“Unsportsmanlike conduct” is a phrase that is directed at athletes who behave in an unprofessional manner, such as taunting opponents or attempting excessive harm. That term is often overused when it comes to mixed martial arts, a sport which hasn't garnered the highest of praises in the mainstream media at times. However, the Rousimar Palhares situation deserves the attention it's receiving at this point, as the Brazilian star has been jettisoned from the UFC for his egregious unsportsmanlike conduct in his most recent bout.
For those unfamiliar with the situation, “Toquinho” was released from the UFC last week for actions that occurred at UFC Fight Night 29. In his bout against Mike Pierce, the leg lock specialist secured a submission victory via heel hook just 31 seconds into the first round. The transgression occurred when Palhares refused to release the hold for nearly four seconds, as Pierce screamed and tapped, while referee Keith Peterson worked hard to separate the two fighters.
It was clear that Palhares could see the tap and the referee working to get them apart, so his actions have been strongly criticized by his peers and employers alike. He would be suspended for 120 days by the commission for his actions, and the UFC did not award him the “Submission of the Night” bonus, even though he was the only fighter to coax a tap out on the card.
The heel hook is one of the more dangerous maneuvers in grappling because of the immediate damage it can create. It can quickly tear ligaments, and within any sport, that is one of the worst types of injuries that can happen to an athlete. Ligament damage has ended many careers, so a person that attempts to damage the ligaments of his fellow competitors should expect the kind of negative response that Palhares has received, especially since this isn't his first time committing the action, as he also held a heel hook against Tomasz Drwal back at UFC 111 in New Jersey. He would be suspended for 90 days after that bout, but no further actions were taken against him by the UFC.
What made the situation even worse for Palhares is that this was his third offense in the eyes of the UFC. At UFC on FX 6 in December of 2012, he dropped a bout to Hector Lombard, then his drug test returned showing elevated testosterone levels. He would be suspended for the second time in his career after those results.
Some have spoken out against the UFC cutting Palhares, but his actions shouldn't be taken lightly. What would be the result if a football player was proven to be taking shots at other players’ knees? Or if a major league pitcher was throwing fastballs at batters’ heads? The sports world would call for them to be punished for their actions, so “Toquinho” deserves punishment.
Others have questioned whether Palhares would have received the same treatment if he was a big name star for the promotion. We've seen the UFC handle fighters differently due to star power in the past, but this is a situation that hasn't been handled before, so those speculations are unfounded at this time. There hasn't been a time where an athlete has continued to batter a defenseless opponent, or hold a submission as a referee attempted to stop the fight in such a manner.
Even worse for “Toquinho” is that he may have damaged his long term earning potential in a fashion that he may not recover from. Promotions such as Bellator and World Series of Fighting may avoid adding him to their roster out of fear that he could seriously injure some of their star athletes. That doesn't leave too many options for a fighter that pulled himself out of poverty the way that Palhares did.
To this point, the UFC hasn't been the best at being fair in dealing with its fighters in terms of cutting and punishment for actions, but releasing Rousimar Palhares is a step in the right direction.