NEW YORK -- There's no doubt Rousimar Palhares possesses the tools to become a title contender in the UFC's middleweight division.
But can the world-class jiu-jitsu ace from Brazil put them all together and make good on his potential? That's the question that's followed him since a bizarre series of incidents in the Octagon.
In 2010, Palhares took his eyes off a fight with Nate Marquardt to complain to a referee, and was TKOd for his troubles. Last year, Palhares thought his fight with Dan Miller was waved off, and he scaled the Octagon to celebrate his apparent victory. The problem? The fight, which he ultimately won via decision, was still going.
Following the Miller incident, Palhares began seeing a sports psychologist. And heading into his UFC on FOX 3 main-card bout with Alan Belcher on Saturday night at the Izod Center in New Jersey, Palhares believes the results are going to pay off.
"Yeah he's helped me," Palhares said through interpreter and manager Alex David. "He's helped so that when I get into a fight, I get focused on the fight and I don't get distracted by anything else."
If the sports psychology sessions pay off, it could be bad news for the rest of the middleweight division. Palhares, a silver medalist at last year's ADCC world championships, has claimed four of his past five UFC wins via forms of leg locks. He's won six of his past seven bouts overall, with his mental hiccup against Marquardt his only loss in that span.
Belcher, for his part, isn't buying into the notion Palhares doesn't have his act together.
"He's hardcore, man," said Belcher. "He's an amazing grappler, one of the best of the world. ... If I don't keep my focus, if I get lazy or something, that's how he's going to beat me."
As far as UFC boss Dana White is concerned, Palhares has tremendous upside, comparing him to some of the greatest jiu-jitsu practitioners MMA has ever seen.
"It seems like as soon as the fight gets to the ground, he submits guys," White said. "You talk about some of the best submission guys in the UFC, Frank Mir, [Antonio Rodrigo] Nogueira, the list goes on and on. [Demian] Maia, everyone was saying how awesome Maia was on the ground. There's never been another guy since the early days when nobody knew jiu-jitsu and Royce Gracie was around that, no matter what, when it goes to the ground, you're getting submitted."
That's the type of praise that can add pressure to a fighter. But Palhares continues to see his sports psychologist, and he's gotten comfortable enough with the situation to joke about it.
"My head's right here on my shoulders, thank god."