It’s day one of the post-Palhares era in the UFC, and so many questions still remain unanswered. Mainly, what the hell is up with this guy anyway? Is he a sociopath or something? And if so, should he be forced out of the sport altogether?
People who know or have met Rousimar Palhares paint him as a good-natured idiot-manchild, functionally illiterate, traumatized by an impoverished upbringing, excited at the prospect of lunch at California Pizza Kitchen. Descriptions like this take some of the blame off of him, but not in a particularly positive way. They describe a man who might lack the mental capacity to understand what he’s doing, and we must not judge. Over on MMAJunkie, Ben Fowlkes wonders if Palhares is “just a dirtbag” who lacks empathy and respect for his opponents and refuses to learn from his mistakes. Also a strong possibility.
Palhares’s manager Alex Davis is throwing his support behind his fighter, and has decided to follow the narrative that Palhares is a good guy who simply isn’t in control of his own actions. As Davis told MMAFighting.com:
“He’s perplexed. He doesn’t really grasp it. He doesn’t really understand that he’s doing something overly wrong. He doesn’t get it…First of all, we’re going to figure out what the problem is. This kid is not a mean kid. Everyone who is with him loves him to pieces. We’re going to try to figure out why this happens. Why does this kid do this [expletive]? Why doesn’t he just stop?”
Davis expanded on Palhares’s lack of control and comprehension in a statement released to MMAJunkie:
“I just gave Rousimar the news. He was very sad to hear Dana’s decision. He is not a bad person or dirty fighter, and he is not trying to hurt people. Somehow, he just doesn’t hear or feel things at these moments. He worked very hard to get this far in his career, and he is not going to give up on it. He loves fighting. This is what he does. He apologizes to his fans, and will work hard to resolve these issues and fight in another event that would be interested in having him.
I can understand Dana’s perspective, but I need to reiterate that this kid does not do these things out of maliciousness. The people that live with him and train with him every day love him, and anyone else that meets him ends up doing the same. The UFC is a company and has both the right and the obligation to do what is in its best interest. I, myself, am extremely sad that it came to this, but I will continue to help and support Rousimar in his life and career. He is an awesome fighter by any standards – dedicated, humble and extremely hard-working. He will surpass this bump in the road and continue on with his fighting career.”
So, is Rousimar Palhares intentionally hurting his opponents, or does he only do it because he can’t understand the damage he’s causing? The better question is: Does that even matter? I’m sure it didn’t matter to Mike Pierce on Wednesday night, or any of the other fighters who Palhares has injured over the years.
Mixed martial arts already rides such a thin line between combat sport and pure barbarism. It relies on its athletes to follow the rules — don’t eye-gouge, don’t keep hitting your opponent after the referee intervenes, don’t punch the referee when he tries to pull you off, etc. — and so far, MMA has survived because the vast majority of fighters have been able to control themselves and compete within that structure. But when a fighter doesn’t possess the capacity to show basic concern for his fellow athletes, it shouldn’t matter if it’s because he’s a bad person or not. He’s a liability to the sport, plain and simple.
As of now, Palhares wants to continue competing in another organization, and I’d be very interested to see who takes a chance on him. Whoever decides to roll the dice, they won’t be doing MMA any favors.