The UFC banished Rousimar Palhares for repeatedly holding submissions too long after the tap. He did that against Tomasz Drwal at UFC 111 in New Jersey (and was suspended for it), and he did it again against Mike Pierce in Brazil (and was given the boot). Palhares, who is considered a gentle giant outside of the cage, had, after five years in the UFC, developed a reputation as a brute inside of it.
The UFC's parting ways with him had more to do with rule subordination than it did ability.
That’s what made the World Series of Fighting’s signing of "Toquinho" a month later that much more intriguing. How would he handle a second chance? Would any of the criticism register? Did he understand the criticism enough that, the next time he was torquing an ankle or knee and the referee tells him to stop, he’d actually stop?
Heading into his promotional debut against welterweight champion Steve Carl on Saturday night at WSOF 9 in Las Vegas, all eyes were on Palhares. Not only did the Brazilian end up getting Carl with an inverted heel hook, but he wasted no time in securing it. The end came at 1:09 of the first round officially. And once again Palhares was the subject of scrutiny for how long he held the heel hook.
First came the taps. Then came referee Yves Lavigne, who tugged his wrist once -- then twice -- before Palhares let go. It all lasted about one second, but Palhares’ reputation these days is divvied up into split seconds. And though many people thought Palhares held onto Carl’s leg a beat longer than was needed -- exactly at a time when everybody was fixated on it -- WSOF matchmaker/Vice President Ali Abdel-Aziz wasn’t one of them.
Abdel-Aziz appeared on the Monday edition of The MMA Hour to make it clear he thought Palhares came across just fine.
"I think [Palhares] did not hold long at all because when he was in the back of the dressing room, the refs said, ‘do not let go without me telling you to let go," he told host Ariel Helwani. "And the ref [Yves Lavigne] is one of the best out there. I really, really think that he’s legit. He went and he pulled him off. Steve Carl tapped. [Palhares] thinks if somebody tapped, I’m not going to let go. When the ref pulls me off, I’ll let go. And that’s what he did.
"Honestly, everybody just needs to shut the hell up and leave him alone and praise the kid as a champion. This is a poor kid from Brazil who used to live under a bridge. He used to go training and come back and sleep under the bridge and he went through a lot already. And he has problems in the past. He held too long on the leg lock, but people are always waiting for him to make a mistake."
One of the people who wasn’t exactly complaining was Carl himself. The former champion gracefully took him loss and ceded his belt to Palhares, who is now slated to face Jon Fitch in what looks like early July. There are some obstructions, however. For starters, Fitch has gone on record saying that he wouldn’t fight a guy like Palhares, given his track record.
Then there’s the contract. Fitch tweeted out after Palhares’ victory he had to fight in June, not July. All of that is still unsettled, but Abdel-Aziz is working on it.
"Honestly, I haven’t heard back from Jon Fitch himself," he said. "I hope so, that the contract is signed. If I was fighting him, I wouldn’t want to fight Rousimar Palhares. He’s a bad match-up for anybody. I’m not saying Jon Fitch is scared or he’s not going to do the fight, he’s probably going to take the fight, but to fight a guy like that who’s so dominant I don’t think anybody in MMA right now is more dominant than him. And I’m not saying he’s the best MMA fighter all the time, I’m not saying that -- I’m talking about domination."
When asked if the month disparity between June and July would be a problem, as Fitch tweeted, Abdel-Aziz said he didn’t believe so.
"I talked to [Fitch’s manager] Bob Cook, it’s two weeks apart," he said. "Jon Fitch doesn’t know enough information, but trust me he wants to fight in the first week of July."
Now with Palhares as WSOF’s welterweight champion, Abdel-Aziz not only defended Saturday night’s heel hook, but went so far as to argue that if people could see past his stigmas they might be looking at the game’s most dominant fighter.
"The whole thing is, people try to make Rousimar Palhares out like he’s a bad guy," he said. "He’s not a bad guy. He’s a great guy. But I’ll tell you something. This might sound crazy, but who’s the most dominant fighter of all time? It was Anderson Silva, right? Because he knocked guys out and stuff like that. I believe the most dominant guy, by the way he fights, ever to come to MMA, is Rousimar Palhares, because he ends fights so quick and is so dominant."
As for the speculation on the July 5 date for Fitch-Palhares, Abdel-Aziz said everything -- including whether or not it would appear on NBC -- was still be worked out. He did call the July card that WSOF was putting together "our Super Bowl," featuring a lightweight title bout between champion Justin Gaethje and Nick Newell as well as a Tyrone Spong fight.
With UFC 175 slated to go down that same night, Abdel-Aziz said that, should they both happen on July 5, WSOF would conclude before the UFC PPV main card begins to avoid going head-to-head. UFC 175 will be headlined by middleweight champion Chris Weidman against Lyoto Machida.