When Rousimar Palhares defeated Mike Pierce at UFC Fight Night 29 this past Wednesday night (Oct. 9, 2013) in Brazil, it should have been one of the highlights of his seven-year professional career.
Palhares managed to drop down and get Pierce to tap out to a heel hook submission just 31 seconds into the first round of their mixed martial arts (MMA) contest (watch it here), despite Pierce having doubtlessly trained for months for a move that has become something of a calling card for "Toquinho."
Pierce never had a chance; Palhares' tree trunk-like limbs were just too strong, and his technique was just too refined. He tapped almost the second Palhares cranked on his leg and sent him crashing to the canvas.
After the fight, a visibly emotional Palhares dedicated the victory to his cousin, who had recently passed away. With that the Brazilian became too choked-up to speak, hung his head, and broke down in tears.
It was like something out of a feel-good Hollywood movie. Coming off two losses inside the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Octagon as well as personal tragedy, Palhares overcame adversity and proved in emphatic fashion that he belonged in the big leauges.
Too bad his actions after getting the submission proved he doesn't belong anywhere near an MMA cage, perhaps ever again.
As Pierce, his face contorted in pain, frantically tapped, Palhares cranked for all he was worth and refused to let go of the heel hook. It was so bad that when referee Keith Peterson jumped in to stop the fight, a frantic Pierce gave several taps to the official's back (take a look for yourself here)
Still, Palhares held on for a good three seconds after Patterson had jumped on top of him.
After the fight, Palhares had this to say of his win:
"It was the best thing I’ve done in my life."
This single-minded focus on himself and complete lack of remorse for putting an opponent's health in serious jeopardy would be concerning if this was only Palhares' first offense.
It was his second time holding onto a submission long after the fight was over in UFC competition, and his fourth in MMA, dating back to a rear naked choke he held on long after the referee had waved off the fight against Helio Dipp. That's in addition to a heel hook he was slow to let go of against Flavio Luiz Moura back in 2007, making Palhares' take on his fight against Pierce downright sociopathic.
But talk to his manager Alex Davis, and he'll tell you "Toquinho" is just misunderstood. In fact, he's a total sweetheart.
"This kid is not a mean kid," Davis told MMAFighting.com. "Everyone who is with him loves him to pieces."
Except, of course, his opponents. They're too busy worrying about having the ligaments in their knees torn to pieces to entertain any thoughts of brotherly love toward the submission-hunting Brazilian jiu jitsu black belt.
Obviously, professional fighting is a dangerous game. There are many violent variables at play in MMA, and the possibility of serious, even life-altering damage is there each and every time a fighter steps into the cage or ring.
Which is why we have rules.
Forget the "martial code" and all that pretentious jazz, what makes fighting palatable to well-adjusted people is that there are rules in place that contextualize the violence inherent to combat as a sport rather than just senseless brutality.
This means that, despite what the old UFC gladiator intro would have you believe, fighters aren't just meat puppets sent out there to knock one another silly for our entertainment. They are highly trained athletes who attempt to knock one another silly for our entertainment, and then stop doing so once the referee has put an end to the contest.
Pierce may have known about Palhares' shady past, but he probably didn't sign on to the fight expecting he'd be put at risk to potentially suffer a career altering knee injury after it was over. After all, that's what the rules are supposed to be there to protect him from.
Luckily, Pierce will "likely be okay" following the botched finish.
Not that Palhares is overly concerned with either the rules or his opponents' long term health. At least he sure doesn't appear to be when he's got a submission locked on.
According to Davis, Palhares "is in his own world, his own place" inside the cage. Apparently, this private "world" Palhares goes into when he fights must somehow render his five senses useless once he sinks in a heel hook or rear naked choke.
How else to account for a fighter who has been training submissions as a professional for at least seven years apparently losing his sense of touch when an opponent's hand taps on his thigh, and his sense of sight when the referee attempts to wave off a fight?
This "world" must be a hell of an enjoyable place for Palhares, given that referees literally have to pry him away from it, and off his helpless opponents.
I've never met Palhares and any attempt to analyze his behavior would just be conjecture on my part. It's possible the Brazilian's history of holding submissions long after his opponent has tapped out is, like his manager claims, a byproduct of him losing touch with reality when he gets in the zone.
Then again, despite his protests on Twitter that he "would never be evil to any athlete," maybe Toquinho is just a sadist who gets off on inflicting unnecessary suffering on others. Whatever Palhares' issue may be, it's a problem no fighter in the UFC -- hell, no professional fighter period -- should be forced to deal with.
Which is why the UFC should be commended for letting Palhares go this past Thursday.
Not only does this send a message to other fighters that, much like Paul Daley's sucker punch on Josh Koscheck after the bell at UFC 113, this type of thuggish behavior won't be tolerated, but it also helps protect the athletes that compete in the UFC.
It wasn't tolerated for Renato Sobral and it won't be tolerated for Palhares, either.
As an added bonus, unemployment will give "Toquinho" plenty of time to reflect on his actions. Who knows, maybe he'll even figure out he's got no one to blame but himself for the "best thing he ever did in his life" turning into the costliest mistake he ever made.
Then again, judging by his history as a repeat offender, maybe not.