It has been replayed countless times, from different angles and at different speeds, yet it’s still dividing fight fans whether referee Dan Miragliotta should have intervened during the ending sequence between Jeremy Stephens and Josh Emmett at UFC on Fox 28.
Referee Rob Hinds talked with MMA Fighting about the decision and how difficult it is for the referee given how quickly everything happens.
“This is absolutely the toughest part about what we do,” Hinds told MMA Fighting. “Within seconds we have to decide was that legal, was that illegal? Do I do something, do I not do something? Do I verbally warn, do I not? So, within that split, split second, there’s several things that can happen.”
Miragliotta did not rule it an illegal knee and Stephens continued the beatdown on his way to a knockout.
The replays show the knee of Jeremy Stephens connecting to the back of Emmett’s head although on the way down from the initial strike.
“If it was glancing or not, it’s still illegal,” said Hinds, who is a licensed referee certification trainer. “At that point, it’s up to the referee to handle that in an appropriate way. If it’s just a verbal warning, ‘Hey, watch the grounded opponent.’ Is it something where we’ll stop and check on this fighter to see if they’re injured by it, what the status is of it, that sort of thing. There are different levels of procedure that we can do. But if you feel as a referee that something happened and you do nothing, that’s the worst.”
Currently, the Florida State Boxing Commission does not allow for instant replay, although Hinds, who is on the ABC’s rules and regulations committee, said the sequence on the weekend between Stephens and Emmett should be a good enough reason why a replay should be in place to avoid all doubt. In this instance, Miragliotta could have assessed the replay after the fight and decided to keep the result as is, change the result to a no-contest or if he thought the knee was intentional, disqualify Stephens.
“I don’t know how it would have worked out in the end, but the fact that you would be able to look at it and evaluate those things is very important,” Hinds said. “That’s exactly the reason why we implemented replay, exactly for that kind of situation.”
The knee from Stephens wasn’t the only other talking point during the fight. Fans had complained that he landed illegal shots using his elbows to the back of Emmett’s head. Hinds suggested these were OK as they were transitional.
“It was definitely transitional,” Hinds said. “With those elbows, there’s really not a problem. Here’s what most of us explain to the fighters: If you throw an elbow -- and an elbow is long, an elbow is your forearm and that other stuff. If you throw a strike and it hits in an illegal area, but it also hits in a legal area, it’s considered legal.
“That’s why we always say if you catch a part of the ear, you’re good. If you hit behind the ear, that’s when it’s considered illegal.”
“All transitional strikes are considered legal,” he said. “The fact that Emmett was moving, it may have a bearing for a verbal warning, ‘hey, watch the back of the head.’ But at that point, we always tell the fighters, if you go to punch or elbow your opponent and they turn their head and you hit them in the back of the head, we’re not counting that against you, because it was transitional. They caused that target. But we may warn you just not to come back with a secondary shot in that area.”
This incident has prompted calls for all athletic commissions to adopt the unified rules, which were brought into play in 2016 and include a replay with the potential for a referee to change the outcome of the fight. Nevada, New Jersey and Texas athletic commissions have not adopted these new rules, whereas Florida has except for the replay. The inconsistencies with the rule sets may have caused confusion to Stephens during the fight.
“The main point here should be that this is the exact reason for replay and more importantly for all athletic commissions and tribes to adopt the current Unified Rules and regulations,” Hinds said.