If you keep an eye on just one fighter in the near future, make sure it’s the man known as “Toquinho,” a.k.a. Rousimar Palhares. The Brazilian native is poised to carve out a name for himself in the UFC middleweight division, as he prepares to take on Dan Henderson at UFC 88.
At a stout 5'8" inches and 185 pounds, Palhares is no doubt every bit as strong as he looks. Though he may be 28, with only nine professional fights, the future looks very bright for this Jiu-jitsu standout.
Palhares has eight wins, with six coming by way of submission, and one decision loss. All of his matches were contested in Brazil, save the most current one. Though Palhares lacks any world-class championships in Jiu-jitsu (as far as I know), on the ground, he brings an impressive array of maneuvers designed for one purpose: to make his opponent quit.
After three consecutive wins by leg locks, “Toquinho” made his UFC debut against grizzled veteran Ivan Salaverry at UFC 84. The man from Dores do Indaia finished the fight within three minutes, via a very slick armbar after taking Salaverry’s back.
It may have been one of the craftiest displays of submission skills ever displayed inside the cage. If there’s one thing “Toquinho” knows how to do, it is finish MMA fights with flair.
Making a seasoned fighter like Salaverry tap out in such a dominating fashion raised a lot of eyebrows in the MMA community. With the seemingly invincible champion Anderson Silva destroying everybody put in front of him, it seems like a tall order for anybody to enter the cage with him and stay competitive, let alone win.
Yet the popular opinion amongst many MMA fans is that it will take a Jiu-jitsu expert with good wrestling to finally defeat the middleweight champion inside the octagon. Travis Lutter and Nate Marquardt failed already, but there are many more fighters who fit the bill.
Besides Palhares, other potential middleweight contenders with an extensive background in Jiu-jitsu include Demian Maia, Thales Leites, and Ronaldo “Jacare” de Souza (though the latter currently fights for DREAM in Japan). These men all pose a legitimate threat to Silva on the ground.
But Palhares has a ferociousness that you just can’t teach, and he may very well prove to be Silva’s sternest test yet, if they ever face each other. Middleweights will be hard-pressed to knock out or ride out a decision victory against the champ, but it is entirely possible to submit him, and if anyone can do it, it would be Palhares.
First he has to get past Dan Henderson though, which is no small task in and of itself.
“Toquinho” is an absolute master of the ground game, with excellent takedowns and slams to get the fight to the mat. He favors using leg locks, with his patented heel hook and kneebar serving literally as bone-crushing finishing moves.
All it takes is a few glimpses of his previous fights to see that Palhares truly is something special when it comes to the application of Jiu-jitsu in a match. This black belt always finds a creative way to end the match early, with only two of his nine fights making it past the first round.
Aggressive and tenacious, the weakest part of Palhares’ game is his stand-up, which is something that Henderson will try to exploit when they fight. “Dangerous Dan” will try to keep the fight on the feet and look for the knockout victory, while “Toquinho” will be wasting no time in trying to get the match to the ground.
Henderson has world-class Greco-Roman wrestling and an excellent clinch, but he may be susceptible to a double-leg takedown. Referred to as “Decision Dan” by his detractors, Henderson will be looking for redemption after losing his first two fights in the UFC, both for a championship belt.
Henderson traditionally hasn't fared too well against Jiu-jitsu black belts, having lost to the Noguiera brothers, Ricardo Arona, and Anderson Silva. Also, he has questionable split-decision victories over Murilo Rua and Murilo Bustamante. If the fight hits the ground, "Toquinho" should be able to pull off a submission without too much difficulty.
As for Palhares, he may be getting fast-tracked to a title shot with such a high-profile fight in only his second UFC bout. Patrick Cote is scheduled to take on Anderson Silva next, and then Yushin Okami. But after that, the title picture in the middleweight division is wide open, and a win over Henderson will propel “Toquinho” into contendership for the crown.
Right now, our protagonist is training with Brazilian Top Team, a camped that has produced such notable alumni as Ricardo Arona, Murilo Bustamante, Vitor Belfort, Paulo Filho, the Nogueira brothers, Antonio Silva, Mario Sperry, and Anderson Silva.
If one counts Brazilian Top Team Canada, which includes Georges St. Pierre and Patrick Cote, then fighters who currently train or have trained with that gym hold a majority of belts in the UFC. This is not to mention the staggering list of accolades in combat sports that all the previously mentioned athletes can boast about.
Needless to say, Palhares is practicing within the confines of a rich and storied MMA tradition, with a team that does not neglect the striking aspect of the martial arts. If Palhares improves his stand-up, there’s no telling how far his talent can take him.
The quality of his intangibles, such as “Toquinho’s” chin, conditioning, heart, and the like, will have to wait upon further examination, but he has all the tools necessary to become a contender at 185 lbs., and win the belt.
After all, there has to be somebody in the middleweight division who will beat Anderson Silva, right?