Jeremy Stephens’ emphatic knockout win over Josh Emmett in the main event of UFC on FOX 28 was not without controversy.
After knocking Emmett down in the second round with a clean punch, Stephens followed the knockdown up with what appeared to be an illegal knee on the ground. Referee Dan Miragliotta did not see the knee and allowed the fight to continue, and a few seconds and a few vicious elbows to the head later and the fight was over, with Stephens being declared the winner via second-round KO.
Emmett said after the fight that he plans to appeal the knockout loss (check out James Lynch’s report here) and he and his his team are looking to have the victory for Stephens turned into a No Contest for both of them. While it’s worth going through the appeal process because you never know what will happen, in my opinion Emmett will lose the appeal because there just isn’t enough conclusive evidence to say for a fact the Stephens knee landed. There’s no doubt Stephens threw the strike, and had it landed it would have been illegal, but there’s no camera angle available that says with certainty the illegal strike landed clean. And with the referee not seeing the knee and not calling timeout for it, it will be hard for the Florida State Athletic Commission to come out after the fact and change the result of the fight since ultimately it was finished with clean ground-and-pound strikes.
Much like other sports leagues, the athletic commissions tend to protect their own guys. Even if a referee makes an error, often times the leagues won’t change the result unless there is absolute conclusive, without-a-doubt evidence to do so. This happens all the time in Major League Baseball, when an umpire misses what appears to be a call everyone else thinks is wrong, but unless there is 100 percent certainty the result often isn’t changed.
And the same goes for blown calls in the National Hockey League, the National Basketball League and the National Football League. In this instance, Stephens even said Miragliotta told him in the locker room the knee in question would have been legal, and if that conversation truly happened, I expect the commission to double down further and protect their ref even more in this situation. In simple terms, Stephens is going to keep the KO win on his resume.
The difference between the big four pro sports leagues and the UFC is of course that instant replay isn’t available in all jurisdictions when the UFC comes to town. In Las Vegas, there is instant replay. Same thing with New York. But in Florida, there’s no instant replay. So even if Miragliotta thought the knee was illegal once he did see the replay, there was no way to change the result of the contest once the fight was called off.
The only way it would have been deemed illegal is if Miragliotta caught the knee when it happened and put a pause to the action due to what he perceived as an illegal strike. But since he didn’t, the fight continued and Stephens finished it with a legal blow. And even if instant replay was used, there’s still doubt as to whether or not the knee landed. This is why I believe the athletic commission will not change the result of the contest, since it’s not 100 percent conclusive that the knee even landed and therefore it may not have impacted the result of the fight. Nevermind the fact the referee ruled the fight a KO.
It’s a shame that Stephens’ huge KO win over Emmett is being marred with controversy, but unfortunately the knee he threw puts some doubt into the finish. While it’s true Stephens knocked Emmett down and ultimately finished him with some vicious hellbows on the ground, the maybe legal/maybe illegal knee also happened in the sequence and it throws some doubt into what happened. Ultimately I believe Stephens will keep the win and move on with three-straight victories on his record, but for Emmett, even though he will probably lose the appeal, he has nothing to lose by trying.
At the very least, what the athletic commission says will provide some further education on these situations when they happen in MMA. Instant replay in every jurisdiction would be the first step forward, but sadly in a sport where the rules change depending on the state that likely won’t happen anytime soon, and we’ll continue to have situations like this until these athletic commissions get together and clean their acts up.