LAS VEGAS -- This time may have been one time too many for Rousimar Palhares. The reigning World Series of Fighting welterweight champion defended his belt Saturday night against Jake Shields with a brilliant third-round kimura at WSOF 22, but yet again found himself in hot water due to a series of eye gouges and a failure release his fight-winning submission in a timely manner.
When Palhares was signed to WSOF, he was done so on a zero-tolerance policy due to his notorious past. WSOF vice president Ali Abdel-Aziz told MMAFighting.com post-fight that he will need to re-watch tape of the controversies, but if he sees something that broke that policy, the punishments will be severe.
"You have to understand, I'm the guy who f**king stood up for him," Abdel-Aziz said. "I don't know if you remember or not, but I'm the guy who said, ‘you know what, I'm going to sign him.' If I go back on tape and watch that f**king fight tomorrow, and if I see Palhares held too long, and did the eye poking a couple times, he might be stripped of the title. And Jake Shields would fight the winner between (Yushin) Okami and (Jon) Fitch for the title, and I would suspend [Palhares]."
Palhares' talent is unquestionable, but his status as a repeat offender is what made him a high-risk, high-reward target for WSOF. The 35-year-old lost his job in the UFC in 2013 after failing to release a leglock against Mike Pierce, drew a 90-day suspension in 2010 for a similar incident against Tomasz Drwal, and also tested positive for elevated levels of testosterone in 2012.
Palhares has shown flashes of that troubling trend in WSOF, but none more egregious than against Shields.
"I like Palhares, I think he's a nice guy, but I think he has problems," Abdel-Aziz said. "I think he has problems, and we had an amazing event, and he didn't have to hold (the submission late). He didn't have to hold at all because he won, he tapped him. Let him go. Let the guy go."
Palhares' penchant for dirty play wound up being a major component of the build-up to WSOF 22, and Shields was understandably furious in the aftermath of the event. He was transported to the hospital with his arm in sling and complaining of visions problems, though it was the latter issue that enraged him the most.
The eye gouging fouls arrived midway through the bout's second round, when Shields was mounted on Palhares. Several gouges took place before referee Steve Mazzagatti intervened. Shields had been dominating the fight up to that point, and he told MMAFighting.com afterward that he was unable to clearly see out of both of his eyes by the time the third round started.
Adbel-Aziz was cageside and saw the eye gouges firsthand. He expects the Nevada Athletic Commission to take action against Palhares and also hopes they also take a second look at their decision to assign Mazzagatti to oversee such a potentially controversial fight.
"The Nevada Athletic Commission have to step up their game now," Abdel-Aziz said. "Steve Mazzagatti, I tweeted a picture of me and him before the event. Everybody was on him waiting for him to ref the main event. I wanted to give this guy some slack and I tweeted a picture of me and him. To be honest with you, I thought he should've stopped the fight and taken a point from Rousimar Palhares. That's what I thought. I'm not a ref, but I was watching and I saw, definitely, some eye gouging."
Ultimately, Abdel-Aziz and the rest of WSOF's officials will need to review the tape before making any decisions about Palhares' future. Palhares denied any wrongdoing after the fight, but he's done so in the past as well, and despite countless warnings and chances, he continues to abide by his old ways.
So if the footage looks as bad as Abdel-Aziz expects it to look, WSOF may be left with no other choice than to strip its champion of the title and suspend him.
"If I don't do that, I wouldn't be a martial artist," Abdel-Aziz said. "Just because a guy is winning and he's the champ? It wouldn't be right .
"He should've let it go, and he didn't. We'll see what happens."