A fun night of fights had an unfortunate ending Saturday, as the UFC Fight Night 159 main event between Yair Rodriguez and Jeremy Stephens was called a no-contest because of an eye poke.
Rodriguez, fighting in his home country of Mexico for the first time since 2015, came out swinging with a pair of kicks before accidentally poking Stephens in the eye. Referee Herb Dean tried to give Stephens ample time to recover, but he was unable to open his eye after several minutes, and the fight was forced to a premature end.
As far as no-contests go, it was nearly a record:
The decision obviously frustrated the crowd, as fans were throwing things toward the cage after the decision was announced. As ESPN's Ariel Helwani noted, Stephens had the right to be just as frustrated as anyone.
Ariel Helwani @arielhelwani
I get that the fans are upset because they paid to watch this fight, but consider Stephens has been living in Mexico for the past six weeks, away from his family, and this happens to him. When it’s a no contest, historically you only get your show money. Horrible turn of events.
It was a disappointing end to an otherwise interesting night of fights. The crowd was treated to a few very close decisions and highlight-reel knockouts. Here's a look at all the action that went down in Mexico City.
- Yair Rodriguez vs. Jeremy Stephens declared no-contest because of an eye poke (Round 1, 0:15)
- Carla Esparza defeats Alexa Grasso via majority decision (28-28, 29-28, 29-28)
- Brandon Moreno vs. Askar Askarov ends in split draw
- Irene Aldana defeats Vanessa Melo by unanimous decision (30-26 x3)
- Steven Peterson defeats Martin Bravo via knockout (Round 2, 1:31)
- Jose Quinonez defeats Carlos Huachin via unanimous decision (30-27 x3)
- Kyle Nelson defeats Polo Reyes via KO (Round, 1:36)
- Angela Hill defeats Ariane Carnelossi via technical knockout (doctor's stoppage) (Round 3, 1:56)
- Sergio Pettis defeats Tyson Nam via unanimous decision (30-27 x3)
- Paul Craig defeats Vinicius Moreira via submission (rear-naked choke) (Round 1, 3:19)
- Bethe Correia defeats Sijara Eubanks via unanimous decision (29-28 x3)
- Claudio Puelles defeats Marcos Mariano via unanimous decision (30-25 x3)
Carla Esparza vs. Alexa Grasso
The judges didn't have the easiest night in Mexico City. Just one fight after declaring one bout a draw, they gave Carla Esparza a majority decision in the co-main event that is sure to be hotly debated.
Esparza was aggressive with her striking in the early going as the two traded blows in the stand-up. Esparza's wrestling set her apart in the early going as well, though, with some well-timed takedowns.
A deep armbar attempt that nearly ended the fight punctuated the third round as Esparza showcased a lot of heart in working her way out of a hard situation.
It might have been by the thinnest of margins, but Esparza picked up a much-needed win either way. She now has back-to-back wins after suffering back-to-back losses at the hands of Claudia Gadelha and Tatiana Suarez.
Brandon Moreno vs. Askar Askarov
The only thing that Brandon Moreno and Askar Askarov didn't give the audience in their fast-paced affair was a definitive conclusion. The two flyweights fought to a split draw after three rounds of actions.
The two engaged in a heavy grappling match that featured plenty of big takedowns, transitions and scrambles with both fighters getting the best of one another. The judges, however, were all over the map with their scores.
The most contentious scorecard would be the one that had Askarov winning. He clearly had a case in the first round, but was dropped in the second round and had his back taken in the third.
Given the competitive nature of the fight and the relative position of both fighters it wouldn't be shocking if they decide to run it back. It's something anyone who watched the fight won't have a problem with.
Irene Aldana vs. Vanessa Melo
Irene Aldana was one of the more hyped fighters on the card, and she didn't disappoint. Though she couldn't get the finish, she put on a clinic against Vanessa Melo and earned a 30-26 unanimous decision.
Melo, a promotional newcomer who took the fight on short notice, put forth a good effort, but she was simply overmatched against Aldana. Given the circumstances, her ability to hang tough against a top-10 opponent did enough to interest analysts in seeing her in the cage again.
For Aldana, this was just an opportunity to showcase her technical striking skills, and that's exactly what she did. She hit Melo early and often and bounced back from her split-decision loss to Raquel Pennington.
Aldana was originally supposed to fight Marion Reneau. After this, it will be interesting to see what she's able to do against a fellow ranked fighter. She was clearly a cut above Melo and needs competition to see where she truly is in the pecking order at bantamweight.
Steven Peterson vs. Martin Bravo
Steven Peterson ruined Martin Bravo's homecoming to kick off the main card. The Mexican crowd saw their countryman go down to a stunning spinning elbow that is sure to be a mainstay on Peterson's career highlight reel.
Bravo had some success with takedowns, but he was unable to bring down his opponent in the second frame and paid for it.
This was a much-needed win for Peterson. The 29-year-old came into the bout with a 1-3 record in his last four fights starting in 2018.
Bravo also came into the fight in desperate need of a win. He is now on a three-fight losing streak. If he gets another opportunity to fight in the Octagon, it will probably be for the right to stay on the roster.