Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt and heel hook specialist Rousimar Palhares faces Judo Olympian Hector Lombard this Friday (Dec. 14, 2012) at UFC on FX 6, which takes place at the Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Center in Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia.
"Toquinho," which translates into "tree stump" -- a description of his muscular frame -- is one of the most unique fighters in mixed martial arts (MMA). During his Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) career, he has dazzled fans with cruel submissions, brute strength and a penchant for making terrible decisions in the middle of fights.
An MMA enigma wrapped in a riddle, Palhares is always interesting and unpredictable, and he will look to get back into the win column against "Lightning."
Does Palhares have the skills to acquire another limb for his growing collection?
Let's find out:
Palhares' striking is still being developed. Since his Octagon debut four years ago, however, his striking has grown exponentially, and Palhares has grown fond of powerful, high risk attacks.
Palhares' boxing isn't complex, but he hits hard enough to make it respectable. He rarely bothers to jab, preferring to sling heavy leather. "Toquinho" throws a lot of hooks and loves to mix in some powerful overhand rights.
The biggest problem with Palhares' boxing is that he doesn't throw enough combinations. He mostly tries to throw knockout punches, which isn't very effective. The only time Palhares throws combinations is when he is trying to swarm his opponent, but unfortunately, he leaves himself open to counters.
Easily the best part of Palhares' striking game is his kicks. He throws a nasty outside leg kick that lands with a sickening thud, mixing in a variety of head kicks. Palhares isn't worried about being on his back, which means he can throw dangerous kicks without fear of a takedown and even mix high risk techniques like Capoeira into his assault.
In particular, Palhares' head kick counter of Dan Miller was especially impressive. Miller is no kickboxing champion, but he is a fairly technical striker and it was assumed he'd have the advantage standing. Palhares showed off some major improvement, brilliantly countering Miller's leg kick with a head kick of his own. This likely would have earned him his first legitimate knockout win, but he made one of the mental errors he has become famous for, and simply assumed the fight was over.
Palhares has one of the more ugly, but supremely effective, takedown games in the sport. Palhares has taken down every single person he has faced in the UFC, including Olympian Dan Henderson.
Palhares' takedowns are not technical in the least. He simply grips onto his opponent and then hurls them through the air. He has a very powerful double leg, and can easily drive through most opponents' hips. If his original burst doesn't succeed, Palhares will either abandon the takedown or reach for his signature heel hook.
One of Palhares' best techniques is his single leg takedown. After getting in deep on a single leg, he will lift his opponent as high as he can, before bringing them violently back to Earth.
Palhares earned his black belt under Brazilian Top Team owner and former UFC Middleweight champion Murilo Bustamante. Widely regarded as an incredible talent, Palhares took the jiu-jitsu world by storm, winning the Brazilian ADCC trials in 2005 as a purple belt. Unfortunately, visa issues stopped him from competing. He got his second chance last year, taking second place. He won his first three matches by cranking ankles, including a win over arguably the most decorated American jiu-jitsu competitor ever, Rafael Lovato Jr., before losing to Andre Galvao.
"Toquinho" has become famous for his ability to finish foot locks, a rare talent in MMA. His favorite move is the heel hook, a leg lock that aims to tear apart any weak link in the knee. When done properly, a heel hook holds the knee still, not allowing it to turn. Then, the person attacking the leg hooks the ankle and twists it. This can rip tendons and shred ligaments, making it one of the most dangerous and feared moves in jiu-jitsu.
Willing to risk his body to strip a knee, Palhares dives onto legs and then squeezes with all his might. Removing "Toquinho" is nearly impossible, his short frame and incredible strength make it difficult to slip away or spin out.
One of Palhares' best leg lock set ups is to attempt a takedown, then pull guard and transition directly into a foot lock. Palhares did this against Mike Massenzio, ending their fight in little more than one minute. He ended Dave Branch's UFC career in a similar set up.
Palhares is not just skilled at ripping off legs, he has shown an aptitude for destroying every limb. Check out this awesome armbar set up from back mount he finish Ivan Salaverry with.
Despite its volatility, Palhares' ground game does have some flaws. If Palhares cannot get a submission or sweep off his back, he stops doing anything, choosing to stare into space and get pounded into the mat by his opponent. Alan Belcher and Nate Marquardt took advantage of Palhares' concentration "moments" to knock him out from his guard.
Palhares' style relies heavily on his brute strength. Without it, his striking is weak, his takedowns laughable, and his heel hooks not nearly as tight. Palhares is able to overpower his more technical opponents, forcing them to fight how he wants. Not many others can force themselves into a leg lock attempt as often as Palhares, and his strength is a big key in how he gets there.
"Toquinho" is the epitome of brawn over brains. It seems he does not have enough blood to adequately supply both, and his fight IQ has cost him victory multiple times.
Best chance for success
Palhares should do what he always does for this fight, try to rip off a leg. Lombard has very powerful hips and a solid base, so scoring a takedown on him won't be easy. Instead, he should shoot for a takedown and then pull guard, like he did against Massenzio.
If Palhares' attempts to take it to the ground fail, he should rely on his kicks. Boestch showed Lombard is vulnerable to leg kicks, and he doesn't kick nearly as hard as Palhares. Lombard doesn't keep his hands high, and it isn't out of the realm of possibility for "Toquinho" to land a head kick if he sets it up with low kicks.That said, Palhares can't get over aggressive because Lombard will take his head off if he tries to box.
Will "Toquinho" upset the former Bellator champion, or will Hector earn his first UFC victory?
To check out the complete fighter breakdown for Palhares' upcoming opponent, Lombard, click here.