When looking at the fight antics of Rousimar Palhares it’s quite easy to arrive at the conclusion that he is just a mentally unstable sadist. Many think he simply wants to hurt people based on his ADCC and MMA habit of having a “delayed reaction” when releasing submissions (especially heel hooks). Sure, it is possible that the guy is just an evil grappler Hell bent on destroying the lives of all that oppose him. However, I strongly believe there are two alternate hypotheses which warrant investigation.
#1 – Holding submissions makes future victories easier
Professional MMA is a dangerous profession. Surgeries, stitches and concussions are unfortunate occupational hazards in mixed martial arts. When a fighter earns a living fighting winning is not their only concern, staying healthy enough to continue fighting enters the equation as well. When Palhares and others hold submissions fighters in the division take notice. Now if a choke is held too long and a fighter passes out, as with Babalu vs David Heath, the repercussions are minimal. However, moments of extra torque on a heel hook can mean a torn ACL or worse. Requiring reconstructive surgery and possibly the end of a fighter’s career.
In MMA fighters generally wait until the last possible moment to tap. The combination of adrenaline and financial incentive makes fighters hold off on tapping for as long as possible. This makes earning a submission victory in MMA much more difficult than in training. Tapping is the emergency shut off valve, the safety word, the thing that keeps them in one piece. Fighters will push the envelope, but once it’s time to tap they rely on their opponent abiding by the rules and immediately releasing the hold.
In the case of Palhares, fighters KNOW he won’t release the hold. If they choose to push the envelope the risk is not worth the reward. As a result the second a submission is applied they tap, even if there was a chance they could have escaped…a chance they might be willing to take against a more sportsmanlike opponent. Palhares could send the message to his future opponents – tap early, tap often…or else.
Submissions in the UFC don’t simply mean a “W”, they often times result in big time payouts. Palhares took home 65K when he hit a heel hook on Mike Massenzio. Massenzio is a fighter who has had major knee surgery in the past. He may have thought to himself, “If he gets my leg I can’t take the risk”. There is a chance that Palhares’ actions are not motivated by malice alone, but as a calculated act of Machiavellian self -interest.
If this theory is correct, then it just hit a speed bump. The UFC took away Palhares’ submission of the night bonus, costing him tens of thousands of dollars due to unsportsmanlike conduct. If this was a deliberate action for professional and financial gain, he may be forced to reconsider his tactics.
2 – Palhares is not sadistic, but mentally challenged. After watching footage on Palhares I truly believe he may not know when a fight is over. In his match with Dan Miller he stopped punching, walked away, and jumped up on the octagon fence in celebration…despite the fact that the bout had not ended.
During a restart in his ADCC match with David Avellan he also began celebrating despite the fact that the ref was simply restarting them for rolling off the mat. Again, a premature celebration ensued.
In other fights Palhares will not simply hold the submission, he will release it only to quickly re-crank it. It is as if he thinks the fight is over, but then quickly reconsiders believing he may have made a mistake. If he simply wanted to hurt his opponent then why not just continue cranking. By releasing the hold, he is taking away some of the bone crushing force. Maybe the ref having the pry him off is the only sure way that Palhares can be certain the fight is over.
Rather than going to school as a small child, Palhares did intense child labor in the fields of Brazil and later as a garbage collector. Working at the age of 7 he may have missed out on much of the necessary development and enrichment, leading him to be less aware of things everyday people see as obvious. I’ve ever heard rumors that he was homeless when he began training BJJ. In the US we have special education programs and training for people with mental handicaps, if Palhares does suffer from a mental handicap he may not have had the benefit of those resources and as a result he lacks the ability to react properly under the stress of the fight.
Palhares released this tweet following the fight:
I never meant to hurt anyone, as a jiu-jitsu fighter I always seek for the submission, but I would never be evil to any athlete.
I always respect the
@UFC decisions, but most of most I respect a lot Mike Pierce, so again I never meant to hurt him, just finish the fight
Regardless of the cause of his behavior one thing is certain, it must be rectified. Hopefully his coaching staff either explains why his devilish behavior is cruel and hurting his career or they help him overcome his handicap and work scenarios so he is prepared to release holds at the proper time.
About the author:
Brian McLaughlin is a former professional MMA fighter currently training MMA in Morris County at the AMA Fight Club he also runs a Poughkeepsie MMA Gym Precision MMA in LaGrange, NY. He holds the rank of Black belt in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu under BJJ Tampa coach Rob Kahn of Tampa Gracie