Rousimar Palhares has a lot to prove. He had a good reputation when he first arrived in the UFC in 2008. He won his debut and lost a decision to Dan Henderson in his second fight. There is certainly no shame in that.
The 33-year-old hulking Brazilian seemed to be headed for big things in his career, but he has never been able score a major win over a big opponent. He’s lost his last two fights by KO to Hector Lombard and Alan Belcher.
Palhares will face Mike Pierce at UFC Fight Night 29 in his native Brazil on Wednesday. Pierce doesn’t represent an opportunity for Palhares to finally score a welterweight win over a fighter with a big name. Pierce is on a three-fight win streak, but he too has fallen whenever he’s faced names like Josh Koscheck, Johny Hendricks and Jon Fitch.
For Palhares, he must defeat Pierce to prevent himself from descending further down the ladder in the UFC. He is in a must-win situation and Pierce knows it. In an interview with Brett Okamoto of ESPN.com, Pierce said this about facing a guy in Palhares’ situation:
I thought it was kind of funny because if you look back on my career, there have been a lot of guys the UFC has thrown at me where it was their last chance at doing something. If they didn’t do something, they either got released or would drop a weight class or something. It’s kind of like another one of those situations. He’s lost twice in a row and is dropping to 170. I’ve dealt with guys before who have dropped from 185 and it didn’t go their way.
He also called Palhares a cheat, stemming from a fine for holding a submission too long on an opponent in UFC 111 and testing positive for elevated testosterone at UFC on FX 6.
It sounds like Pierce has lost any respect he may have had for Palhares coming into this fight. If the Brazilian loses again, most fans are likely to follow suit. Palhares isn’t the only fighter that desperately needs to impress.
Here are three others that need to shake the overrated tag.
There’s something about 33-year-old Brazilian fighters on this card. Santos looks like a top-flight flyweight, but he’s hit quite a snag since coming to the UFC. He made his debut in May, but things haven’t worked out too well.
He was knocked out in his debut by Iuri Alcantara and he lost a unanimous decision to “Uncle Creepy” Ian McCall at UFC 163. Both Alcantara and McCall are highly regarded fighters. Santos was given a shot at them because he appeared to have the goods to contend.
By coming out on the short end of the stick both times, he’s now in his own must-win situation against another solid fighter in Chris Cariaso. Per UFC.com, Cariaso is ranked eighth at 125 pounds; McCall is third.
If Santos can’t beat a fighter near the top of the rankings or in the latter half of the top 10, that means he’s not elite. At 33 years old, that doesn't bode well for his future in the UFC.
Demian Maia and Jake Shields
Fans almost always underappreciate fighters who are exclusively grapplers or submission artists. Fighters like Joe Lauzon and Chael Sonnen are exceptions, but Lauzon subjects himself to wars and Sonnen has a mouthpiece best fit for WWE's Monday Night Raw. Shields and Maia don’t have either “quality.”
They usually don’t take a lot of punishment; they posture until an opponent makes a mistake, and then they attempt to make their man submit. It’s a beautiful art for those that can appreciate it, but truth be told, many fans grow tired of the types of fights Maia and Shields regularly produce.
Who wins Shields-Maia?
It is the reason why fans from most places in the world will boo if a fight stays on the ground too long. Luckily for Maia and Shields, their bout on Wednesday takes place in Brazil, where fans have perhaps the highest appreciation for grappling. While the fans in Barueri may be fascinated by this potential session of mat chess, a percentage of fans at home may be wondering why this match is the main event.
It is true these two men are a combined 46-10-1 in their careers and have finished 19 men by way of submission, but if you asked most people who the top five welterweights in the world are, I’d be willing to bet most wouldn’t name Shields or Maia.
Unfair? Possibly, but the majority of MMA fans want to see striking and neither of these men excel in that area.
In order for the winner of this bout to come out with a high public approval rating, he will need to either come out of his comfort zone to strike or show himself to be vastly superior in the ground game. Unfortunately for fans with a limited appreciation for extensive grappling, neither of those two things are likely.
Follow me for musings on MMA, boxing, the NBA, the WWE and sports video games.