Finally, a door has opened for Rousimar Palhares. And it's not another exit door.
A couple of weeks ago, the Brazilian submitted Mike Pierce in a mere 31 seconds. But less than 24 hours later, he'd not simply left an impression but had left the UFC. Palhares had held onto his heel hook even after Pierce's tapout, even after the referee had jumped in, so Dana White went on ESPN to announce, "He's done." The fight company president later elaborated, saying Palhares will never again fight for the biggest promotion in mixed martial arts.
Within two days, we learned that Palhares was not welcome in the second-biggest MMA promotion, either, as Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney told the gossip website TMZ.com, "Risks already exist for the courageous, world-class fighters who enter the Bellator cage, without adding further unnecessary risks into the mix."
On Monday, a third organization turned its back on Palhares. World Series of Fighting president Ray Sefo was asked about the Brazilian submission specialist during a conference call with reporters held to publicize the fledgling promotion's Saturday night fight card in Coral Gables, Fla., and he laid out the path Rousimar would have to take before the WSOF would even consider him. "He needs to seek some sort of help or talk to somebody, a psychiatrist or whatever," said Sefo, "that would help him get away from hurting fighters."
Think maybe talking to Renzo Gracie will do the trick?
The Brazilian jiu-jitsu trainer and former UFC fighter is bringing his embattled countryman to the second-annual World Jiu-Jitsu Expo, which takes place Nov. 9 and 10 in Long Beach, Calif. Among the MMA fighters who'll be competing alongside jiu-jitsu royalty in pay-per-view superfights will be Jon Fitch, Jake Shields and the man known as "Toquinho," which is Portuguese for "little tree stump," which is what Palhares is built like.
"It's going to be hard to find an opponent for him, I know," Gracie acknowledged with a laugh in an interview with SI.com on Monday evening.
Then why invite him to your event?
"I love the guy," said Gracie, who serves as president of the World Jiu-Jitsu Expo. "You can't find a nicer person. People say I'm a nice guy, but 'Toquinho' is 10 times nicer than me. I don't see him having the intention to hurt people."
But he does hurt people. Pierce was not the first. In a 2010 bout against Tomasz Drwal in Newark, Palhares held onto a heel hook for too long and received a 90-day suspension from the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board. The following year, he drew more scrutiny by neglecting to let go of a leg lock against David Avellan during his silver-medal run in the Abu Dhabi Combat Club Submission Wrestling World Championship in Birmingham, England.
There have been other dangerous instances, and also other sorts of bizarre behavior, such as when Palhares jumped onto the UFC cage to celebrate victory while a fight still was going on (eventually a decision win over Dan Miller in 2011) and when he stopped fighting to complain to the referee and got knocked out (Nate Marquardt, 2010). It's as though the guy, when competing, is unaware of all external stimuli. Including tapouts.
Gracie chalks up this injurious tendency to the naïvete of the 31-year-old, who was brought up poor and uneducated on a farm in rural Brazil. "He doesn't know how things work in the real world," said the trainer. "He has the mentality of a 12-year-old. You can't treat him like he's a grownup. I know everybody's going to say, 'Oh, he has to be a professional.' But he needs guidance."
So that's what Palhares will get when he shows up in Long Beach. "I will sit down with him and have a chat, five minutes," said Gracie. And say what? "I will explain to him that to be great, you don't need to hurt people. We learn to grapple in order to dominate our opponent, but if we're superior, we're kind. That shows real greatness, you know? Not to hurt or humiliate your opponent. 'Toquinho' doesn't know the difference yet. I will help him understand. Either you learn from your elders, or you're going to learn by life whipping you."
As Gracie sees it, Palhares has been whipped too much already. Renzo was among the most vocal public supporters of the fighter in the wake of the Pierce fight, both before and after his banishment from the UFC. He characterizes all of the piling on that's happened since as a witch hunt, saying, "The media goes off on you, the fans go off, Dana White bashes you, and that's it: You become the witch. You end up on a stake in the fire."
Or you end up playing jiu-jitsu in Southern California, the mere mention of your tainted name instilling fear -- if not for life, certainly for limb -- in whoever agrees to set foot on a mat with you.
'Greatest' is grating
In the closing moments of Saturday night's slugfest between Gilbert Melendez and Diego Sanchez, pay-per-view analyst Joe Rogan, who'd been in the throes of a 15-minute orgasm while gushing about the beating the fighters were dishing out to each other, declared, "That's the greatest fight I've ever seen in my life!"
Hey, Melendez and Sanchez deserve nothing but respect for putting it all on the line. But if you're a connoisseur of mixed martial arts -- you know, the sport that blends all disciplines of standup fighting and grappling -- you sure didn't see much of that in this fight. There was the occasional wrestling scramble, the fleeting submission attempt, but for the better part of two rounds we watched Melendez smash a flatfooted Sanchez with punches and elbows, opening a gash over Diego's eye that was as big as Anthony Robbins' toothy smile. Then, in the third round, we saw Sanchez dig deep into his big heart and put some leather on Melendez, knocking him down in the last two minutes to get the arena in an uproar before Gilbert recovered.
It was an entertaining brawl for those of us who grew up loving the Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots game. But "the greatest fight"? Maybe on Pier 6. Not in the octagon.
Rogan should know better. He's not simply a standup comic and sportscaster but also a martial artist. He's a jiu-jitsu black belt and was a United States champion in taekwondo. Joe is entitled to his opinion, but I suspect that by now, having sat back and thought about it, he realizes he's seen many fights more worthy of being called great.
Of more consequence was what Dana White burbled after the Melendez vs. Sanchez fight. The UFC poobah was so impressed by Gilbert's performance that he all but stuck him first in line for the winner of December's Anthony Pettis vs. Josh Thomson lightweight title bout. Until late Saturday night, that spot had been occupied by T.J. Grant, who actually was supposed to get the first shot at Pettis, before Thomson, but remains sidelined with a concussion.
Assuming Grant is on course to return in time to make the next challenge, it's unfortunate that White would characterize Melendez's win as "a huge step back for T.J. Grant." What does that say to fighters on the mend, particularly those suffering from injuries that can be concealed, such as a concussion? There should be no incentive -- even implicit -- for athletes to protect their place in the pecking order by competing while injured.
Dana White went on Fox Sports Live on Monday night and gave interviewer Chael Sonnen quite a scoop: He told him that one of the coaches for the next season of The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil will be fighter Chael Sonnen.
"You kind of caught me off guard," Sonnen said when the boss revealed that he will coach against nemesis Wanderlei Silva, then fight him at season's end. "We've had a little bit of talks on this. But I didn't know this was totally finalized."
Chael might have company in the UFC offices. "People in my own company are going to get mad at me for this one," White said with a boyish grin. "I told everyone we wouldn't release it 'til late November. I guess we'll do it here."
This whole thing might have been scripted, but judging by White's nervous leg twitch and Sonnen's flustered expression, it seemed like a real moment. It's not earth-shattering news, and no more details were dished, except for one that will make Sonnen's wife sleep a bit more easily, knowing that her man is reviled in Brazil after disrespecting the culture during the buildup to his two Anderson Silva bouts and knowing the enmity between Chael and Wanderlei. Said White, "You will have a ton of security down there."