September 24, 2019

UFC Mexico City: The Jeremy Stephens vs. Yair Rodriguez Fight Is Even Bigger Now

By Adam Martin

The main event of Saturday night's UFC Mexico City event ended in sheer disappointment. Just 15 seconds into the fight, Yair Rodriguez accidentally poked Jeremy Stephens in the eye. Stephens' left eye shut and wouldn't open up. Referee Herb Dean and the doctor gave Stephens five minutes to recover, but his eye didn't cooperate. The fight had to be stopped before it even started, and the fans in the crowd responded in anger, throwing garbage into the Octagon.

It was a mess of a scene, and thankfully no one was seriously injured during the melee. Rodriguez was incredibly angry about the situation, but eventually calmed down, and he'll be ready to go again soon. Stephens is expected to make a full recovery in short order, and he's already out there telling Rodriguez he wants to run the fight back as soon as possible. According to Stephens, UFC matchmaker Sean Shelby is interested in booking a rematch between these two, and it makes sense for the UFC to re-book the matchup. In fact, it's fair to say the rematch will be an even bigger fight.

It's pretty obvious why the UFC needs to run this fight back. It was a fight that every MMA fan was looking forward to, between two of the most exciting featherweights in the sport. And it was fight that was over before it started. We were all robbed of a fight. We never got to see who the better fighter was. Just based on the reaction by the fans, you can tell how much they wanted to see these two throw down. The UFC won't be going back to Mexico City for a while, so those fans won't get to see the fight in person, but the UFC has plenty of other cards coming up. There's no reason the UFC can't have this fight rescheduled for sometime before 2019 is up. And now, with all the controversy from the first fight, there's even more interest in the rematch.

Let's face it: as good of a fight as this was, Rodriguez vs. Stephens was anticipated by fans because it was a fun style matchup between two action fighters who like to stand and trade. There wasn't that much heat or intensity between the two fighters; it was just a great fight. But now there's heat. These two have been throwing jabs at each other since the fight ended. Stephens was (rightfully) upset Rodriguez stuck his fingers in his eyes. Rodriguez insinuated that Stephens could have continued fighting. Rodriguez is pissed Stephens didn't continue, and Stephens is angry Rodriguez injured him and took no responsibility. There's bad blood between these two now, whereas there really wasn't any before. These two need to settle their differences, and a rematch will allow the two men to do just that.

But however enthusiastic we are about the rematch, it would have been better if it wasn't necessary in the first place. After the eyepoke finishes of this fight and the previous weekend's Todd Duffee vs. Jeff Hughes bout, a serious discussion needs to be had about eye pokes in the UFC. It's true that fights are rarely stopped completely due to eye pokes. But in the last two weeks we've had two fights that ended because of them, resulting in two UFC bouts being called No Contests in the last two weeks. Perhaps there's something the UFC can do to redesign its gloves so fingers don't stick out as much as they do. However, even if the promotion can make the gloves less prone to eye pokes, ultimately it's on the fighters to keep their fingers closed. No one wants to see situations like this where fights are stolen from us. That's what happened here between Stephens vs. Rodriguez. It was a fight that was stolen from us.

Now all the UFC matchmakers can do is re-book the bout. It seems so obvious that it would be shocking if they screwed things up and booked each fighter against someone else. The UFC made a mistake when it didn't book an immediate rematch between Dustin Poirier and Eddie Alvarez, when an eye poke marred their first contest, and it surely learned from that mistake. Stephens vs. Rodriguez 2 is an even bigger fight than the first time around. Not only is it an excellent matchup, but now there's heat. The fans want to see the fight even more this time, and now the fighters want each others' throats. The only question is when it should take place.

UFC on ESPN+ 17
Yair Rodriguez vs. Jeremy Stephens: Yair Rodríguez vs. Jeremy Stephens is declared a no contest (accidental eye poke) at 0:15 of Round 1.

UFC on ESPN+ 17: Rodriguez vs. Stephens took place September 21, 2019 at Mexico City Arena in Mexico City, Mexico.

Click HERE for more UFC on ESPN+ 17 Post-Fight Analysis


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