Yair Rodriguez and Jeremy Stephens touched gloves ahead of the UFC Mexico City main event Saturday night with no idea what was going to happen in about half a minute’s time.
Rodriguez vs. Stephens, a crucial featherweight bout between a top prospect and a longtime veteran, ended in 15 seconds after Rodriguez landed an accidental eye poke. Stephens couldn’t open his eye, and though referee Herb Dean gave him time to recover, the fight had to be called off. It was declared a no contest.
This angered the Mexico City crowd, prompting fans to throw bottles into the Octagon and pelt Stephens with trash as he exited the arena. Rodriguez, understandably so, was also visibly upset.
A lot happened in very little time. What to make of all of it? Here are a few thoughts on the fiasco that was the UFC Mexico City headliner between “El Pantera” and “Lil Heathen.”
This has to hurt for Stephens and Rodriguez
I feel bad for Stephens. He sacrificed a lot for this fight. He has lived in Mexico for the past six weeks to acclimate to the elevation, away from his family. He spent a lot of extra money out of his own pocket for this fight camp, and he – as well as Rodriguez – will likely only walk away with his show money. Stephens is also the one who suffered the injury. He seemed to be in a lot of pain, even while he was backstage with doctors after the broadcast had ended.
For Rodriguez, this was his chance to fight in front of his home country crowd and make them proud. The Mexican featherweight has suffered a couple setbacks throughout his UFC career, but he still has a lot of potential and a main-event win in Mexico against a tough guy in Stephens would’ve helped his career a lot. At the very least it would’ve been a special moment he would’ve remembered for a long time. That potential moment was taken away by an accidental eye poke he landed 15 seconds into the fight. Yes, he was the one that poked Stephens, not the other way around, but he sure wasn’t hoping for this to happen.
Herb Dean’s refereeing was on point
For all the flack he gets, referee Herb Dean did an excellent job officiating the fight Saturday. Dean gave Stephens every opportunity he could to continue. Dean chose to give Stephens five full minutes to recover, which is allowed. As soon as the poke happened it didn’t seem likely that Stephens’ eye would open up in time for the fight to continue, but I don’t think Dean put Stephens in any immediate danger by not calling the fight off right away. Waiting it out was the right move by Dean considering how early in the fight the eye poke occurred. Overall, Dean handled the situation very well; he was in control the entire time and he was very clear when talking to the cageside doctors.
The Mexico City crowd should be ashamed
What about that Mexico City crowd? I understand the frustration, but that was disgusting behavior, no matter how you look at it. Fans threw what appeared to be water bottles into the Octagon as soon as the fight was waved off, which isn’t exactly great, but whatever. It got worse. They proceeded to pelt Stephens with trash – beer, popcorn, other stuff – as he was being rushed out of the arena by security. This isn’t the first time upset fans have thrown trash around at a UFC event, but this may have been the worst it’s ever been. Shame on the Mexico City crowd. Stephens deserved better. A lot better. After all, it wasn’t even close to his fault.
This should go without saying, but for what it’s worth, this isn’t just about Mexico City. If this happened literally anywhere else in the world — somewhere in my home country of Canada, or the United States, or Europe — my reaction would be exactly the same. There’s no room for this kind of behavior anywhere.
Stephens didn’t quit
Shame on anyone calling Stephens a quitter and saying he didn’t want to be in there with Rodriguez and was looking for a way out. Stephens has shown some of the most heart we’ve seen from any fighter throughout his veteran career. He’s never been one to back down from a challenge. He’s been through some wars in which he’s come out on top. If “Lil Heathen” says he’s hurt, he’s probably hurt.
Rodriguez could’ve handled it better, but…
I’ve seen a lot of people criticize Rodriguez for the way he handled the no-contest result. We saw some attitude from Rodriguez and could’ve been more professional about it, but I don’t think his reaction was entirely out of line. Yes, he snapped at commentator Michael Bisping before his post-fight interview, but he apologized right away. It was all in the heat of the moment. I don’t blame Rodriguez for being upset. Again, Saturday could’ve been a huge moment for his career. Instead, we’re sitting here talking about an eye poke.
The one thing I’ll say is that Rodriguez later questioning whether or not Stephens lied about the injury was a big mistake on his part. Rodriguez shouldn’t be making any kinds of assumptions related to Stephens’ injury. That’s just a bad look if you ask me.
What’s next for Rodriguez and Stephens? Well, most people were expecting a hell of a fight from them, so I say the obvious move is to reschedule the rematch for a later date. We didn’t get to see them fight, and we didn’t learn anything from these 15 seconds, so nothing changes. Let’s hope Rodriguez vs. Stephens 2 lasts longer than the first one.