Totowa MMA: A look inside NJ United Mixed Martial Arts Academy

Rousimar Palhares: A Troublesome Cautionary Tale

Fighters and politicians are so different that I probably use different brain cells just to think about either of them. However, their one commonality is that they’re both often masterful excuse-makers. Sure, plenty of them aren’t (Randy Couture, Matt Hughes, etc.). However, plenty of them are, and I’ll admit that if I sacrificed all of my life, youth, and energy for fifteen minutes inside a cage, I’d probably fabricate some excuses of my own. Hell, I already do that with my Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu career. I once skipped an important jiu-jitsu seminar because a Spongebob Squarepants marathon was on, but I said that it was because I was injured, and I WAS injured, so I thought that I wasn’t technically lying. In any case, that’s an utterly horrendous excuse. I’m just getting that out of the way so that I don’t come off as some moral superhuman.

So yeah, I’m capable of making bad excuses, but I’m also capable of calling myself on my own crap. But there’s one fighter out there who can’t perform that self-analysis to save his life (or rather, his career). His excuses for his dangerous behavior actually go beyond the absurdity of Clinton’s “It depends upon what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is,” and the fallout of Bush’s “Read my lips.” His name is Rousimar Palhares, and he’s basically the Richard Nixon of MMA – a Nixon who claws at the eyes of his opponents, holds onto submissions long after his opponents have tapped,  and with a straight face denies any wrongdoing. Several pro fighters want him banned from MMA. I want him suspended from MMA until he gets help, and here’s why.

Palhares has incredible martial talent that was forged in circumstances of incredible poverty. I’d call him the Oliver Twist of MMA, but I don’t recall any character of Charles Dickens using scotch tape in lieu of stitches to heal a farming-related injury, and eating pig-slop as a child to survive. And after watching his brief bio here:, you’ll have a better understanding of why he developed a “Hulk smash!” approach to life. The problem is that this approach is, whether he’s aware of it or not, poisoning his remarkably technical jiu-jitsu.

UFC fighter Joe Lauzon has done a very illuminating analysis of Palhares’s tendencies here: His number-crunch is interesting in terms of how cranking a leglock for 1.4 seconds is “an eternity.” However, I don’t even believe that his comparisons are necessary here. You don’t need to be a fighter or an analyst to see that when a fighter is caught in a submission hold, and when he’s “screaming in agony,” and when he’s tap-slapping Palhares repeatedly, and when the ref is physically joining in the fight to stop the submission, AND when Palhares still isn’t letting go, then it should go without saying that something is very, very messed up here. In any case, it’s the polar opposite approach to that of Demian Maia, who explains his use of “The Gentle Art” in the octagon thusly: “Jiu-jitsu gives people an option to tap or submit. The intention is not to hurt or punish the opponent. They are given a choice to stop that. That’s what I try and do in my fights. I try and represent jiu-jitsu to the best of my ability and to show the philosophy of the art. I don’t like to hurt people.”

Palhares’s issue is not a new one. It has caused him to be banned from the UFC, stripped of his WSOF title, and suspended indefinitely from that organization. Back when he trained at Brazilian Top Team, Palhares had the tendency to hurt his training partners, goading his former coach Murilo Bustamante to hire him a psychologist for him. Nothing came of that, and Palhares continually denies using dirty tactics. The argument has been made that other fighters have used dirty tactics and have not been faulted as badly as Palhares has. However, the reason for this is that they have not repeated and intensified their rule-breaking.

Many people aren’t quite sure what to make of Palhares in this respect. Some have speculated that he’s endangering other fighters as part of a masterful, cross-promotion scare tactic. Others have argued something to the effect that he’s just a careless dirtbag. I don’t believe either is true. I believe that Palhares genuinely doesn’t feel that he has a problem. I can’t explain exactly how this is so, but if you ask an addict or someone with a personality disorder to explain their addiction or disorder, you’ll usually hear denials similar to the ones you’d give if someone sporadically accused YOU of having such problems.

In short, Palhares doesn’t see the dire problem that he has. The hows and whys of this are anyone’s guess. Perhaps he hasn’t developed the eyes to see his problem, and this is an especially troubling issue that all the talent and training camps in the world can’t fix. There’s more to fighting than being good at fighting. Whether Palhares likes it or not, there’s an art (and it’s not complicated) to knowing when to quit and when to use self-control in problematic situations. Watching Palhares claw at Jake Shields’s eyes and take an eternity to release a kimura should speak for itself here:

A man is more than a bad habit, or the worst thing he’s done in his life. Palhares is capable of recognizing and fixing his problem, and I have enough respect for his skill to admit that I would like to see him do so. He seems to have enough honesty and humility to at least start doing this. But until he does, he’s an incredible danger to the health and longevity of any fighter he faces, and he should be suspended from MMA.


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