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Brian Ortega doesn't believe Jeremy Stephens a dirty fighter for controversial UFC on FOX 28 finish

LOS ANGELES – Confusion reigns when it comes to the end of UFC on FOX 28’s main event.

Featherweight and UFC 222 co-headliner Brian Ortega backed colleague Jeremy Stephens in his finish of Josh Emmett at UFC on FOX 28, opining the knee he threw seconds prior to a knockout finish was good.

“I don’t think it was illegal,” Ortega (13-0 MMA, 5-0 UFC) told reporters at a media luncheon in Los Angeles to promote his fight with ex-champ Frankie Edgar (22-5-1 MMA, 16-5-1 UFC) on Saturday at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. “Some of the elbows he threw when he dropped (Emmett), I think one of them landed on the back of the head. But when you’re trying to finish, and the guy is staggering, it just happens.

“I don’t feel (Stephens) is a dirty fighter, and I don’t feel like he did that on purpose. Emmett’s hand did lift off the mat when he threw that knee, so even if it did land, it was legal. I’m not against it. Congratulations to him for finishing Emmett.”

Emmett (13-2 MMA, 4-2 UFC) was knocked out by a lunging elbow thrown by Stephens (28-14 MMA, 15-13 UFC) in the second round of their FOX-televised bout this past Saturday at Amway Center in Orlando, Fla.

Just before the final blow was struck, Stephens landed a left hook that dropped Emmett to the mat. A series of elbows followed as Emmett tried to right himself. Some bounced off the back of his head, an illegal target to strike. As Emmett got to his knees, he raised his hands to defend himself and was grazed in the head by a knee from Stephens, who then landed another punch before his fight-ending blow.

Stephens later said he intended to throw the knee and said referee Dan Miragliotta gave the green-light on the type of knee strike he used because the new unified rules of MMA were in effect. Miragliotta did not call a foul during the finishing sequence.

“(Miragliotta) said if two hands are on the ground, you can lift one hand up and throw a knee,” Stephens said.

What Stephens didn’t mention was that one of Emmett’s knees was on the canvas, making the knee strike illegal under the old and new rules.

When the Association of Boxing Commissions modified the rules on a downed opponent in 2016, they sought to avoid situations in which a fighter was artificially initiating the status of a downed opponent, a strategy known as “playing the game.” A fighter would put a few fingers on the canvas, often while trapped in a front headlock position, and prevent an opponent from kneeing the head. The new rules placed a greater burden on the fighter to be considered a downed opponent in transitions. Weight needed to be put on the hand or hands. Specifically, both palms, both fists, or a palm and a fist had to touch the canvas.

Judging from Stephens’ explanation of the finish and Ortega’s opinion on its legality, there are still misconceptions of what constitutes a downed opponent. A revolving door of old and new unified rules applied undoubtedly contributes to the issue.

Emmett plans to appeal the official outcome to the Florida State Boxing Commission, which regulated the event. To successfully overturn the decision, resulting the bout being declared a no contest, he’ll have to prove referee Miragliotta incorrectly applied the rules.

For complete coverage of UFC on FOX 28, check out the UFC Events section of the site.

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