Can Rousimar Palhares leave his controversial past behind? | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
The stakes could not be higher for Rousimar Palhares ahead of his World Series of Fighting debut.
Palhares will challenge Steve Carl for his welterweight championship in the WSOF 9 headliner on Saturday at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. The 34-year-old Brazilian’s ground skills are recognized worldwide, as 11 of his 15 victories have come by submission, eight of them by heel hook or ankle lock.
After a six-year run in the Ultimate Fighting Championship that included an 8-4 record, Palhares was summarily dismissed by the organization in wake of an October victory over Mike Pierce. He held on to a fight-ending heel hook for more than a second after referee Keith Peterson had stepped in to stop the match. What was excusable one time proved unforgiveable a second. Palhares had been suspended for 90 days in 2010 for an almost identical incident against Tomasz Drwal. In that UFC 111 win, he claimed he did not feel the tapout from Drwal and therefore maintained pressure until referee Kevin Mulhall intervened. Palhares later apologized “for hurting him.”
The UFC’s decision to release him seemed to catch Palhares off-guard.
“I don’t know why [I was released], but that is in the past,” he said. “There were other offers on the table, but I felt that WSOF was the best option for me at the moment. Now, my focus is on becoming WSOF champion.”
Carl stands in his way. The Hard Drive MMA representative currently rides a seven-fight winning streak, and he, too, favors submissions. Sixteen of Carl’s 21 wins have come by tapout.
“Steve is a great athlete, and I respect him very much,” Palhares said. “He is the champion, so I must go out there and do my best and show that I deserve that belt more than him.”
In April, Palhares left Brazilian Top Team for Team Nogueira.
“It’s a huge joy to be part of Team Nogueira,” he said. “It has been very good for me. I feel I am getting training that I was not getting before.”
Palhares expects to thrive as a welterweight, having made the move to 170 pounds following a knockout loss to Hector Lombard in December 2012. He believes the UFC missed out.
“I feel great at 170,” Palhares said. “I think I could have become champion in the UFC welterweight division.”