Final Thoughts: UFC Mexico City’s headliner ends in disappointment — and a disgraceful scene (2024)

Yair Rodriguez spent two months of his life anticipating his first-ever prime time headlining spot in his home nation of Mexico. Jeremy Stephens spent $30,000 of his own money to prepare for six weeks in a foreign land and acclimatize to the country’s unique elevation.

And in the end, all of it was for naught.

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UFC Mexico City’s featherweight main event ended in an anticlimactic, unfortunate fashion on Saturday night at Mexico City Arena in Mexico after an accidental eye-poke by Rodriguez rendered Stephens unable to continue just 15 seconds into the contest.

It was Stephens’ right eye that suffered from an early swipe by Rodriguez. Referee Herb Dean allowed Stephens the full five minutes to recover, and seemingly did everything he could to convince the cageside doctor to give Stephens more time — prompting a “Dr. Herb possibly saving the day” quip by color commentator Michael Bisping. But ultimately Stephens wasn’t in any shape to continue, and the bout was ruled a no-contest, leading to a disgraceful scene as the fans in Mexico City Arena pelted both the cage and Stephens with bottles and trash, while an emotional Rodriguez raged at the luckless turn of events.

Fans in Mexico City pelt Jeremy Stephens with beer and popcorn after fight is called. @espnmma @marc_raimondi pic.twitter.com/cxv2MlhljC

— Eric Gomez (@EricGomez86) September 22, 2019

Jeremy Stephens reclamó los abucheos de la gente y un aficionado intento encararlo en el octágono

🎥 @JLRamirezCANCHA pic.twitter.com/05XUpx2RRW

— CANCHA (@reformacancha) September 22, 2019

It was the second-shortest no-contest in UFC history, trailing only the 11-second bout between Antonio Carlos Junior and Kevin Casey in December 2015, which ended similarly by an inadvertent eye-poke.

“I apologize a great deal,” Rodriguez said after taking a moment to collect himself. “We both trained very hard for this fight. Everyone spent a lot of money to come down and compete and to support us. I feel really bad about it. Jeremy, we’ll be back. Let’s do this again.”

After the way Saturday night played out, there is no question that Rodriguez (11-2) and Stephens (28-16) should be rebooked. The matchup was set up to tell us plenty about where both men belong in the current UFC featherweight division, especially Rodriguez, considering the 26-year-old had been out of action since his miraculous, last-second Knockout of Year of Chan Sung Jung last November saved him from what would’ve been a two-fight losing skid. Hopefully Stephens is OK, and the sooner Rodriguez vs. Stephens can be booked, the better. This chapter feels unresolved.

Esparza guts one out

Carla Esparza’s right arm will be feeling it tomorrow, but the former UFC women’s strawweight champion still gritted out the most harrowing victories of her career.

Esparza (15-6) edged out Alexa Grasso (11-3) to win an absolute war of attrition in Saturday night’s co-main event, capturing a majority decision (28-28, 29-28, 29-28) on the judges’ scorecards. In one of the best strawweight fights of the year, Esparza largely controlled the pace for the first two rounds with big blast double-leg takedowns and steady boxing. Grasso got her licks in as well, but she really turned it on in Round 3. The 26-year-old Mexican fighter badly hurt Esparza with a monstrous flurry of hooks and then nearly tore her opponent’s arm off with one of the grisliest armbar sequences you’ll ever see.

How did @CarlaEsparza1 survive this?! 🤯 #UFCMexico pic.twitter.com/XqB3Ds0Aha

— ESPN MMA (@espnmma) September 22, 2019

It’s a testament to Esparza’s toughness that the former champion was able to survive and escape, and an even wilder testament to said toughness that she closed the final seconds swinging for the fences right alongside Grasso.

Not surprisingly, the live audience did not agree with the judges on this one. And they were not subtle with showing their disdain. The boos rained down upon Esparza and drowned out her post-fight interview, ultimately cutting it short. But Esparza, having now won two fights in a row, played it off with grace.

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“Alexa is a warrior. She dominated that last round,” an exhausted Esparza said. “She rocked me, for sure, a couple times. So much respect for Alexa. I felt that I won the first two rounds, and you can dominate one round but you lose the other ones. That’s how the fights go. You’ve got to win two rounds at least, and I felt proud of my performance. She almost got me out of there in that last round, but I gave it my all and stayed tough.”

The flyweights are so boring, you guys

Welcome back, “The Assassin Baby”.

Is there any fighter so consistently fun at 125 pounds?

Brandon Moreno (15-5-1) and undefeated Russian prospect Askar Askarov (10-0-1) burned Mexico City Arena to the ground on Saturday with the kind of sensational display of frenetic, high-level mixed martial arts that you see only on the men’s side from the 125-pound division. Askarov came out on fire, taking down Moreno and taking his back, before getting reversed and slicing Moreno up with elbows from bottom position. But Moreno appeared to briefly wobble Askarov with a big right hand in the final seconds of the round, and he then carried that momentum into Round 2 with a massive head kick that downed the Russian.

A crazy exchange in round 2 ends with a shin to the chin that drops Askarov! #UFCMexico pic.twitter.com/MrgUqFq3GH

— UFC (@ufc) September 22, 2019

Moreno continued his assault into Round 3 by taking Askarov to the mat and spending several minutes threatening a rear-naked choke.

In the end, the wild affair ended in a split draw (30-27 Moreno, 28-29 Askarov, 28-28), though I scored it 29-28 for Moreno, with the Mexican fighter taking Rounds 2 and 3.

Either way, Askarov instantly announced himself as a name to watch in the UFC’s flyweight division with his impressive debut, while Moreno wasted little time reestablishing his place among the elite in the division — and one of the most consistently entertaining fighters around.

Aldana is coming into her own

The setup was in place for Irene Aldana heading into UFC Mexico City. After short-notice replacement Vanessa Melo stepped in for Marion Reneau, Saturday night turned into a potential showcase fight for the 31-year-old Mexican fighter. And so Aldana walked into Mexico City Arena as the biggest favorite on the card — and no doubt, she looked the part.

Aldana (11-5) outclassed Melo (9-6) from pillar to post to win a lopsided unanimous decision (30-26, 30-26, 30-26) and stake her claim as one of bantamweight’s most promising rising contenders. Despite her opponent missing weight by four pounds, it was domination in every facet as Aldana battered Melo’s legs with low kicks, continually pummeled her body with liver shots, and closed with a furious salvo of looping hooks in the final exchanges of the fight. It was a masterful performance that pushed Aldana’s recent UFC record to 4-1, with that lone loss being a controversial split decision against Raquel Pennington.

What a close to those 15 minutes!

Masterful performance from @IreneAldana_ #UFCMexico pic.twitter.com/9q0pvpgopG

— UFC (@ufc) September 22, 2019

“I am not injured, and maybe I can close the year with a fourth fight at the end of November or at the beginning of December,” Aldana said. “I continue to pursue the top five, and if it is at the end of the year, it will be excellent, but next year would work too. UFC knows that I am very open about the opponents they choose for me. The one they decide is fine, but I do want a top-five (opponent), maybe a rematch with Raquel or a fight with Marion,which was canceled this time.”

When Aldana signed with the UFC in 2016, she and Grasso were hailed as the two women who could become potential stars in the Mexican region. Both went through their early growing pains, but after a night like Saturday night, it’s easy to remember why they carried so much initial hype.

We’re throwing spinning stuff now?

Your boy Steven Peterson (18-9) was really out here countering a spinning backfist with a spinning backfist — and good lord did it work.

Peterson’s second-round magnificence over Martin Bravo (11-3) was only the seventh spinning backfist knockout in UFC history, and it was a scary sight. Bravo was down on the canvas for several minutes afterward, but ultimately, luckily, he left the cage under his own power.

OUT. COLD.@8Ocho08 puts Bravo out with a beautifully timed spinning backfist! Wow! #UFCMexico pic.twitter.com/e6Gn7RPYB4

— UFC (@ufc) September 22, 2019

In any case, there’s something sublime about seeing the perfect spinning backfist knockout, and Peterson’s instantly landed on the shortlist for KO of the Year.

Bloodlust galore on the prelims

Speaking of outrageous finishes, it was a violent night in the early throes of UFC Mexico City’s prelims.

Scottish light heavyweight Paul Craig (12-4) kickstarted things by slamming a flurry of hard knees into Vinicius Moreira’s (9-4) mug until the Brazilian dropped and succumbed to a first-round rear-naked choke — and from there, we were off.

Bear Jew!

Huge knees lead to @PCraigMMA finishing Moreira in round 1! #UFCMexico pic.twitter.com/A9JWaZRKkm

— UFC (@ufc) September 21, 2019

Strawweight veteran Angela Hill (10-7) kept the momentum going by painting the octagon crimson with a massive cut she opened on Ariane Carnelossi (12-2) en route to a third-round TKO stoppage. Then Kyle Nelson (13-3) took over from there.

The featherweight scored one of the nastier knockouts of the night with a gem of an opening-round elbow followed by a massive overhand right that left Polo Reyes (8-7) out on his feet.

A dazed Reyes complained about the stoppage, but replays showed that it was the right call by referee Jason Herzog.

MASSIVE ELBOW from Kyle Nelson leads to an early night for the Canadian! wow! #UFCMexico pic.twitter.com/bMgL0TBq8L

— UFC (@ufc) September 21, 2019

Regardless, the urgency was apparent across the board from many of the fighters on the preliminary stages of UFC Mexico City. Remember kids, elevation can’t come into play if you end your night early (tappinghead.gif).

Pettis finds his way back

Sergio Pettis is back where he belongs.

After stumbling through a two-fight losing skid, which included a failed one-fight stint in the bantamweight ranks, the younger Pettis (18-5) brother rebounded with a dogged unanimous decision win (30-27, 30-27, 30-27) over Tyson Nam (18-10-1) in his return to 125 pounds.

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It was a tough spot for Pettis, taking on a late replacement in Nam who waited more than seven years for the UFC opportunity that nearly came in 2012 after his infamous knockout win over then-Bellator bantamweight champion Eduardo Dantas. The moment was better late than never for Nam, who even at age 35, still hung in tough as a game opponent. But Pettis was also a step ahead the whole way, finding a consistent home for his jab and continuously working his combinations behind it to earn his ninth UFC win, all of which have come via decision.

A big win for @SergioPettis! #UFCMexico pic.twitter.com/8H7Du9MEFr

— UFC (@ufc) September 21, 2019

Ultimately, UFC Mexico City proved to be a welcome return to form for the younger Pettis brother, who is somehow still only 26. Despite his brief dalliance at 135 pounds, Pettis remains No. 5 in the UFC’s official flyweight rankings, so opportunity will come his way. And it doesn’t hurt that his most recent victory at flyweight, which he picked up just last year, came against Joseph Benavidez, the man already established as the division’s No. 1 contender.

“Coming off of two losses, it was tough to come back and stay positive,” Pettis admitted. “I had to go out there and do what it takes to get my hand raised.”

Correia fends off the pink slip

It took a gutsy comeback in the Mexico City altitude, but Bethe Correia is back in the win column for the first time since 2016 — and she likely saved her job in the process.

Correia (11-4-1) survived a harrowing first round to nab a unanimous-decision win (29-28, 29-28, 29-28) over Sijara Eubanks (4-4) on Saturday night. But things looked hairy for her early as Eubanks took down Correia and rained down a salvo of heavy shots from half guard while trapping Eubanks’ right arm, with referee Jason Herzog hovering closely nearby. It was the most significant exchange of the fight — but it also seemed to tire Eubanks, and Correia pulled away in the second and third rounds, finding her range with a steady procession of stiff jabs and looping hooks, out-striking a fading Eubanks from that point on by a combined margin of 74-27 strikes.

For Correia, the victory offered a much-needed moment to catch her breath in a wide-open UFC’s women’s bantamweight division. The 36-year-old Brazilian limped into UFC Mexico City struggling through a 1-4-1 slump since her failed 2015 title bid against then-champ Ronda Rousey, capped by recent back-to-back stoppage losses at the hands of Holly Holm and Irene Aldana. And considering her ecstatic celebration after the decision was read, Correia clearly understood what was on the line in her matchup against the finalist from “The Ultimate Fighter 26.”

🗣 By unanimous decision!@BetheCorreia breaks out the victory dance at #UFCMexico pic.twitter.com/TbD3ynyQ0S

— UFC (@ufc) September 21, 2019

“I didn’t even remember anymore how it felt getting my arm raised,” an elated Correia said. “People were pushing me. I was already feeling bad, not knowing if I could do it again or not. But today I saw that I’m still fine. I still have a lot to give. I come from a very difficult (period) in my career, many ups and downs, health problems. This camp was very difficult too. I had other issues. I fought so hard. I wanted so much to fight.

“At many times I thought about not fighting at this event,” she continued, “but I was decided and went beyond my strength. Now I just want to get some rest and come back even stronger.”

(Top photo: Orlando Ramirez / USA Today)

Final Thoughts: UFC Mexico City’s headliner ends in disappointment — and a disgraceful scene (2024)
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