So, Rousimar Palhares scored the victory I was hoping for last night at UFC Fight Night 29.
Well, let’s back up.
On Monday, I wrote that Palhares, a controversial figure who had seen some rough times of late, was getting a fresh start by campaigning at a new weight for UFC Fight Night 29. In years prior, his old mentor Murilo Bustamante had dropped down to a lower weight to hit his potential, maybe Palhares could do the same here. Palhares was also representing his new team for the first time, Team Nogueira. Maybe things were really coming together for him.
As for the controversy which follows Palhares — the holding of submissions too long, the suspension due to elevated testosterone… hey, maybe he’ll turn a corner there, too. Palhares never seems terribly malicious when he speaks. Sometimes he just seems confused. At a new weight, maybe he’ll be more focused. He denies it, but maybe there were issues with substances as he fought at a higher weight, which wouldn’t be the case at a lower one. (Ahem.) Maybe, just maybe, these problems will work themselves out?
I encouraged our readers to have a look at Palhares. Sure, he would be an underdog against Mike Pierce that night — but he’s one to watch and this fight could be something memorable.
If you missed the fight, here’s a recap. Pierce shot in, and a brief grappling exchange ended with Palhares rocking back for one of his signature leg locks. At 0:31, Pierce tapped out to a Palhares heel hook.
Hey, great to see the fresh start pay dividends.
The victory was his fifth UFC victory by submission, mostly via that heel hook which we seldom see elsewhere. How refreshing in the “wrestle-box” heavy MMA climate is that? These aren’t slow, grinding, beat-downs followed by a rear naked choke like most submission finishes these days. Palhares executes swift, explosive rolls into leg locks to take home win after win. He would dedicate this victory to a cousin who passed away last month. Very cool, huh?
Unfortunately, that’s not where the story ends, as Palhares didn’t let go of that heel hook after the tap.
Referee Keith Peterson would have to tug and pull at Palhares to get him to release Pierce’s leg, echoing Palhares’ similar finish of Tomasz Drwal in 2010 and subsequent hesitance to break after a submission. Fans may recall the UFC refusing to award Palhares “Submission of the Night” due to his behavior then, and New Jersey State Athletic Commission would also respond, by suspending Palhares for 90 days. (Of course, it was unlikely Palhares would be scheduled to fight there in that time, so it really wasn’t much of a penalty.)
The UFC released a statement that the “Submission of the Night” bonus for Ultimate Fight Night 29 would be withheld from Palhares due to “unsportsmanlike behavior.”
This would seem fair. But, I’m not so sure.
A closer look at Palhares’ failure to release the hold and it actually doesn’t look as bad as the case with Drwal. The fighter is only called to release the hold when the referee signals a halt to the action. It’s great when fighters show exceptional sportsmanship like Anthony Pettis did in releasing his armbar against Benson Henderson earlier this year, but they’re actually not obligated to.
Anyone remember that old Palhares mentor Murilo Bustamante fighting Matt Lindland at UFC 35? Bustamante released Lindland from an armbar when he felt a tap. The ref missed it, the fight continued and Bustamante would be forced to catch Lindland again.
Watch the bout between Palhares and Pierce again — and the difference really isn’t much more than a second.
Is that second enough for a penalty?
Maybe. There’s no guarantee for a “submission of the night” bonus anyway; it’s something arbitrary, even if the money isn’t. Fair enough.
The gallows? A further suspension?
The hope here is that Pierce is okay, first and foremost — and all parties move on.