, to show up for his extremely lucrative MMA return after five years away in a state of hormonal cleanliness, especially not when his punishment for cheating would appear to be no more severe than a forced and quiet exit from the sport he probably had no plans to return to anyway. It definitely feels like a devil’s bargain got made here: that Lesnar was allowed to fight under suspect conditions and then quietly shuffled out the back door when the whole thing started to blow up. So Lesnar will take his millions in un-fined pay and return to the world of professional wrestling, where no one complains if you’re taking steroids if that’s what it takes to keep you looking like superhuman, and leave MMA to clean up yet another mess.
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