Leg Man – Did Palhares Get Dirty with Steve Carl’s Leg?

I’ve lamented in the past about the strange and sad journey of Rousimar Palhares and his run in the UFC.  I try my best to keep fighter criticism to nil, but in the case of Palhares, I ultimately sided with the camp that said, despite how phenomenally talented Toquinho is, perhaps fighting isn’t the best occupation for him given his proclivity to intentionally hurt his MMA opponents…  and his sparring partners…  and fellow competitors in grappling matches.

After the UFC cut ties with Palhares, he found a home with the one fight promotion that isn’t into the whole brevity thing, The World Series of Fighting.  World Series of Fighting president Ray Sefo went on record in December stating that while the WSOF would welcome Palhares with open arms, they would not tolerate any of the shenanigans that led to his UFC release.

So, after all eyes were on Palhares to make sure he would pass his pre-fight drug test administered by the Nevada state Athletic Commission, all eyes were on Palhares to see if he could manage to submit his opponent Steve Carl and whether or not he would intentionally hold on to the submission as he had done many times in the past.

After all of the context, on Saturday night, this happened:

So, did he or didn’t he? Too close to call?  It all depends on the POV you bring to the fight.

From my perspective, it seems like Palhares held on too long.  I know that Ray Sefo thinks I’m crazy, and I’ve been called worse, but allow me to explain.

Given the position of the referee and the fact that Carl taps before the ref intervenes, Palhares could have let go of the heel hook.  The cameras saw the tap.  The commentators saw the tap.  The people in the arena saw the tap. The referee saw the tap (even is he was slightly out of position to break it up fast enough). It would be impossible to argue that Carl didn’t tap.  It was clear to Carl and everyone else watching that Carl had been bested, yet Palhares held on when he didn’t have to.  When the evidence is that clear, and an opponent knows he has been defeated, shouldn’t the tap be enough?

But what about Matt Lindland and Murilo Bustamante? Aren’t fighters trained to “keep going” until the referee says otherwise?  It’s the fighters’ job to fight.  It’s the referee’s job to protect the fighters, right?

I concede that fighters are trained to continue fighting until the referee says stop and waiting until the fight is stopped by a referee eliminates any second guessing by the fighters or the public.  By the letter of the law and the spirit of the rules in place, Palhares didn’t do anything illegal in Saturday night’s win over Steve Carl. He followed the rules as they are spelled out and obeyed the command by referee Yves Lavigne to stop.  However, shouldn’t we expect more out of the fighters in a situation like the one presented on Saturday night?  It’s easy to write off the responsibility a fighter has to another fighter as something out of his/her hands and that it’s the sole responsibility of the referee to protect the fighters, but can’t we expect a little more from the fighters themselves?  Just because a fighter can crank on a joint once his/her opponent has tapped, does it mean he/she should?  I don’t buy that fighters are machines programmed to do something and not use their own judgment.  There are numerous examples in the cage of a fighter ignoring the advice of a corner and doing his/her own thing. However, it all depends on the fighter/fighters in question.

Consider the case of Anthony Pettis’ most recent win against Benson Henderson.  Pettis wrapped up Henderson in an arm bar that was so deep, Henderson could only verbal tap out. And even then, due to the position of the fighters and referee Herb Dean, the submission went unheard by the referee and the entire crowd in attendance in Milwaukee.    No one knew what had happened except the fighters who were involved in the fight.  By all rights, Pettis could have held on to the hold and raised his hips, further inflicting damage until Herb Dean came to break it up, but he didn’t.  There was enough respect among both competitors that they knew what had happened even if no one else did at first blush. Henderson could have argued that he didn’t tap if he wanted and likely have gotten a restart.  He didn’t.  The Pettis/Henderson example also speaks to the character of both the victor and the vanquished.

I won’t question Palhares’ character.  I don’t know him.  What I do know is that he was suspended for 90 days in 2010 for continuing to crank on submissions after an opponent and referee had called for a stop to the fight.  What I do know is that he lost his job in 2013 for the very same offense.  What I do know is that every time Palhares slaps a winning leg submission on an opponent, a great number of people will scrutinize just how quick he releases the submission.  Lastly, what I know above all else is that only Palhares has himself to blame for the baggage he brings into the cage.

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