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UFC’s illegal knee controversy: Emmett to appeal loss, Stephens misunderstood the rules, Faber blasts Cruz

Here’s everything you need to know about the controversy surrounding the finish on the UFC on FOX main event.

MMA: UFC Fight Night-Gdansk-Arantes vs Emmett Per Haljestam-USA TODAY Sports

Jeremy Stephens’ big main event win over Josh Emmett was in the middle of controversy due to what seemed like illegal shots that weren’t called by the referee. The strikes in question were elbows to the back of Emmett’s head, and also Stephens throwing a knee to a downed opponent.

Although Emmett was dropped and hurt by other legal strikes, these few specific shots as Stephens tried to finish were highly controversial. It had MMA twitter buzzing, and even UFC commentators arguing within themselves.


Stephens indeed landed on the back of the head with elbows, but some argue that Emmett was also moving his head when it happened so it can be deemed as legal blows.

As for the legality of the actual knee itself, Dominick Cruz, a teammate of Stephens, argues that it “doesn’t matter” as it didn’t hurt Emmett, and it was the legal shots that finished the fight. As Cormier mentioned though, whether or not it was the most damaging shot or not — it clearly wasn’t — it was still illegal.

Bisping and Cruz continued arguing with Cormier about the legality and whether it even landed, but the one thing they could agree on, was that it was on the referee — not Stephens — to stop the contest. Dan Miragliotta didn’t do so, and the fight continued with Stephens finishing him a couple of seconds later.


The illegal knee wasn’t thrown accidentally, or in the heat of the moment. Stephens spoke about his actions, saying it was clearly his intention to land the knee, but it seems like he has misunderstood the new rules that are in place.

He thought it was legal, and brought up a conversation he had with the referee about the rules briefing.

“Dan Miragliotta came in the back (before the fight). He said this is the new unified rules,” Stephens said. “He said that if two hands are down, you can lift one hand up to knee. If he’s on his knees, and one hand is up, it’s okay to throw a knee.”

“I’m not a dirty fighter, I never have been my whole life. I saw an opportunity, and I was looking for it.”

There was likely a disconnect during that conversation Stephens mentioned, and the FOX crew didn’t mention or correct him on these. The new rule discussing one hand vs two hands only applies if the opponent is on his feet with his hand(s) touching the canvas. If the opponent is on his knees, like Emmett was, he is automatically a “grounded” fighter and he cannot be kicked or kneed in the head regardless of his hand position.

So while it seems like there was no malice in there, Stephens’ knee was both illegal and intentionally thrown. It wasn’t a poor decision made on the heat of the moment while trying to finish the fight. He saw an opening and he planned that strike because he apparently thought it wasn’t against the rules.


Urijah Faber was watching as the fighters and commentators argued about the knee, and the Team Alpha Male founder took to social media to rip both Cruz and Bisping.

“Dominick Cruz and Michael Bisping are f—king blind,” Faber said on Instagram. “That was a knee to the back of the head. An illegal knee to the illegal back of the head. Give me a friggin’ break. Congratulations to Stephens. He fought a good one.”


Faber and Team Alpha Male obviously weren’t happy about the controversial sequence, and the team has informed MMA Fighting that they plan to appeal the loss.

Had the referee intervened and deemed those shots as fouls, Stephens could’ve been warned or had a point deduction, and the fight would’ve been restarted. If Emmett wasn’t able to continue, it could’ve been a no contest or a disqualification. If instant replay was available, the referee could’ve called to review “the fight ending sequence” only to check for fouls. That could lead to a technical decision (if the foul was later in the contest), a no contest, or a disqualification.

That of course wasn’t done, and instant replay isn’t allowed by the Florida Commission, so Team Alpha Male will just appeal the loss. If they were to win that appeal, the fight would likely be overturned to a no contest, not a disqualification.


Were the elbows illegal? At least one landed on the back of the head, but legality could be debated.

Was the knee illegal? It didn’t land flush, but yes.

The knee was also intentional, but this all falls on the referee though, not Stephens.

Will the fight be overturned? Who knows? I guess we’ll find out soon.

This new dis-unified rules are still confusing to many, and instant replay really should be available for fight ending sequences.