Following the only set of consecutive losses in his 12-fight UFC career returned to action Wednesday night at UFC Fight Night 29 for his Welterweight debut against Mike Pierce. A slimmed down Toquinho responded to Pierce's initial pressure with a heel hook that ended the fight just 31 seconds into the first round. There was some controversy in the performance, however, as Palhares failed to release the hold when the referee stepped in to stop the action.
The UFC took some immediate action when they denied Palhares a submission of the night bonus of $50K for unsportsmanlike conduct. Then, on Thursday, UFC president Dana White announced that the promotion decided to release Palhares for his extended-stay submission. The UFC explained more thoroughly in an official statement:
As announced by UFC president Dana White, the UFC organization has elected to terminate its contract with Rousimar Palhares based on repeated incidents of unsportsmanlike conduct violating the UFC Fighter Code of Conduct and his Promotional Agreement with Zuffa, LLC
The controversy is not Palhares’ first: In 2010, the New Jersey State Athletic Commission suspended Palhares for 90 days following his heel hook win over Tomasz Drwal at UFC 111 for not letting go after the referee stoppage.
In 2012, Palhares was again suspended for nine months after testing positive for elevated testosterone after UFC on FX 6.
The statement did not address Palhares' record for illegally holding submissions prior to his UFC tenure and as a BJJ competitor in the ADCC. Despite that history, Rousimar's manager Alex Davis insisted in a conversation with MMA Fighting that his client had no ill intentions:
"It's really unconscious," Davis added. "He can't explain it. He accepts any punishment, but at the same time, he says he doesn't mean to hurt anyone or anything. [He's] just trying to end the fight."
Prior to the release, Palhares spoke with media about the incident:
"I just waited for him to tap," Palhares told the media after the fight. "I locked the position and looked to the referee to see if he saw he had tapped. He tapped, I let go."
He followed up on Twitter after being cut from the organization:
I never meant to hurt anyone, as a jiu-jitsu fighter I always seek for the submission, but I would never be evil to any athlete.— Rousimar Palhares (@ToquinhoMMA) October 10, 2013
I always respect the @UFC decisions, but most of most I respect a lot Mike Pierce, so again I never meant to hurt him, just finish the fight— Rousimar Palhares (@ToquinhoMMA) October 10, 2013
It's not for me to judge whether Palhares is genuinely remorseful or simply upset because he was severely punished. I do fully endorse the UFC's decision to cut him. He's repeatedly shown that he's willing to skirt and break the sport's rules. He's a liability that could deal significant and unnecessary damage to his opponents. There's absolutely no reason for the UFC to take that risk for a fighter that's proven to be well below the elite level. That said, Palhares will most likely find a home in another promotion willing to overlook his transgressions in hopes that his UFC veteran status will draw viewers.