Eye poke ends UFC bout seconds in; fans erupt

MMA

The UFC’s return to Mexico ended in a complete mess.

The main event of UFC Mexico City lasted just 15 seconds Saturday night after Yair Rodriguez accidentally poked Jeremy Stephens in the eye. When Stephens was unable to open his left eye after five minutes of recovery, the ringside physician advised that referee Herb Dean call the fight off. The bout was ruled a no contest.

When Dean waved the bout off, the fans in attendance at Mexico City Arena were furious, booing lustily and throwing garbage into the Octagon. They continued to hurl debris at Stephens as he was rushed from the cage area by security.

Rodriguez was also angry when the bout’s result was announced. He got into a brief scuffle with security and brushed off former UFC champion Michael Bisping, who was working as an analyst on the card and trying to interview him in the Octagon.

After cooling off, Rodriguez appeared on the ESPN+ post-fight show and expressed both confusion and disappointment.

“I don’t know what to feel, honestly,” he said. “I really gave my all for this camp. I honestly put a lot of effort, a lot of time. It was the hardest training camp I ever had. I put a lot of meditation into it. A lot of people came here with a lot of time. They left their families back home for a long time with kids and stuff. I understand that’s hard for them. For me, as well. My family came here, all my friends came here.

“You always have to give the benefit of the doubt to your opponent, how he’s feeling. But he’s the only one who’s gonna have to live with that in his mind for the rest of his life if it was a lie.”

Nearly an hour after the fight was over, Stephens’ coach, Eric Del Fierro, told ESPN’s Heidi Androl that Stephens still was not unable to open his eye and that he would likely be sent to an emergency ophthalmologist.

In an interview with ESPN’s Karyn Bryant, Stephens angrily responded to Rodriguez’s suggestion that he wasn’t really affected by the eye poke.

“Yair, you think I’m faking, bro?” Stephens said. “You’re the one that poked me in the eye. Let’s run in back in four or five weeks. Two weeks. I’ll be ready. It’s just a deep scratch, a deep bruise. You’re the one that poked me. Let’s run it back, m—–f—–. Let’s go.”

In one of the first exchanges of the bout, Rodriguez went for a kick and then swiped with his left hand to get distance. Rodriguez’s hand was open, and his finger went into Stephens’ left eye. Dean paused the action to look at Stephens’ eye, and Stephens couldn’t open it. Dean tried to pry Stephens’ eye open himself, and it would not open.

When the doctor entered the cage, Dean told him that Stephens wasn’t able to open his eye because it was spasming. Dean said that Stephens had time to recover and that the eye would eventually relax.

After a five-minute grace period, the doctor came back into the cage, and Stephens still could not open his eye. The fight quickly was called off.

Stephens spent $30,000 to hold a six-week training camp in Mexico to prepare for the altitude in Mexico City, which is 7,382 feet above sea level. Rodriguez also trained for a month at elevation in Mexico.

“I apologize a great deal,” Rodriguez said through an interpreter in his interview in the Octagon. “We both trained very hard for this fight. Everyone spent a lot of money coming down here to train in order to compete.”

Rodriguez (11-2, 1 NC) was coming off a historic knockout of Chan Sung Jung last November at UFC Denver. Rodriguez knocked Jung out with just 1 second remaining in a five-round fight, the first time that has happened in UFC history. Rodriguez, a 26-year-old Mexico native, has just one loss in five years in the UFC, to Frankie Edgar.

Stephens (28-16, 1 NC) had lost two straight coming into Saturday. The 33-year-old San Diego resident is ranked No. 9 among MMA featherweights by ESPN. Stephens has been a perennial contender in the division.

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