Who can say what goes through Rousimar Palhares' mind?
In moments such as the one Saturday night, when Palhares again held a submission too long, who can say what the man is thinking? Who can say if he is thinking anything at all?
I have long since given up trying to figure out what makes Palhares tick. It is devastatingly clear that if not for his recurring place in the center of controversy, Palhares would be one of the more incredible stories in mixed martial arts: A man who does one thing and does it well, even when facing men with similar skill sets and aptitudes.
Even accomplished opponents such as Jake Shields know exactly what Palhares will attempt once the cage door closes. And still, he does it. On Saturday, Shields—one of the very best and heaviest grapplers in mixed martial arts—fought a nearly perfect fight, and yet he found himself tapping out to the hulking Brazilian submission artist.
But it was this moment, as it has so many other times, that doomed Palhares. It was this moment that made us overlook how he got there, and it instead forced us to once again focus on what he did once he arrived.
It was here that Palhares lived up to his reputation as the single dirtiest fighter in mixed martial arts.
That's how it usually goes, anyway. Palhares secures a submission, his opponent taps and Palhares continues to crank away. This time it wasn't his dreaded kneebar; it was a kimura. Even when referee Steve Mazagatti grabbed Palhares to signal the end of the fight, Palhares continued cranking away, as though trying to rip Shields' arm from its socket.
The total time between Mazagatti touching Palhares and the Brazilian releasing the hold was just under two seconds. But when Palhares is involved, those two seconds feel like an eternity.
And I'm sure they felt like an eternity to Shields, who began his frantic tapping long before Mazagatti—a space cadet of a referee confined to working lower-tier mixed martial arts events only because he is far and away the worst referee in a sport filled to overflowing with them—finally decided that Shields' tapping was an indication that he should maybe stop the fight.
We can talk about Palhares holding submissions too long because, put simply, that's what he does. He was suspended for doing it one time and then fired from his UFC deal when he did it again. We've heard him speak of contrition. Those around him have pushed the idea that he sought counseling to help figure out why he acts the way he does. And yet here we are, in 2015, and Palhares is still being the same terrifying and yet despicable fighter he has been for the past few years.
But the submission wasn't the worst part of Saturday night in Vegas. No, that came earlier, when Palhares clearly and repeatedly attempted to gouge Shields in the eyes using his thumbs. It caused Shields to audibly yell, "Ref! What the f--k?!"
There have been many rule changes over the years in mixed martial arts, but eye gouging? That has never once been a part of the sport.
And in employing such a tactic, Palhares showed that he's beyond sadistic. He is beyond reprehensible. It is clear that he isn't going to change his ways even with suspensions, fines and a possible firing hanging over his head.
Maybe he can't change his ways. Perhaps it isn't a conscious decision at all, but rather it's a part of his core that can't be mended, stripped away or fixed. Maybe this is who Palhares is. Maybe it's who he'll always be, no matter how many jobs he loses or how many dollars he's forced to pay to athletic commissions.
At this point, however, it shouldn't be up to him. Regardless of what you think of the submission being held too long—and compared to his previous controversies, perhaps this one wasn't so bad—his repeated attempts to gouge Shields' eyes is something that needs to be dealt with.
The vaunted Nevada State Athletic Commission is quickly morphing itself into an agency that comes down hard on cheaters. Soon, drug failures will be hit with suspensions ranging from two years to a lifetime banishment from the sport. Rightly so. PEDs have long given cheaters a potentially harmful advantage over their opponents, and it is long past time they were dealt with appropriately.
But if PED users are harshly punished for attempting to cheat their way to wins, then what of a man who pushes his thumbs into his opponent's eyes? Shields went to the hospital with blurry vision last night. One look at his face this morning tells the story. Palhares' revolting act appeared to do the damage.
In late 2014, my colleague, Jonathan Snowden, took a look at Palhares' history of holding submissions too long after the Brazilian once again found himself at the center of controversy after submitting Jon Fitch:
But it didn't quite cross over into straight-up assault. It was gray—a color that has come to define the Brazilian's career.
It was a win that served two purposes. It established Palhares, arguably, as a legitimate contender for the title of "best welterweight in the world." But it also likely reaffirmed the UFC's decision to leave him on the outside looking in. Some fighters, even in a sport like MMA, are just too dangerous for something that's ultimately just a game.
It is difficult to say someone should be forever banished from making a living wage. And if we were looking at a first-time offense here, I believe Palhares might deserve a little bit of leniency. But this is not a first offense. It is not even a second offense. Palhares shows a repeated pattern of going above and beyond in his attempts to hurt people, even far beyond what is acceptable in such a brutal sport.
And then you throw in the fact that he's adding new wrinkles to his game with eye gouges? He is not getting better. He is getting worse. The time to make excuses for Palhares is over.
It is time to put him on the sidelines, permanently.
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