UFC Fight Night 159 featured a featherweight booking with the potential for fireworks, but it ended in just 15 anticlimactic seconds.
To make matters worse, the end wasn’t because of a brutal knockout or wicked submission. Rather, it concluded because of an accidental Yair Rodriguez eye rake, which left foe Jeremy Stephens unable to continue.
Rodriguez (11-2) landed a leg kick and then a glancing front kick to the chest in the early going. But when the two featherweights threw punches simultaneously, “El Pantera” had his left hand open and one of his fingers raked Stephens’ left eye. Stephens immediately backed away and veteran referee Herb Dean intervened. Dean did everything he could to allow “Lil’ Heathen” to continue, but when the American’s eye wouldn’t open, the fight was called.
The rabid fans in Mexico City Arena were understandably perturbed by the outcome, but many of them began launching cups and other debris into the Octagon and at Stephens. It wasn’t the ending anybody wanted ,and Rodriguez is just as dismayed at what happened as Stephens.
“I don’t know how to feel right now, honestly,” Rodriguez said on the ESPN+ post-fight show. “All of my friends are telling me not to be disappointed, that this s—t happens. I really did 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. I understand that’s hard for them and for me, as well.
Stephens reportedly was still unable to open his eye while Rodriguez was being interviewed by Dan Hardy and Karyn Bryant on ESPN+. Rodriguez was visibly upset at what transpired roughly 15 minutes prior, but he said he understood Stephens’ position — somewhat.
“You always have to give the benefit of the doubt to your opponent,” he said. “You don’t know how he’s feeling. But he’s the only one who is going to have to live with that in his mind for the rest of his life, if it was a lie.
“You always have to give the benefit of the doubt,” he added. “I can’t imagine how it feels to have an eye poke. But I know how it feels to have an eye closed, and I still fought. But that’s up to me. But even with that, I told them I could see. I was ready to go in the third round because I said, ‘Yes, I could see,’ even if it was a lie. But everybody is different in this sport. The only one that has to live with that is Jeremy Stephens. I understand. I’m giving him completely the benefit of the doubt.”
Rodriguez was amped to get back into action because the Mexican hadn’t fought since his electrifying last-second knockout win over Chan Sung Jung last November. Though his duel with Stephens has MMA fans crazy with excitement, it was a matchup he admittedly wasn’t fond of and isn’t sure if he wants to fight the Iowan again.
“I just want to wait and see what’s going to happen after this,” he said. “I have to go and talk to the UFC, to my team and see what is going to happen. I don’t know. As I said before the fight, Jeremy Stephens is a fight that I didn’t want to take because he was behind me in the rankings, because of his toughness or whatever. I’m going to have to talk to my team and see what they’re thinking and what the UFC is thinking.”