File Photo: Sherdog.com
Regardless of the role adrenaline and strategy may have played, what Rousimar Palhares did to Tomasz Drwal at UFC 111 crossed the line into grounds for disciplinary suspension, according the counsel to the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board.
Nick Lembo said he did not think Palhares intended to hurt Drwal with a heelhook that wrenched the Polish fighter’s ligaments from the knee down and caused him to wail in pain in a scene replayed at countless speeds and angles during the UFC 111 pay-per-view broadcast on Saturday.
But Palhares did not properly heed referee Kevin Mulhall’s physical and verbal instructions to relinquish the hold, Lembo said, and thus has been issued a 90-day disciplinary suspension. Palhares’ agent did not outright dispute the commission’s decision, but did take pains to dispel any sense that Palhares is somehow a dirty fighter for holding the heelhook until he was absolutely sure the referee had recognized the submission.
Lembo said his review of the tape of Saturday’s fight showed that Mulhall told Palhares to stop and tugged on him three times as he was in the throes of the submission.
“When a referee’s in there pulling three times and the other fighter’s tapping… I think everybody knows, regardless of language issues or anything, at that point the referee’s trying to stop the fight,” Lembo told Sherdog.com on Monday.
Lembo was also asked if Mulhall's positioning prior to the stoppage also contributed to the length of time in which the submission was held.
"The people that argue that Palhares only held for seconds also need to realize that it only took the referee seconds to get there," Lembo said in an e-mail. "Again, the key is what happened AFTER the referee got there."
Lembo said the most relevant factor in the situation is that the referee had to use force three times before the submission was released.
"A referee should not have to use that much force to release a heel (hook)," Lembo wrote.
Alex Davis, Palhares’ manager, said Palhares, an exponent of Murilo Bustamante’s Brazilian Top Team, was mostly adhering to a camp philosophy that stresses fighters holding onto submissions so as to leave no dispute as to whether a fighter tapped or otherwise conceded the bout.
“When Rousimar catches a position, he wants to make sure he holds on to it, that’s the main thing,” Davis said. “It was the very first minute of the fight, that’s when the adrenaline’s pumping and you know what, a fighter isn’t really all there. The adrenaline is not making him think right. He’s closing his eyes and he wants to finish.”
Davis said Palhares is particularly leery of slippery opponents getting out of compromising positions.
Lembo said Palhares’ past adherence to such a mindset is part of what led to his decision. He reviewed Palhares’ submissions of Helio Dipp and Flavio Luiz Moura in Brazil in 2007 before Saturday’s fight and thought those holds were held too long as well.
“If you watch those two fights, that concerned me,” Lembo said. “He’s very, very slow after the referee physically intervenes, as in this case. I think Palhares in an outstanding fighter with an outstanding future. Maybe this will send a message that his camp can discuss this with him and maybe alter it a little bit.”
Davis dismissed the two Brazil fights as not comparable to the Drwal situation, but said Palhares will be rethinking the mindset in the future. He said examples abound of how prematurely releasing a submission can hurt a fighter’s chances, noting the infamous UFC 37 fight between Bustamante and Matt Lindland. In that 2002 bout, Lindland appeared to tap to an armbar but told referee “Big” John McCarthy that he didn’t and got a restart. Bustamante submitted Lindland in the third round. Other instances have existed all the way back to the first fight in Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira’s career in 1999 when David Dodd disputed, unsuccessfully, that he submitted in a crucifix position.
“It’s subjective,” Davis said. “It’s easy to say that when you’ve never grappled. It’s one thing to look at a fight from the outside and it’s another thing to be in there. I know that Rousimar didn’t have any bad intentions.”
This item was updated at 8:10 p.m. ET with quotes from Lembo.