When he fought at UFC 100 in 2009, the heights Jon Jones could scale with his fighting talent seemed infinite.
Thursday, a day after being pulled off the UFC 200 main event due to a positive test for a performance-enhancing substance, the 28-year-old Jones stood on the precipice of representing the sport's steepest fall from grace.
In a news conference at MGM Grand, the former light-heavyweight champion Jones (the younger brother of former Raven Arthur Jones), apologized to fans, UFC leaders and his scheduled opponent, light-heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier, but denied that he had knowingly taking a banned substance.
The repercussions of his positive test could be a two-year ban from competition.
"Supposedly they found something in one of my samples, I have no clue what it is, I don't even know how to pronounce it," Jones (22-1) said. "I've been taking the same supplements the majority of my career and I've been outspoken against performance-enhancers. The whole thing sucks.
"Being labeled as someone who cheats hurts me more than anything I've been through in my career."
At one point, he left the stage as he struggled with his emotions, and he cried at times upon his return.
Jones' manager, Malki Kawa, said the "B" sample of the specimen taken from Jones on June 16 was to be tested Thursday, with results expected back shortly. Kawa said that, after seven other previous clean tests, the positive test "could be" the result of a tainted supplement.
Kawa declined to identify what banned substance was found.
The episode marks another step back for the fighter who was at the top of his game in January 2015, when he defeated Cormier by unanimous decision.
Right after that, it was reported that cocaine was found in one of his pre-fight tests. Then Jones was involved in a traffic mishap, crashing his car into that of a woman and breaking her arm before fleeing, with drug paraphernalia found left behind in Jones' car. He was then stripped of his UFC belt.
Jones returned to the octagon in April, winning a bout against a replacement foe because Cormier suffered an injury.
"Pretty devastating," Jones said of the drug test. "My attitude was to just continue to fight. I'm trying to be as optimistic as possible, find the good in the situation, to figure out what good can come from this.
"Right now, it's hard to see it."
He said he spoke to UFC Chairman Lorenzo Fertitta and told him, "I'd never cheat."
Jones has strived to reform his image after the bad publicity from his recent transgressions, but he was again accompanied by his crisis manager Thursday, who sought to defend him before he left Las Vegas.
"I try to believe everything happens for a reason and that God has a plan for us all," Jones said. "I've put in a lot of work to get to this point. I have to re-climb the ladder.