LAS VEGAS -- For new WSOF welterweight champion Rousimar Palhares, the issue is a simple one: referee Yves Lavigne instructed the Brazilian not to release a submission until he intervened, and that's exactly what Palhares did in his title-winning performance over Steve Carl at WSOF 9.
"My opponent felt the position, my opponent tapped," Palhares said through a translator. "I let go, and I don't care about whatever anybody else says. I let go."
Fighting for the first time since controversially defeating Mike Pierce in late-2013, and subsequently being cut by the UFC for continuing to crank on a heel hook well after Pierce tapped out, Palhares was guaranteed to be under a microscope in his WSOF debut.
Both WSOF President Ray Sefo and matchmaker Ali Abdel-Aziz warned Palhares beforehand that the organization signed him on a strict zero tolerance policy, and that any reversion back to his old ways would result in Palhares' release. Palhares went on to defeat Carl with ease at Saturday night's main event, ending the fight in 69 seconds with a nasty inverted heel hook.
And despite some online complaints claiming otherwise, both Sefo and Abdel-Aziz agreed that Palhares let go of the submission within an appropriate amount of time.
"The submission happened right in front of Ali and I," said Sefo. "I thought as soon as the referee told him to let go, he let go. So if you think that he held it too long, then you're crazy."
Carl appeared to be in noticeable pain after the fight, arriving at the post-fight press conference with a noticeable limp and a bag of ice wrapped around his right knee. He wasn't sure of the exact nature of his injury and expects to undergo an MRI next week, though the leg that was damaged has already suffered through multiple knee surgeries and the insertion of a titanium rod in the past.
Nonetheless, Carl disagreed with anybody claiming that Palhares held on to the submission too long.
"It was extremely, extremely slick. Like, the positioning he went in was just amazing," Carl said. "Honestly, I was in danger by not knowing I was in danger. I thought I was out, but no, I was deep. Man, that quickly. I spun out of the heel hook and he switched over to the inverted, and as he said, it was already locked. It was already finished. As he spun over to it, his body positioning was perfect. Not a whole lot I could do there.
"It all happened really fast, and the damage was done at that point. I got no ill will."
To both Abdel-Aziz and Sefo, any controversy over Palhares' finish is simply an overreaction due to the stigma that surrounds the embattled welterweight.
"I think everybody needs to leave this kid alone," said Abdel-Aziz. "He went through a lot already, and he's a champ now. I think everybody should be congratulating him and praising him as a champ.
"When you're talking about an inside inverted heel hook, come talk to anybody in this room, any black belt in the room, you don't have time to tap. If it's a regular heel hook from the outside, you do have time to roll out of it. He turned it into a kneebar, and after that he went into an inverted heel hook. Many, many guys I know, including myself, I popped my MCL because you don't have time to tap."
"Even Steve Carl said that," Sefo added. "He said that he didn't have time to tap. So again, leave the guy alone. He's the champ, he actually let go of that hook as soon as the referee said stop."
Palhares' manager, Alex Davis, agreed that the narrative that follows Palhares has run its course, and expressed frustration that the perception of controversy overshadowed what was, in reality, an extremely impressive performance.
"Negative stuff always sells better than positive," Davis said. "People try to make him the villain because it sells. I've said this a thousand times, it gets hits on their sites. He's been made into the villain. You guys can see who he is. He's a simple guy, he's a nice guy. He was hugging his opponent all week. Yeah, he did commit an the error (against Pierce). He admitted the error, he straightened it out and now he let go. So we need to just let this thing go."