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Frankie Edgar’s solution for Stephens-Emmett controversy? Make all knees legal

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Considering his standing as one of the best featherweight fighters in the world, it makes sense that Frankie Edgar was watching on Saturday night when his fellow 145-pound contenders, Jeremy Stephens and Josh Emmett, faced off in the main event of UFC on FOX 28. That means Edgar also saw Stephens’ second-round stoppage over Emmett, which was marred by controversy when Stephens grazed a grounded Emmett with an illegal knee to the head then struck Emmett with a potentially illegal elbow to the back of the head during the fight-ending sequence.

Asked about the sequence on Monday’s episode of The MMA Hour, Edgar indicated that he understood where Stephens was coming from with the heat-of-the-moment strikes and sympathized with referee Dan Miragliotta for the difficult situation Miragliotta was put in. Miragliotta was ultimately forced to make a split-second decision, as the Florida State Boxing Commission does not permit the use of instant replay.

“It’s tough,” Edgar said on The MMA Hour. “I don’t know if that changed the outcome, with the crazy knee and the elbows and stuff like that. Elbowing, the guy was turning so sh*t’s going to happen. And look, dude, he got rocked pretty bad himself, Jeremy — he sees this guy rocked, ‘I can finish this fight, I’m going to do whatever I can to finish it.’ I mean, you’re in a fight. You guys are throwing punches, trying to hurt each other. It is what it is.

“I guess by definition of the rules, yes [the action should’ve been stopped]. But in a split second? We see it on TV and we rewind it a thousand times. ... It happened so fast, [if you’re Miragliotta] you’re almost looking to see, ‘Is the guy okay?’ You may not have even seen the knee graze him, or you might’ve said, ‘Ah, that didn’t really hit him,’ because it really didn’t affect the trajectory of his head or anything like that.”

Luckily, Edgar has a solution for an issue that has affected fights with increasingly regularity since the Unified Rules of MMA were split into two separate rulesets in 2016.

“To me, I say let it all go,” Edgar said. “Let it all go. What’s the difference between kneeing someone on the ground or kneeing someone when they’re [standing in a Muay Thai clinch]? If anything, I think you can probably knee someone a lot harder [from the Thai clinch] than on the ground. So I think let’s just make knees legal.

“I would say make everything legal,” Edgar added, laughing. “I know that won’t fly. But I think make knees legal.”

When Edgar says everything, he means everything. Headbutts, soccer kicks, the works; if it used to be allowed in MMA, “The Answer” would be down to fight with them.

“I mean, I would be,” Edgar said, laughing again. “I get how it would look to the public and everything like that, but hey, a real fight’s a real fight.”

Obviously such a ruleset will likely never return to mainstream MMA, although Edgar said it’d “be cool” if he got the opportunity to compete under a similar ruleset at least once before he retires. The 36-year-old former UFC lightweight champion noted that he fought a No Holds Barred match in 2005 that allowed use of headbutts — a rule he gladly took advantage of — and that experience “was kind of cool.”

Nonetheless, Edgar admitted that something needs to be done about the current state of the fractured Unified Rules of MMA.

Depending on the location of an event, the rules in regards to kneeing a grounded opponent could be totally different from one fight to the next. That’s “a problem,” said Edgar, and it doesn’t help that it’s sometimes unclear which rules are in effect on a given evening, such as the case of UFC 220, which saw a miscommunication lead to two different rulesets being used in a single night.

Edgar, who fights Brian Ortega on March 3 at UFC 222, perfectly illustrated the problem when he asked Helwani which ruleset he’ll be fighting under this week in Las Vegas.

“What does Vegas have?” Edgar asked, himself unsure. “Do you know?”

For what it’s worth, Las Vegas uses the old Unified Rules of MMA, which means that a knee to a grounded opponent will be illegal under any circumstance at UFC 222.

But therein lies the issue.

With MMA as fractured as it is, a UFC veteran of 22 fights was genuinely uncertain which rulseset he was about to compete under on the biggest stage of the sport possible.

“It is a problem,” Edgar said. “I don’t know how they could fix it. I mean, well, there is a way they could fix it — by making one set of rules — but you know how that goes.

“We’re trying to hurt each other so I definitely think it needs to be addressed. But the problem is, it’s the commissions. It’s not even the UFC’s fault. They can’t make the choice.”