LAS VEGAS -- Jake Shields knew what he was getting into when he signed up to fight Rousimar Palhares at World Series of Fighting 22, but what transpired Saturday night was even beyond what he could've imagined.
Palhares' third-round submission of Shields wound up overshadowed by a myriad of controversial fouls, as the reigning WSOF welterweight champion not only cranked on his fight-ending submission for several seconds after Shields tapped, but also drew a warning from referee Steve Mazzagatti midway through the bout's second round after engaging in what Shields called a series of blatant eye gouges.
"Over and over, he kept catching his thumb and digging it in both of my eyes. Over and over," Shields told MMAFighting.com. "I kept telling Mazzagatti, ‘hey, look, the eye gouges.' He wasn't saying anything about it. It wasn't once or twice. It was at least eight times. In over 40 fights, not one time has anyone ever done that to me. Those weren't, like, semi-eyepokes. Those were blatant dig in and try to gouge."
Shields was transported to the hospital in the aftermath of the bout due to concerns with his vision. His manager, Tareq Azim, told MMAFighting.com that Shields was unable to see clearly out of either eye entering the third round and was still complaining of blurred vision in the hours after the fight.
"I'm not taking anything from [Palhares'] win, but it's just, what he did was absolutely blatant cheating," Shields said.
"I told the ref over and over, I said ‘he's poking me, he's poking me.' He just completely blatantly ignored me. I don't know. I've gotta say, I know the guy has been bashed as a ref -- I've never personally bashed him because I don't watch enough -- but I gotta say that's the worst reffing I've ever had. He's the worst ref I've ever seen. He's a piece of s**t. Dana (White) is right about him. It was just blatant."
Saturday's incident isn't the first time Palhares has drawn criticism for his in-cage tactics. The 35-year-old was suspended for 90 days in 2010 for cranking on a heel hook long after his UFC 111 opponent, Tomasz Drwal, tapped out of the fight. Two years later, Palhares tested positive for elevated levels of testosterone, then in 2013 the Brazilian refused again to release a leglock submission despite the cries of pains from opponent Mike Pierce.
The Pierce episode resulted in Palhares' unceremonious release from the UFC, but the issue of refusing to let go of submissions long after opponents have tapped is one that's followed Palhares into his WSOF career. It reared it's head again in the most egregious way against Shields, whose shoulder was in a sling after the fight.
"He cranked my shoulder longer than was necessary," Shields said. "It definitely felt like he held it too long. But the eye gouges are what bothered me worse because that threw me out of my game. I shouldn't have let it frustrate me, but it was really hard when I couldn't see out of either eye going into the third round."
Palhares, for his part, expressed innocence regarding both the shoulder crank and the eye gouges.
Both the Nevada Athletic Commission and WSOF management are expected to review the fight, and the punishment handed down could be severe if Palhares is found to have committed wrongdoing.
Yet even despite everything that happened, Shields would be more than willing to accept a rematch if it meant a chance at revenge.
"I would," Shields said. "I hate this guy. I'll be ready for the eye gouges this time. I knew he was a dirty cheater, but I wasn't prepared for eye gouges."