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Rousimar Palhares’ chance at redemption belongs to WSOF

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

If the UFC were truly a monopoly, as was not so long ago the accusation, then the recently exiled Rousimar Palhares might never fight again. As it is, though, there exists Bellator (which is finicky towards sloppy seconds, but only sometimes) and the World Series of Fighting (which right now sounds like boom-shockalocka-locka-boom to wayward sorts).

The options are limitful.

And if WSOF doesn’t go in for the romance of "second chances," it at least knows a proven commodity when it sees one. That happens to be Palhares, a no-nonsense jiu-jitsu mechanic who has a loose collection of UFC anklebones and knee joints scattered about his garage.

On Monday, Palhares signed with WSOF, a little more than a month after he was released by the UFC for trying to take home Mike Pierce’s leg as a souvenir. If he hadn’t done the same thing (and been punished for it) against Tomasz Drwal in 2010, we might have just brushed a no-no finger at him. But Pierce’s bloody cries and unacknowledged taps established a kind of disturbing pathology.

Palhares could be a serial tap-ignorer.

For whatever reason, in the fury of a fight "Toquinho" loses his bearings to the point that he doesn’t feel the taps of the guy whose leg he is tearing off. Nor does he sense the referee’s presence, even as that referee’s waving his arms frantically between him and the victim. What he’s been doing isn’t just a violation of the rules, but of the spirit of the fight game. In the book of sportsmanship -- and even in the book of gamesmanship, the sadistic offshoot -- there are thresholds in play. Mercy has always been in the fine print.

But you know what? Forget about all that -- a month is a long time to carry around a pitchfork.

Everybody knew Palhares would fight again, the question was always where? Honestly there’s not a better setting than the upstart WSOF, which has a newness to it where it can take such a chance. Palhares, after all, is an otherwise soft-spoken Brazilian who came up in poverty and is heavily endorsed by the Brothers Nogueira. It’s not impossible to spin his story into better directions. Maybe "Toquinho," who’s been seeing a psychologist to solve this particular problem, will get a measure of redemption in WSOF.

That is the hope.

And realistically, WSOF’s welterweight division is becoming bountiful. There are a lot of combinations for matchmaker Ali Abdel-Aziz to work with here: Jon Fitch, Steve Carl, Josh Burkman, Brian Foster, Gerald Harris, et al. Palhares against anybody would be intriguing, particularly because we love watching parolees walk on high wires.

But imagine Palhares versus Ben Askren, the other highly polarizing free agent who is A) being shunned by the UFC and B) has been offered a contract with WSOF. Suddenly we have the Battle of Elba, two monstrous exiles who do groundwork in completely separate ways. That fight would register in ways that no other WSOF event has. There is the unapologetic Askren, who has garnered so much attention of late and not all of it great, against Palhares, the hydrant-built castoff who is adding "conscience" to his game.

The nest-head wrestler versus the limb collector. Throw it on the marquee.

And whether WSOF does/can or not, it’s hard not to appreciate the Palhares signing. Palhares was going to get that second chance somewhere, and WSOF is the right fit. He adds to a division that is filling out in dramatic ways. Should he come in and follow the protocols like a man who truly grasps them, he can leave the dark period behind him. If not, then Palhares will go down in infamy.

And in a game centered around hype and escalating stakes, what’s not to dig in a set-up like that?

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