UFC

Palhares a victim of his own history

After continually breaking the rules, serial offender Palhares had to go
After continually breaking the rules, serial offender Palhares had to go.
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Mike Chiappetta

Mike Chiappetta has documented the fast-growing sport of mixed martial arts since 2006 for news organizations including SB Nation, NBCSports.com, FIGHT! Magazine, AOL and ESPN. He appears regularly as an analyst on countless television shows and radio programs, including CBS Radio and MMA Beat. Follow him on Twitter.

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The reality of the matter is that Rousimar Palhares’ late release of a heel hook by itself was a punishable yet forgivable offense, if only it was a single instance. It was not. Palhares is a serial offender, with a record of ignoring the referee’s order to release a submission. He did it in an MMA bout against Helio Dipp in 2007. He did it against Thomasz Drwal in 2010 while in the UFC. He did it in a jiu-jitsu match against David Avellan in 2011. Finally, he did it again on Wednesday, when it took him 31 seconds to beat Mike Pierce, and another tick to stop himself, holding and cranking the submission for an extra beat as referee Keith Peterson dove in to save Pierce’s knee.

This is his history. Now it is his legacy. Palhares was released by the UFC on Thursday, less than 24 hours after the fastest victory of his career. It was a move that needed to be made to a fighter that has too many times been a blatant rule-breaker.

In the hours since the UFC announced they were releasing him, some observers have wondered what the difference is between what Palhares did and what, for example, someone like Quinton “Rampage” Jackson did in his knockout of Wanderlei Silva, when he threw an extra strike after the referee had already begun to pull him away.

It is a fair question to ask, and the only answer is that each situation must be examined in its context. In the case of Jackson, some punishment may have been in line, but he had no history of troublesome behavior in ignoring referees. You can justify a warning as a fair response to his action. The same is not true for Palhares.

In fact, back in 2010, when the New Jersey Athletic Control Board determined a penalty for that occurrence, it reached its decision partly after reviewing tape from some of his previous incidents.

In that instance, Palhares was handed a 90-day suspension. This time, it could not just be the responsibility of a regulator, because his behavior eventually reflects on a promotion which is still working to establish itself in many countries around the world. Anyway, a similar three-month ban to the one he got the last time would have been almost meaningless in the grand scheme of the UFC schedule. Palhares fought 12 times during his 5+ year UFC career, an average of once every 5 1/2 months. A 90-day ban would serve as nothing more than a standard post-fight vacation.

Any punishment had to be swift and significant, and the UFC acted aggressively to cut ties with him and make him someone else’s problem. As a result, Palhares becomes a member of a very small and infamous club of fighters who were released after victories.

The company’s decision was a message that fighters must always be in control of themselves and compete within the rules. They must be professional, even though admittedly, it can’t be very easy to snap out of kill mode as though it’s just a switch that can be flipped on and off. On the other hand, these incidents are remarkably rare. To date so far this year, the UFC has produced nearly 300 matches, and can you remember anyone else who’s gotten himself into this type of hot water?

Nope, it’s just Palhares, who for whatever reason, seems to have trouble sharpening his focus at important times. Aside from the aforementioned incidents, there was also the time when he completely ignored Nate Marquardt to complain to the referee, allowing Marquardt to knock him out, as well as the one when he dropped Dan Miller and started prematurely celebrating a victory that did not yet exist.

But holding on to submissions is the most severe of his sins, and it has become a trend that could no longer be ignored. People close to Palhares can’t explain why he does what he does, but there is a hint in his history in his close association with his former professor, Murilo Bustamante.

Bustamante, a former UFC middleweight champion, trained Palhares and eventually awarded him his jiu-jitsu black belt, and he’s known for teaching his fighters to hold on to submissions in a way that leaves no doubt regarding the loser’s intentions to tap. That is a philosophy that must be partly born of the infamous 2002 “double tap” fight between him and Matt Lindland, when Lindland appeared to tap to a first-round armbar, then successfully argued to ref John McCarthy that he had not, and the fight was eventually restarted. Though Bustamante went on to win, the experience had to serve some role in shaping his teaching.

Still, Bustamante was never known for holding submissions too long. In fact, few submission artists have gained that reputation, an ugly one that Palhares will probably never find a way to erase.

So much can happen in a single moment. A punch is thrown that ends a fight. A submission gets locked in. A knee can be destroyed. The protection of fighters must always be prized, even in those split-seconds. Not every crime committed within those margins deserves the same career penalty that Palhares received, but at some point, when a fighter consistently proves that he cannot follow the rules, he also proves that he’s probably not worthy of fighting within them.

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