UFC President Dana White got it right.
Rousimar Palhares right now should be celebrating his impressive UFC Fight Night 29 victory over Mike Pierce, but instead his refusal to release a heel hook submission hold over Pierce has cost him his job.
White on Thursday announced that Palhares is banned from the UFC for life. Palhares has no one to blame except himself.
Palhares may have several reasons why he didn’t immediately release the hold. It’s possible that he was so caught up in the moment, so excited at the possibility of bouncing back from a two-fight losing streak, that he cranked the heel and just lost his senses around him. But his logic doesn’t really matter.
The facts are that Pierce must have tapped seven or eight times before he let go of the hold. Most of the taps were on Palhares’ left leg.
Palhares should have felt those taps. He should have seen the referee in his black shirt dart across the mat in front of him to break the hold. Certainly Pierce was vocal about his submission. He appeared to scream in agony.
At a time when the UFC and MMA are still fighting for respect among mainstream fans and certainly the critics who don’t understand the high-level technique involved in MMA, Palhares’ refusal to release the hold was a setback for the overall sport.
White really had no choice but to terminate Palhares. White isn’t always the most popular guy in the world, but he sometimes gets a bad rap. He’s a fierce defender of the sport. He clearly wants MMA to be one of the major sports in the world, and he wants the UFC and MMA to live on long after he’s gone.
The sport is riding high right now, but it will need a whole new generation of athletes to replace the ones currently competing. We’re talking 10-year-olds and their families who are watching these free shows and deciding whether to pursue the sport. When a guy refuses to release a submission hold, it’s the equivalent of a boxer hitting a guy late – twice – after the bell. No one wants to see that. That no longer feels like sport and starts to feel like backyard brawling.
Palhares should have known better. He needed to show mercy in that moment. No doubt he would want someone to do the same thing for him.
Palhares showed tremendous technique and skill to apply the hold in the first place after Pierce rushed him and tried to take him down. That technique is what you want fans and critics to be focused on, not refusal to release the hold.
When a fighter is tapping out hysterically, not even on the mat, but on the aggressor’s body, there’s no good reason, in this case, why Palhares should have held that heel hook that long.
The punishment could have been a financial penalty or a suspension, but White chose to make an example out of Palhares. He did the same with Paul Daley, who was cut from the UFC for life after he threw a late punch at Josh Koscheck a few years ago.
Fighters are fighters first, yes, but when they are in the UFC, they are also role models. As much as possible, they have to display good behavior, particularly when the public and advertisers are watching.
This isn’t backyard or barstool brawling. These are high-level athletes competing against one another. White proved that the health, reputation and legitimacy of the sport always comes first.