Okay fight fans, UFC Fight Night 28 is fast approaching — airing live at 7 pm EST/4 pm PST Wednesday night on Fox Sports 1 from Ginásio José Corrêa in Barueri, São Paulo, Brazil. (Yep, if you’re on the West Coast, you’ll want to try and get out of work early…)
On the surface, it’s a good fight card, if not great; and often highlighting some top Brazilian talent. The event promises major implications for the welterweight division, in particular — with half the main card bouts being contested at 170 lbs/77 kg.
But as usual, there are a few plots below the surface, too. One involves one of the night’s biggest betting underdogs. If you’re a betting man or woman, maybe this will hold a little more interest. Or, maybe you like a comeback story — and who doesn’t?
In honor of you who enjoy laying a little cash down — and how about this? In honor of Freddie Roach’s famed California gym which helped Miguel Cotto to an impressive victory over the weekend as well… I’m calling him the night’s “wild card:” Rousimar “Toquinho” Palhares.
“Toquinho” (whose nickname is Portuguese for “Tree Stump,” a reference to his stout build), has found himself up a tree of late. The middleweight jiu-jitsu standout has been stopped via strikes in his last two UFC outings, and in three of his last six, as well. To add insult to injury, he tested positive for elevated testosterone levels in his December bout against Hector Lombard. Coming off a nine-month suspension, Palhares clearly needed a fresh start somewhere, and he’s picked this Wednesday.
First, UFC Fight Night 28 marks the welterweight debut for “Toquinho.” Admittedly, this would be a bigger deal had Palhares been known as a ground-and-pound “scientist” like Yushin Okami, not a leg lock specialist who often generates quick submissions out of nowhere. Fans don’t seem terribly interested, and for that matter, neither do the casinos: Palhares is a sizable underdog (+245) despite fighting in his home country against American MMA veteran Mike Pierce.
Here’s the thing: there’s a history here. Look no further than “Toquinho’s” longtime trainer Murilo Bustamante. Bustamante had never fought in the middleweight division prior to his Middleweight Championship bout against Dave Menne at UFC 35. He had made his name at Light Heavyweight and in open weight competition, including a historic 40 minute draw against the feared Tom Erikson in 1996. Fans wondered, what would happen against the known commodity in Menne?
Suprise: a T/KO victory happened, as Bustamante used his unusual length to display improved boxing skills along with his vaunted jiu-jitsu game. Palhares could have a similar trick up his sleeve here.
Wednesday will also be Palhares’ first bout flying the flag of Team Nogueira. This may not seem like a major development on the surface, after all, he’s moving from one Brazilian jiu-jitsu based MMA camp to another. In fact, it’s a reunion of many of his old comrades from Brazilian Top Team’s glory days. But the depth of MMA talent with Team Noguiera, compared to today’s BTT, would seem to represent an advantage. What has Palhares picked up in his new sparring partners?
Finally, how is Palhares’ mental game? He’s been a loose cannon in the past, holding submissions after a referee calls for a break, in both MMA and grappling competition, and engaging in some generally strange behavior. His positive drug test result last December is on everyone’s mind, too. He denies any wrongdoing, but, we really don’t know. Maybe it was accurate, and this new weight class could mean he’s lessening his chemical load (ahem!) along with the change in physique. Maybe that will improve his focus.
The hope here? Toquinho comes back strong from his previous adversity. The hope is he comes back clean, as well.
The questions remain… but that’s why he’s a wild card.