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The Ultimate Fighting Championship on Saturday returned to Mexico City and did so with a card featuring two of their most prominent Mexican stars: Yair Rodriguez and Alexa Grasso. Rodriguez was set to go to war with slugger Jeremy Stephens in the UFC Fight Night 159 main event, while Grasso squared off with Carla Esparza in the co-headliner. The outcome of both fights left those in attendance disappointed.
Just after the main event started, it came to a screeching halt when Rodriguez accidentally swiped Stephens’ face with his fingers. The reaction was immediate. Stephens’ left eye closed instantly, and once it became clear he could not open it, the bout was waved off and ruled a no-contest. Rodriguez was visibly upset, and his emotions boiled over on the ESPN+ post-fight show.
“You always have to give the benefit of the doubt to your opponent,” he said. “You don’t know how he is feeling. He’s the only one that’s going to have to live with that in his mind for the rest of his life. It was a lie.”
Stephens stepped inside the Octagon for the 31st time in hopes of ending his two-fight losing streak. The Alliance MMA mainstay did not participate in any post-fight events but did respond to Rodriguez’s accusations in a video posted to Twitter.
“Yair, you think I’m faking, bro? You’re the one that poked me in the eye,” Stephens said. “Let’s run it back, four or five weeks, two weeks, whatever. I’ll be ready, just a deep scratch, a deep bruise. You’re the one that poked me. Let’s run it back, mother [expletive]. Let’s go.”
While the 33-year-old was eager to right the wrong in a rematch, Rodriguez apparently was not interested in the fight from the beginning.
“As I said before the fight, Jeremy Stephens is a fight that I didn’t want to take because he was behind me in the rankings,” he said, “not because of his toughness or whatever.”
In the co-main event, Esparza edged Grasso on the scorecards in the “Fight of the Night.” The former champion survived a third-round surge from Grasso that “Cookie Monster” rocked on the feet before having one of her limbs bent in an unnatural direction while defending an armbar. It was the second straight win for Esparza and likely keeps the Team Oyama export in contention at 115 pounds.
“I’ve always been a humble fighter, not been known to talk myself up too much,” Esparza said. “Maybe that’s kind of to a fault, but for me, I just want to keep coming forward with my performances [and] evolving. I feel like until I’m done fighting, I’m never going to be out of that [championship] conversation.”
Esparza affirmed her interest in a rematch with Claudia Gadelha, a woman who defeated her by split decision at UFC 225 a little more than a year ago.
“I’m always game to fight anyone,” Esparza said. “I have been asking for that rematch with Claudia for a long time. Whoever. I’m always game.”
The hometown crowd did not see eye to eye with the judges and let its displeasure be known by showering Esparza with boos. The behavior of fans purportedly grew much worse once she exited the cage. Esparza revealed in a post-fight media scrum that beer had been poured on her as she walked to the locker room. The crowd continued with its unfortunate actions after the disappointing conclusion to the main event, firing cans and other objects into the Octagon. During the ruckus, UFC play-by-play announcer Brendan Fitzgerald hid under his broadcast table to avoid projectiles while security rushed Stephens out of the cage.
A number of fighters voiced their disapproval of the crowd’s behavior, including Jessica Eye, Mike Perry and Angela Hill, who was victorious on the undercard.
“We all watched Jeremy put his blood, sweat, and tears into this camp,” Hill posted on Twitter. “He trained at altitude for six weeks and left the arena getting punched in the back of the head by fans. Disgusting to blame a fighter for an unfortunate fight ending foul. He is the last person to fake an injury.”