UFC veteran Jeremy Stephens may be known as a fighter past his sell-by date, a one-dimensional trash talker, or that guy on the receiving end of Conor McGregor’s famous “who the [expletive] is that guy?” line. But one thing he certainly is not is a faker. The 33-year-old (28-15, 1 no contest) was treated like the pantomime villain of UFC Fight Night 159 in Mexico City on Sunday after his main event fight with Yair “El Pantera” Rodriguez (11-2, 1 no contest) was called off after just 15 seconds. The fight was deemed a no contest after the 26-year-old Mexican appeared to unintentionally poke or scratch Stephens’ left eye. Referee Herb Dean waived the night’s final bout off with the American unable to open his eye during the ringside doctor’s inspection in the allotted five minutes of recovery time. The already impatient crowd erupted in anger, chucking plastic cups of beer, popcorn and loose change into the Octagon, with Stephens requiring a security escort back to the changing rooms (UFC commentator Brendan Fitzgerald even had to hide under the desk). 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 Rodriguez’ post-fight interview called for respect but this was only batted down by louder jeers. It was as if they thought Stephens had used the eye poke to deliberately stop the fight and put himself in this literal mess. Do they seriously think a man nicknamed “Lil’ Heathen” – whose professional fighting career spans almost 15 years – chickened out of a bout against a younger and higher-ranked featherweight prospect? Jeremy Stephens shoves ‘coward’ Yair Rodriguez in hotel scuffle after UFC Mexico no contest Stephens’ list of previous opponents is daunting – Rafael dos Anjos, Anthony Pettis, Donald Cerrone, Yves Edwards, Cub Swanson, Max Holloway and Frankie Edgar, to name a few. Heck, just look at his last five fights: Zabit Magomedsharipov, Jose Aldo, Josh Emmett, Choi Doo-ho, and Gilbert Melendez. Instead of throwing their toys out of the pram, the fans should have given a polite round of applause to the pair most hurt by the fight’s conclusion. “I’m gonna just duck under the table here.” Lmao I love Brendan Fitzgerald pic.twitter.com/QrBETnNUEU — Connoisseur of Combat (@ConOfCombat) September 22, 2019 Rodriguez and Stephens devoted serious time and resources to the bout. Both completed training camps at high altitude to acclimatise to Mexico City, with ESPN reporting Stephens spent around US$30,000 on fight prep. Why waste that kind of money for 15 seconds of action and a beer shower? Those who continue to argue Rodriguez never even made contact with Stephens’ eye – or got his other eye, not the one he was complaining about – are even more disrespectful, and clueless. Tonight's No Contest in the #UFCMexico main event left @panteraufc questioning the severity of the eye injury. Here's @LiLHeathenMMA 's response from the hospital moments ago: pic.twitter.com/tLMNvnQgFL — Karyn Bryant (@KarynBryant) September 22, 2019 “Yair, you think I’m faking, bro?” Stephens told ESPN backstage, supporting a heavily bandaged left eye and sunglasses. “You’re the one that poked me in the eye. Let’s run it back in four or five weeks, or two weeks, whatever. I’ll be ready. It’s just a deep scratch, deep bruise.” He was later taken to hospital, where doctors told him he had scratches and bruises on both eyes, but thankfully no permanent damage. Stephens must now be cleared by an ophthalmologist for a corneal abrasion, or sit out a 180-day medical suspension, according to the UFC. Such an unfortunate ending! @PanteraUFC spoke to @Bisping after #UFCMexico ... pic.twitter.com/R78kBP04t7 — UFC Europe (@UFCEurope) September 22, 2019 Rodriguez reacted like a sulky teenager, shrugging Michael Bisping’s hand off his shoulder in his post-fight interview in the Octagon. But maybe we should cut him some slack. It was the 26-year-old’s first fight in almost a year, and he was surely feeling the pressure of putting on a show as the hometown hero. If you had invested months of training for something that lasted less than half a minute in front of your friends and family, it would be hard not to vent a little. “He’s the only one who’s going to have to live with that… if he was lying.” @panteraufc says he gives Jeremy Stephens the benefit of the doubt #UFCMexico pic.twitter.com/WPShbmro61 — ESPN MMA (@espnmma) September 22, 2019 He eventually seemed to calm down. “You always have to give the benefit of the doubt to your opponent,” said Rodriguez, who lost a 2017 fight to Frankie Edgar when the doctor deemed his left eye too swollen to continue by the third round. “I can’t imagine how it feels to have an eye poke … but I know how it feels to have an eye closed. And I can still fight. Even like that, even though I couldn’t see, I was ready to go the third round,” he said. So maybe not the full benefit of the doubt, then. "I'm not from karate school, bro, I'm from the street." @LiLHeathenMMA describes a hotel run in with Yair Rodriguez after the eye poke (via @arielhelwani ) pic.twitter.com/W7Qtt55N1n — ESPN MMA (@espnmma) September 23, 2019 The animosity spilled over the next day in the hotel where the fighters were staying, with Stephens shoving Rodriguez. Usually it’s better to solve these things in a cage than a hotel lobby, so a rematch makes sense. To bitter fans at the Mexico City Arena demanding their money back, come off it. They were treated to a fun card, where Carla Esparza pulled off an incomprehensible armbar escape to win by majority decision against Alexa Grasso. They also saw Steven Peterson’s ridiculous spinning-back fist knockout of Martin Bravo, and local boy Brandon Moreno’s surprising draw with the previously 10-0 Askar Askarov. Jeremy Stephens reveals Tony Ferguson’s insane training regime – ‘like Floyd Mayweather’ The bottom line is, this is MMA, a sport where eye pokes, low blows, illegal knees and even more unpredictable events occur on many cards. Fans had every right to voice their displeasure when Colby Covington called the Brazil crowd “a bunch of filthy animals” after beating Demian Maia in 2017 at Fight Night Sao Paulo. What is Stephens guilty of? Experiencing temporary blindness. But yes, of course, he should have risked his health and fought without being able to see, for our viewing pleasure. How selfish of him.