Rousimar Palhares’ debut in the UFC Welterweight division was a successful one as he finished Mike Pierce with his signature heel hook submission in just 31 seconds.
The Brazilian should have earned universal praise for his quick victory, but his win has instead been overshadowed by the fact he held onto the submission seconds after the referee stepped in to end the bout.
It is not the first time this has occurred in a Palhares fight; he also took his time in letting go of a heel hook on Thomas Drwal in a middleweight fight back in 2010. That resulted in Palhares receiving a 90 day suspension, a largely ceremonial punishment given that UFC fighters usually fight more than 90 days after their last bout.
Three and half years later, Palhares has put himself in a similar situation following his victory over Pierce. He was the only fighter on UFC Fight Night 29 to win via submission, but the UFC still refused to give him the Submission of the Night bonus due to what it saw as “unsportsman-like conduct”.
Instead, the Submission of the Night bonus for UFC Fight Night 29 was not awarded and Palhares did not receive what would have been an extra $50,000. It was a just move by the UFC, and sets a precedent that fighters need to adhere to common ethics and rules at the top level of MMA.
It is currently not clear if Palhares will receive any further punishments for not immediately letting go of the heel hook, but it is unlikely that he will be cut. Other damage may have already been done, however, with hordes of fans taking to forums to view their distaste of Toquinho’s actions, with some even calling for the fighter’s removal from the UFC.
A situation like that has only happened to one other fighter in the UFC, Renato ‘Babalu’ Sobral, who was released after he refused to let go of a anaconda choke on David Heath until he was unconscious. However, the difference between that situation and Palhares’ is Babalu openly admitted to purposely holding onto the choke and expressed a sense of pride over his actions.
While Palhares is certainly in the wrong for holding potentially damaging submissions beyond the referee’s intervention, it does not appear that he has done so with blatant malice. Due to that, it would be unfair to cut him at this point, but a stern and honest warning on top of the denial of his bonus is a good way to go.
Perhaps the ultimate shame in Palhares’ refusal to immediately let go of the heel hook at UFC Fight Night 29 is that it took away exactly how significant the victory was. Toquinho’s win was the first time Mike Pierce had ever been finished in his six-year, 23-fight career, a huge feat considering he has fought many top level contenders and grapplers.
Before he entered the UFC, Pierce had a loss to current UFC middleweight Mark Munoz, who beat him via decision. His first loss in the UFC came to Jon Fitch, who was at the time viewed as the best welterweight in the world not named Georges St-Pierre.
He then lost to Johny Hendricks, who is now fighting St-Pierre for the welterweight strap, via split decision. His only other UFC loss was to Josh Koscheck, a former title challenger, which also came via split decision.
That shows Pierce is a highly durable fighter capable of slugging it out with the best fighters in the sport, yet it took Palhares just 31 seconds to finish him.
It’s a shame that has all been relegated to the background, but a precedent needs to be set in this situation.