The animosity and the anger that built up over an inadvertent poke in the eye and a month of harsh words was washed away Friday in a blizzard of kicks, punches, elbows and knees at TD Garden in Boston when Yair Rodriguez and Jeremy Stephens put on a remarkable back-and-forth battle in their featherweight grudge match in the co-main event of UFC on ESPN 6.
Their fight in Mexico City lasted only 15 seconds and was ruled a no-contest after Rodriguez inadvertently poked Stephens in the eye and referee Herb Dean ruled Stephens could not continue. The animosity between them was exacerbated the next day when they had an incident in the hotel.
That led to a war of words between them, with Stephens said that if Rodriguez “doesn’t die, it doesn’t count,” in the build-up to the rescheduled bout.
They went at each other with a fury from the opening bell, and Rodriguez prevailed by the narrowest of margins. All three judges scored it 29-28 for Rodriguez, the same way that Yahoo Sports scored it.
Rodriguez was effective with kicks to the body and, ultimately, that was the difference in the fight.
When the bout ended, and again after ring announcer Bruce Buffer read the verdict, the fighters embraced.
“Thank you for an amazing performance, Jeremy Stephens,” Rodriguez said to Jon Anik in the cage. “This is just business.”
It was, however, a brutal and punishing business. Rodriguez nearly finished the bout in the second round when he landed a kick to the midsection from a southpaw stance that hurt Stephens.
Rodriguez poured it on looking for the finish and he pounded Stephens with a variety of strikes. Referee Kevin MacDonald appeared close to stopping the fight on several occasions, but Stephens kept defending himself.
And Stephens, who is one of the toughest men in the sport, showed his grit when he came back later in the round and took Rodriguez down and was landing shots from the top of his own. His late rally likely saved the second from being scored a 10-8.
Stephens continued his effort in the third and had Rodriguez down on the canvas, but Rodriguez defended well and was never in significant difficulty.
“I was compromised because I was down most of the round, but I never felt in danger,” Rodriguez said. “I was trying to be careful and … try to stay safe, as safe as possible and win the fight.”
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