UFC star Jon Jones has been cleared to return to action after being handed a backdated 15-month suspension by USADA for failing a drug test last summer.
Jones, 31, will be eligible to return to the octagon from October 28, having been suspended since testing positive for a banned substance ahead of his bout against Daniel Cormier at UFC 214 in July 2017.
Jones won the fight, but the result was later changed to a no contest and he was stripped of the light-heavyweight title.
He had potentially been facing a ban of up to four years, although the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) said in a statement that an independent arbitrator had found that Jones was “not intentionally cheating.”
“The independent arbitrator found that Jon Jones was not intentionally cheating in this case,” USADA chief executive Travis T. Tygart said in the statement.
“While we thought 18 months was the appropriate sanction given the other circumstances of the case, we respect the arbitrator’s decision and believe that justice was served,” he added.
Jones himself expressed his delight at the verdict, writing on Instagram:
“It’s difficult to express myself at this moment, but I can definitely say my heart is filled with gratitude and appreciation.
“I want to thank all of you who have stood by me during the toughest stretch of my life. It has meant the world to me and always will.
“But now is the time to shift the focus front and centre to the road ahead.
“Greatness is what I’m chasing and the path to reclaiming my throne is now officially open. Comeback season begins now.”
The suspension is Jones’ second, after he was sanctioned for testing positive for a banned substance in 2016.
He is in theory eligible to return as early as UFC 230 on November 3 at Madison Square Garden in New York, although UFC chief Dana White has reportedly ruled that out, saying that a 2019 comeback is more likely.
I told Dana White the obvious assumption everyone is making is Jon Jones will headline MSG on 11/3. He replied, “not true.”
— Brett Okamoto (@bokamotoESPN) September 20, 2018
Jones has previously told RT of his goal to return to face Cormier and relinquish him of his light-heavyweight and heavyweight titles.