All the eyes of the mixed martial arts world are on Rousimar Palhares every time he steps into the cage to fight.
In particular, that collective gaze is placed upon him at the end of his fights.
Palhares was released from the UFC after a second incident of holding on to a submission hold for too long after his opponent had tapped out. Mike Pierce suffered a knee injury and tore ligaments in his ankle in that October bout.
Palhares fought for the first time since he was cut on the World Series of Fighting card at Hard Rock Hotel on Saturday night and, of course, controversy surrounded his submission victory.
Or did it?
Palhares submitted Steve Carl in the main event via an inverted heel hook to capture the WSOF welterweight title. There was immediate murmuring in the venue that Palhares may have held on for a moment too long and the Twittersphere seemed to immediately pass judgment against him once again.
WSOF president Ray Sefo and matchmaker Ali Abdel-aziz insisted Palhares broke the hold in a timely manner.
“The submission happened right in front of Ali and I,” Sefo said. “I thought as soon as the referee told him to let go, he let go. So if you think that he held it too long, then you’re crazy.”
Abdel-aziz said he and Sefo warned Palhares that WSOF would not tolerate any lapses in sportsmanship from the 34-year-old, who also has a failed performance-enhancing drug test on his resume.
Abdel-aziz had zero problem with Palhares after Saturday night’s win.
“I think everybody needs to leave this kid alone,” Abdel-aziz said. “He went through a lot already, and he’s a champ now. I think everybody should be congratulating him and praising him as a champ.”
Palhares said he did break the hold as soon as the referee stepped in to end the fight.
“My opponent felt the position and he tapped,” Palhares said through a translator. “I let go, and I don’t care about whatever anybody else says. I let go.”
Both Palhares and his manager Alex Davis acknowledged the fighter has earned his reputation by making mistakes in the past. Palhares is known as the best leg lock practitioner in MMA and opponents can get hurt even if he breaks the holds in a timely manner. Mike Pierce suffered a knee injury and torn ligaments in his ankle when Palhares kept cranking the hold after the referee stepped in to stop the fight.
Davis, however, thinks it is time to allow Palhares to move on with his career.
“Negative stuff always sells better than positive,” Davis said. “People try to make him the villain because it sells. I’ve said this a thousand times, it gets hits on their sites. He’s been made into the villain. You guys can see who he is. He’s a simple guy, he’s a nice guy. He was hugging his opponent all week. Yeah, he did commit an the error (against Pierce). He admitted the error, he straightened it out and now he let go.
“So, we need to just let this thing go.”
■ CYBORG LOSES — The news that women’s MMA star Cris “Cyborg” Justino had lost a muay Thai kickboxing bout on the Lion Fight card at Hard Rock Hotel on Friday night shocked many fans who had not seen the fight.
Justino and Jorina Baars, who defeated her by unanimous decision, were not surprised at all.
“I’m a muay Thai fighter. She’s an MMA fighter,” Baars said after remaining undefeated with the victory. “It’s my sport. It’s my style.”
Baars said she is open to a rematch if Justino would like to try again, but Justino has several MMA fights booked the rest of the year.
She also knows she was overmatched.
“I’m so happy because I went five rounds with her, a champion of muay Thai. She’s had eight belts and 38 fights, zero losses. She’s never lost. I’ve had two fights in muay Thai,” Justino said.
■ UFC 173 UPDATE — With the middleweight title bout between Lyoto Machida and Chris Weidman moved to UFC 175 in July, a bantamweight title bout between T.J. Dillashaw and champion Renan Barao has been named as the new main event for UFC 173 at MGM Grand on May 24.
Raphael Assuncao was offered the title fight against Barao, but had to turn it down because a rib injury he sustained in his last fight has not fully healed.
A welterweight bout between Robbie Lawler and Jake Ellenberger has also been added to the UFC 173 card.
Contact reporter Adam Hill at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-224-5509. Follow him on Twitter: @adamhilllvrj.