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Jon Jones insists 'I've never cheated the sport,' calls steroid ban a 'hiccup'

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Jon Jones: 'Screw Daniel Cormier' (2:04)

Jon Jones responds to Daniel Cormier's criticism and adds that he still isn't sure how he failed a drug test for the second time. (2:04)

Former UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones reiterated his stance that he "never cheated the sport" during an appearance on ESPN's "First Take" on Monday.

"I've been able to do great things in this sport," Jones said. "Unfortunately I had a hiccup with this steroid situation. I'm grateful [the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency] came out and proved my innocence by saying this was a little bit of a misunderstanding."

Jones is considered by some to be the most talented fighter ever to enter the Octagon. He was the youngest champion in history at 23 after winning the belt in 2011, and he went on to defend it eight consecutive times.

But in July 2016, ahead of a scheduled bout with Daniel Cormier, Jones tested positive for two banned substances and was stripped of the title. After a one-year suspension, he returned to fight Cormier again for the belt and won by a head-kick knockout in July 2017. The result was later overturned to a "no contest" after Jones tested positive for turinabol, an anabolic steroid.

In September, USADA suspended Jones for 15 months for testing positive for metabolites of an anabolic steroid. The suspension is retroactive to the date of the test, meaning Jones had already served nearly 14 months. He was eligible to return in October.

Jones continues to deny he ever knowingly took any banned substances to improve his performance.

"My last situation was a terrible situation," Jones said. "I did have a trace amount of steroids in my body. Thank goodness USADA went through the process to prove my innocence. Through science we were able to prove that there was a very trace amount of steroids in my body. One of the people said, 'The amount of steroids in Jon's body was like taking a pinch of salt and throwing it into an Olympic-sized swimming pool.'

"We have no clue how it got into my body. We did everything in our power to figure out how it got into my body and where it came from. I spent thousands and thousands of dollars for testing. We still were not able to find out where it came from."

Jones is set to face Alexander Gustafsson at UFC 232 on Dec. 29 in Las Vegas. The bout, for the light heavyweight title, is a rematch of what some consider the greatest fight ever at UFC 165 in 2013. The back-and-forth battle ended with Jones retaining his belt with a unanimous decision win.

That same card will feature a co-main event of bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes vs. featherweight champion Cris Cyborg.

Jones is confident he will be as good as ever against Gustafsson next month.

"I need to be exactly who I've always been," Jones said. "I know in my spirit that I've never cheated the sport. USADA was able to prove that it was such a trace amount that it had no effect on my performance. I am the best fighter in this sport and have always been the best fighter in the sport. Nothing has changed."