Bull’s eye: Rodriguez vs. Stephens and six more fights stopped because of eye poke
A bitter example of the Yair Rodriguez vs. Jeremy Stephens fight that was called a no contest in September was yet more proof that anything can happen in mixed martial arts. You can’t hope for a clean fight when two guys get closed in the cage and batter each other for the audience’s delight. 15 seconds into that fight an accidental eye poke put an end to fans’ expectations to see an entertaining show. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon, and even the biggest promotion in the world that gathered the most elite fighters under its roof is not immune to such cases.
Harcord analyzed the UFC history starting with the first event ever to find more cases when the long fingers of one of the opponents forced the fight to stop and be called a no contest.
Wagner Prado vs. Phil Davis (UFC on Fox 4)
Few months prior to this fight that happened in August 2012 the American wrestler Phil Davis was considered one of the main prospects of the UFC light heavyweight division and the promotion regarded him as the future champion. Their hopes were busted when Davis lost to former champion Rashad Evans. Phil Davis not just lost the fight, he looked like an absolute schooler, unable to set anything against his opponent.
Six months later Phil Davis got the chance to rehabilitate in a fight against Brazilian debutant Wagner Prado who came undefeated on an eight-win streak. It looked like the promotion set certain hopes on him if it gave him the opportunity to prove against a fighter of that level. Even though that fight ended shortly, Wagner Prado showed a rather competitive performance and gave an equal fight to his opponent for a minute and a half until he missed… an eye poke. The poke was rather serious and the Brazilian couldn’t continue which forced the referee to call the first eye-poke-related “no contest” in the history of the promotion. It’s fair to say that in the immediate rematch Wagner Prado suffered a finish loss, then he lost his next fight, and left the number one promotion inglorious.
K.J. Noons vs. Daron Cruickshank (The Ultimate Fighter 20 Finale)
The fight between not the sharpest knives in the drawer but still tough fighters K.J. Noons and Daron Cruickshank was part of the main card of the TUF 20 Finale that happened in December 2014. Neither of the two fighters was considered as the title challengers by the UFC but managed to show entertaining fights. It looked like that was what the UFC matchmakers had in sights, and they didn’t go wrong.
The fighters began to delight fans with entertaining exchanges from the first seconds of the fight. Noons was considered the topdog and tried to use his boxing schooling and work in combos. Cruickshank gave his opponent the upper hand but counterattacked constantly, showing that he was the main puncher in this bout. Daron caught the opponent with heavy punches a couple of times and Noons’ nerves began to give in the first round already. In the middle of it he poked his opponent’s eye and the referee was forced to give Cruickshank additional time to recover. Daron recovered and the fighters ended the round. However, Noons poked Cruickshank into the eye again early in the second round, and Daron’s eye started reddening. After consulting the doctor, the referee decided to stop the fight and call it a “no contest.”
Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto vs. Roman Salazar (UFC 184)
Fans set big hopes on the advent of legendary MMA light divisions Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto to the UFC but he failed to deliver them. After three straight losses Yamamoto took a break and hadn’t entered the Octagon for almost three years until he decided to make the fourth attempt in February 2015. He faced a journeyman Roman Salazar.
Unlike the previous fight in our list where both fighters still had time to put on a show, this bout turned out pretty boring. Difference in pace was the first thing that caught everyone’s eye, and that was not in favor of Salazar. Yamamoto danced around his opponent, throwing single shots that weren’t threatening though, and in the first round he missed an eye-poke from his opponent. After running away from each other till the end of the first round, the fighters rested a little and in the next round it was the “Kid” who took a role of the guy who wasn’t controlling his fingers. The referee had to stop the fight after the second eye-poke. Salazar tried to recover but his doctor recommended to stop the fight and the referee followed his advice.
It’s worth noting that after the fight Yamamoto retired and three years later the world found out that the Japanese died of cancer.
Antonio Carlos Junior vs. Kevin Casey (UFC Fight Night 80)
The fight between Brazilian grappler Antonio Carlos Junior and American puncher Kevin Casey happened in December 2015 and promised to be a true clash of styles that the fans love so much but, unfortunately for them, the fight didn’t happen per se.
As soon as the ring sounded and the opponents met in the center of the Octagon, the Brazilian landed a good right punch and tried to add a left hook to it but somehow forgot to clench his fist. Carlos Junior’s finger poked the American’s eye pretty deeply. The referee stopped the fight immediately and several minutes later it was clear that Casey couldn’t continue. It was the fourth case in the history of the promotion when the unfortunate occurrence stole the entertainment from the fans.
Cole Miller vs. Jim Alers (UFC on Fox 17)
The confrontation of the American featherweights Cole Miller and Jim Alers that had happened late 2015 turned out pretty spectacular. Both fighters are obvious grapplers with most of their wins secured by submissions. As it usually happens in such cases, the opponents decided to delight their fans with punches which were rather run-of-the-mill but looked pretty interesting.
Miller was much bigger than Alers and tried to use his advantage in reach. Alers tried to come closer and threw low kicks regularly that were non-threatening though. Everyone saw that the guys tried their best and sometimes even exchanged some worthy punches until Alers threw his hand early in the second round and poked his opponent into the eye. The rep showed that the poke was serious and the finger got deep into the eye socket. Considering multiple similar cases that happened in 2015, no one was surprised that Miller couldn’t continue. That was the fifth time in the UFC history when an accidental eye poke prevented the fight from being finished.
Todd Duffee vs. Jeff Hughes (UFC Fight Night 158)
Fans almost forgot flamboyant heavyweight Todd Duffee who hadn’t entered the Octagon for almost four years. So, when the news broke that he was coming back, the fans got excited and looked forward to what would happen. His opponent was journeyman Jeff Hughes who was enough for Duffee’s triumphant comeback and the fight happened in September 2019.
Todd pushed forward from the first seconds, clearly showing he was looking for a finish. It even looked like he might make it but Hughes endured and waited until his opponent got tired. He didn’t have to wait too long: Duffee slowed down significantly in a couple of minutes and Hughes started claiming the thread of the game. At the last minute of the first round Duffee accidently poked his opponent into the eye. The poke didn’t look like it was too serious but Todd had enough. It felt like after losing control over the fight Duffee was looking for a reason to stop the fight, and he was lucky to find one. We can’t say he dodged the fight deliberately but it is what it is.
Yair Rodriguez vs. Jeremy Stephens (UFC Fight Night 159)
No UFC fights were cancelled because of eye poking since 2015 till 2019, but in September of this year we have already two such cases. A week after the Duffee vs. Hughes fight technically skilled Mexican Yair Rodriguez was about to headline the event in his home country against dangerous American puncher Jeremy Stephens, and the fans expected to see a blood bath inside of the Octagon with only one fighter coming out “alive”, so to speak.
Unfortunately, the fans’ disappointment knew no bounds when Yair’s fingers touched the opponent’s eye 15 seconds into the fight. The fight halted and the eye poke didn’t look that bad in the rep but Stephens couldn’t open his eye even after five additional minutes that the referee had given him. Jeremy Stephens doesn’t look like someone who would dodge the fight but fans didn’t care. When it became clear that the fight would not continue, the fans started throwing glasses with beer, popcorn buckets and other things to the Octagon. However, that didn’t change anything.