Photo: Ronald Martinez/Getty

In retrospect, it’s amazing that Eddie Alvarez survived his fight against Dustin Poirier long enough for it to descend into madness.

Youngish up-and-comer Poirier managed the octagon admirably against the former champion Alvarez early on, landing a series of leg kicks on the Philly vet. Both fighters probed each other for weakness in the first few minutes, as Poirier ate a few shots to the head and Alvarez got turned away from a pair of takedown attempts. The rangier southpaw got the better of Alvarez in the first round, and he pressed his advantage further in a wild second round before all hell broke loose.

Alvarez was more successful as Round 2 started, pressing Poirier more. He troubled Poirier with his aggression, but he paid for it dearly about halfway through the round, when Poirier countered some pressure from Alvarez with a meaty, snapping left hand to Alvarez’s face. Immediately, a dazed Alvarez retreated to the cage, and the fight seemed to be lurching towards its conclusion. Poirier cornered his opponent and battered him with strikes and kicks while Alvarez swung out wildly like a wounded animal.

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Announcers Joe Rogan and Daniel Cormier speculated on whether referee Herb Dean would stop the fight, but Alvarez somehow knocked Poirier enough to wriggle away and keep fighting. Poirier smashed home half a dozen more weighty punches, but Alvarez, driven by instinct as much as anything else, didn’t stop. He eventually pressed Poirier up against the cage, where he tagged him with a trio of illegal knees to the head. Dean immediately stopped the fight and sought clarification from doctors and officials before ruling the bout a no contest.

Dean decided that Alvarez’s shots only warranted an accidental foul instead of a disqualification. The chaos that enveloped the fight was reminiscent of the strange end to a middleweight fight at UFC 210, when Gegard Mousasi beat Chris Weidman on a TKO after a controversial pair of knees to the head.

As was the case in Buffalo, a split-second interpretation of a new and unevenly applied rule determined the result of the Poirier-Alvarez fight. Under new MMA rules, knees to the head are legal in the clinch except for when a fighter has both hands on the deck or has a knee down. By those rules, only Alvarez’s third (and most brutal) knee strike would have been impermissible, since Poirier only dropped his knee by the third hit. However, Texas has not adopted the new rules, which means that all three knee strikes were illegal.

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It’s a confusing list of rules to keep track of, especially for a pair of fighters who’d spent ten minutes knocking the stuffing out of each other. Poirier should have been granted the disqualification win, and even UFC czar Dana White said so. Instant replay would have solved the issue, but Texas doesn’t allow that technology to be used in fights. It was a huge mess, and Poirier was not happy after things ended.

Poirier’s manager said after the fight that he will file an appeal over the result with the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation. Alvarez apologized for ending the fight in such an anticlimactic manner, and both fighters called for a rematch. White will almost certainly grant them their wish. Hopefully that one is as exciting as the first bout was, and hopefully it actually has a real ending.