On Saturday, Jeremy Stephens earned his third consecutive win with a second-round knockout victory over Josh Emmett in the main event of UFC on FOX 28. The win was not without a fair share of controversy.
Stephens dropped his opponent to the mat with a left hand in the second stanza and then unleased a flurry of ground strikes including elbows that looked like they landed to the back of Emmett’s head. But the major controversy was with the knee Stephens threw at his downed opponent. The strike looked like it was an illegal blow. Referee Dan Miragliotta did not rule the elbows, or knee, as illegal during the heat of the battle. Instead, he waved off the contest and declared Stephens the winner by knockout at 1:35 of the second stanza.
When the replay of the ending sequence was shown on the FOX broadcast of the event, which took place at Amway Center in Orlando, Fla., social media exploded with opinions on the stoppage and the strikes.
Illegal knee AF! — Cody Garbrandt (@Cody_Nolove) February 25, 2018
Gimme a break! Feel for @JoshEmmett155, congrats @lilheathenmma but that was an illegal knee. @… https://t.co/4zq9cR7jy0 — Urijah Faber (@UrijahFaber) February 25, 2018
Jeremy Stephens still has that serious power, regardless of where his strikes land. If the ref lets it go, ref lets it go. #ufcorlando — The Spartan (@EliasTheodorou) February 25, 2018
Watching the replays, at least two illegal elbows landed and that illegal knee did connect in some measure. Big Tan on the ball tonight! #UFCOrlando — The Spartan (@EliasTheodorou) February 25, 2018
That knee was illegal AF!! But that drop and that finishing instinct was WILD and BRUTAL! 145 is STACKED!! #UFCOrlando — Aljamain Sterling (@FunkMaster_UFC) February 25, 2018
Looked like a grounded opponent to me. #ufcorlando — Scott Holtzman (@HotSauceHoltzy) February 25, 2018
I would file for a no contest lowkey. That knee grazed the top of the head, looked illegal af. Jeremy do hit hard but josh was looking good — Kevin MTP Lee (@MoTownPhenom) February 25, 2018
Stephens opinion of the knee strike was that it was legal.
“Dan Miragliotta came in the back (before the fight). He said this state specifically is under the new (unified) rules,” Stephens told MMAjunkie. “He said if two hands are on the ground, you can lift one hand up and throw a knee.”
In describing the finishing sequence, Stephens said he believed he followed the rules as they were relayed to him before the fight.
“He did raise his hand up. I threw a knee. I didn’t feel it land. But that’s not what finished him. Dan Miragliotta – if he thought it was illegal, he could’ve stopped the fight," said Stephens. "That’s not my job. Under this state, those are the rules. It is what it is. I took advantage of the opportunity. I go for the kill, I train for the finish, that’s what I do.”
Stephens was awarded a "Performance of the Night" bonus for his victory. That post-fight award gave Stephens his third straight fight-night bonus. He took home "Fight of the Night" honors for his wins over Dooho Choi and Gilbert Melendez. With his three consecutive victories, Stephens has matched the longest winning streak of his lengthy UFC tenure, which began in 2007.
Stephens believes his win over Emmett should earn him a title shot.
“And now we know who the hardest-hitting 145er is, baby," Stephens told UFC commentator Jon Anik after the fight. "No disrespect – Josh Emmett put me down on my butt. I had to get my wits back. But you can’t break me. … Give me my title shot! There’s only three guys in front of me.”