Jeremy Stephens scored a hellacious knockout over Josh Emmett in his first FOX-broadcasted main event, but unfortunately for him, the conversation after UFC on FOX 28 centered mostly around the controversial manner in which the fight ended.
After dropping Emmett with a blistering left hook, Stephens appeared to potentially hit his grounded foe with an illegal knee to the head en route to securing a second-round stoppage. Replay showed that Emmett had one knee on the mat at the time of the strike, which would make Emmett a grounded opponent and would make a knee to the head illegal, regardless of which version of the unified rules of MMA is in effect.
Asked about the sequence on the UFC on FOX 28 post-fight show, Stephens explained his decision to throw the knee by saying that referee Dan Miragliotta told him backstage — erroneously, if true — that such a strike is allowed by the Florida athletic commission, which uses the newest version of the unified rules.
“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,” Stephens said Saturday on the FOX Sports 1 post-fight show. “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.”
Stephens also addressed the criticism he has received for potentially elbowing Emmett in the back of the head during his fight-ending flurry.
“Guys, look, I’m going for the finish here,” Stephens said. “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.”
A 28-bout veteran of the Octagon, Stephens is one of the longest tenured UFC fighters ever. He also knows what it’s like to be viciously knocked out on live television, having been on the receiving end of an infamous knockout at the hands of Yves Edwards in 2012. So, unprompted, Stephens also took a moment to wish Emmett well after the fight.
“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.”
Regardless of any controversy from UFC on FOX 28, the victory pushed Stephens’ current win streak to three straight, adding to past victories over Gilbert Melendez and Doo Ho Choi. Stephens has picked up post-fight bonuses in each of those wins — he kept that run alive with a Performance of the Night bonus on Saturday night — so after beating the UFC’s No. 4 ranked featherweight in vicious fashion, the 31-year-old Stephens indicated that he could be inching close to his elusive first title shot.
“There’s two guys (above me in the rankings) who I’ve already fought that I had close matchups against,” Stephens said. “I feel like now that I’m back in the Alliance camp, doing things the right way, I match-up really well. Brian Ortega, he’s the only other guy that I haven’t fought that’s really in front of me. If [Emmett] was the No. 4 guy, that puts me right there. So I’m in the mix.”
Still, after competing twice in two months, Stephens said he does not want to wait for a title shot.
With Max Holloway recovery from injury and Frankie Edgar vs. Brian Ortega slated for a likely No. 1 contender fight next week at UFC 222, Stephens said he will be ready to fight again if the UFC gives him the choice between staying active or waiting on the sidelines as the title picture figures itself out.
“I would definitely take the fight,” Stephen said. “This is the fight game. I want to fight. If you feel like you’re the real champion, you should be able to beat everybody and anybody, and take anybody out at any given time. But I’m doing this back-to-back, I just fought in January and now I’m fighting in February. I don’t know any champion or anybody fighting like that besides maybe (Donald) Cerrone.
“I’ll fight in March, where are we going?”