It’s safe to say the action-packed featherweight main event of last night’s (Sat., February 24, 2018) UFC on FOX 28 in Orlando, Florida, has the mixed martial arts world in a bit of controversy.
Surging slugger Jeremy Stephens finished formerly rising contender Josh Emmett with a brutal second-round sequence (highlights here) that began with “Lil’ Heathen” dropping the Team Alpha Male product with a pinpoint left hook and ended with him knocking him unconscious with a series of arguably illegal blows including a knee to a downed Emmett and elbows to the back of his head.
Neither was deemed a foul by longtime referee Dan Miragliotta, but many, including Emmett’s TAM head coach Urijah Faber, blasted the finish by calling it clearly illegal. Emmett immediately revealed his plans to appeal the loss to the Florida State Boxing Commission in hopes of receiving a potential no contest outcome.
Finally, FOX Sports 1 post-fight show co-hosts Daniel Cormier and Dominick Cruz, who is Stephens’ teammate at Alliance MMA, even argued about the legality of the blows on live TV, signaling just how controversial the finish was.
Stephens weighed in on the finish on the post-fight show (via MMA Fighting) himself, stating that Miragliotta told him backstage before the fight that if Emmett had one hand on the ground, kneeing him would be legal. Stephens thought that was what was happening, so he said he tried to take full advantage of the situation and the rule:
“The referee, Dan Miragliotta, came in the back, he said, ‘This is the new unified rules, that if two hands are down, you can lift one hand up [and be able] to knee. That’s okay.’ So 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, I was looking for it.
“I saw exactly what he was going to do. I knew that he was rocked, he had two hands [on the ground], he lifted his hand up and I saw the moment and that’s when I threw the knee. I don’t think the knee even landed, it’s not what hurt him. There was a lot more damage followed up after that. He was even rocked before that. But he did lift his hands and I waited for that hand, and I tried to take advantage of that opportunity. It didn’t land, I missed, but those are the rules in this specific state. I’m not a dirty fighter.”
Indeed Emmett was badly hurt by Stephens’ accurate left hook, but replay showed that the knee in question may not have even landed, and was arguably a glancing blow if it did.
What was perhaps more controversial were the huge elbows Stephens landed to the back of Emmett’s head, but Stephens said Emmett simply turned his head in the heat of the moment as he was trying to end the fight, another grey area of the rules that he said he can’t worry about in the throes of action:
“Guys, look, I’m going for the finish here. I’m looking to elbow, elbow. If they turn their head, the ref will tell you it’s okay because he’s turning his head, so make the adjustment. In that moment, I’m elbowing, elbowing, looking for it. He looked under and I nailed [him with] a couple. When I fought (Doo Ho) Choi, I elbowed the referee in the back of the head, he jumped in front. I’m not a dirty fighter. I am a killer, I train to finish, I’m going for it, I’m landing big shots there. I don’t mean to hit people in the back of the head, but if they turn, it’s not my problem.”
In that context, Stephens does make some strong points even though it appeared he landed at least one egregious elbow.
The whole finish progressed in rapid, chaotic fashion – like most of his violent wins often do – so it was hard for Miragliotta to make a pinpoint break in the action while the bout was nearly over. Controversy surrounds the stoppage nonetheless, and Emmett will have his day to plead his case before the commission.
He’ll have to focus on his recovery first, as he was taken out on a stretcher, something Stephens didn’t want. Overall, he wished his vanquished opponent a speedy recovery:
“I saw Josh Emmett getting [taken] out on a stretcher. I do not wish that upon anybody,” Stephen said. “This is the fight game, this is what happens. I’ve been in this game a long time, I’ve been knocked out before, I’ve had ups and downs.
“I don’t wish that upon anybody. I wish him a speedy recovery. He’s a tough dude.”