Let's face it -- Rousimar Palhares has always been a can't-miss performer just for his obscene level of submission wizardry. Now that he's high-kicking people silly and climbing atop the cage to rejoice in victory before the fight has been officially stopped, you best be glued to your television when he meets Mike Massenzio at UFC RIO 142: Aldo vs. Mendes.
Dan Miller was the victim of Rousimar Palhares' (13-3) unexpected head kick and baffling premature celebration at UFC 134. The jaw dropping display was nothing short of delightful insanity and it managed to enhance the Brazilian's already magnetic mystique with fans. After Miller recovered and exchanged confused glances with the ref, who had to awkwardly interrupt the untimely festivities, Palhares elicited more gasps when he was dropped with a punch. He went on to win a unanimous decision in the most bizarre first round of 2011.
That was not the first time Palhares perplexed the sports combat world with his wandering attention. "Toquinho" rolled for his signature leg lock on Nate Marquardt at Ultimate Fight Night 22 and then curiously transitioned to the sudden epiphany that Marquardt escaped by lathering his stems with grease. Palhares staged a mid-fight, sit-in protest and complained to the ref via sign language; Marquardt dove into the distracted fighter's guard and jack-hammered right hands for the stoppage. Afterwards, the ref and an athletic commissioner inspected and absolved Marquardt and Palhares apologized.
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Unfortunately, for Mike Massenzio (13-5), Palhares' background is a tough act to follow. The Team Bombsquad grappler is just a hard-nosed, unassuming, blue-collar workhorse who always shows up wearing his game-face. The New Jersey fighter earned his stripes in the local Reality Fighting and Ring of Combat promotions, coming out of the gate with ten wins in his first eleven outings, including a split-decision victory over the aforementioned Miller.
He would accrue his second loss to Danillo Villefort by kneebar in the IFL before signing with the UFC, where he opened up with an impressive kimura on Drew McFedries. C.B. Dollaway (TKO) and Brian Stann (triangle choke) would leave Massenzio with consecutive losses and he was released. After scoring a strike-stoppage in a smaller show, Massenzio, a middleweight, filled in as a late replacement and took on light-heavyweight Krzysztof Soszynski with three days of notice.
In a very under-appreciated display of grit and heart, Massenzio endured an ungodly beating from the massive 205-pound slugger but never gave up and persevered through all three rounds. He was rewarded for his late-notice valiance with a second chance in his natural weight class with Steve Cantwell, and Massenzio capitalized by notching an admirable upset where he rolled out an improved set of boxing skills en route to a unanimous decision.
Gifs and analysis in the full entry.
SBN coverage of UFC 142 RIO: Aldo vs. Mendes
The mechanics of the match up are straight-forward: Palhares is an absolute demon on the mat and excels at creating opportunities to apply his limb-wrenching submissions. Nine of his thirteen wins are by catch and five of those were heel-hooks, which also accounts for the finishing method of his last three victories.
With a nickname that aptly translates to "Tree Stump" in Portugese, Palhares is built like a brick shit-house. He's a burly and thick-limbed gorilla with a low center of gravity and considerable strength. While the clip to the right shows that he's a capable takedown artist, he's unafraid to pull guard or somersault into leg locks from the standing position.
The only thing that could've heightened the chaos ensuing to the left would be if Miller had actually uncorked his right hand while Palhares was straddling the fence.
The madness overshadowed what was actually a definitive sign of Palhares' enhanced striking. The beautifully timed and delivered head kick by Palhares to counter Miller's low kick is a scary weapon for an elite submissionist to be throwing with such comfort and quickness. Though Miller's not a power-puncher, he is a solid boxer and Palhares more than held his own in striking exchanges.
Being a little foggy on how to interpret past wrestling accomplishments, I consulted with Coach Mike, a member of the BE community and wrestling coach, for his assessment on Massenzio.
Mike Massenzio was the NHSCA senior national champ in 2001 at 171. National High School Coaches Association (NHSCA) is the closest thing our sport has to a true high school national championship in the collegiate/scholastic/folk style. This is a tough, tough tournament and a big deal. Looking at the bracket, Massenzio had to beat some top level talent. Though only seniors are allowed to complete in this and some who already have secured college schollies neglect to go, the winner can legitimately refer to himself as a national champion.
The particularly telling wrestling credential of Massenzio is his National JUCO championship. Though some questionable wrestling talents place and even get first at NJCAAs, most guys who win it are at least mid to high level NCAA wrestlers, some way better (see Matyushenko, Lesnar, Cormier).
Division 1 and world level results should be the gold standard for measuring a wrestler's pedigree. Looking at Massenzio's accomplishments outside of D1, I could offer the opinion that he has wrestling skills at least on par with most NCAA tournament qualifiers (top 30 in D1 and possibly much higher).
Massenzio has complemented his wrestling with some sport grappling championships in Grappler's Quest and NAGA, giving him well-rounded capabilities with takedowns and submissions. What could be the ace in his deck is how he's started to tie in his boxing, as depicted in the two gifs above.
Rather than be stuck in either striking or takedown mode, Massenzio was much smoother in transitioning back and forth between the two seamlessly. Notice how the southpaw constantly drops levels -- in either a feint or to shoot -- to force Cantwell into defending nonstop. Fearing the takedown, he's back on his heels and hesitant to plant his feet and strike. Every time Cantwell anticipates the shot, he drops his hands to defend and Massenzio bores his left hand through; conversely, when Cantwell concentrates on trading, Massenzio drops levels and attacks his hips.
This is an excellent example of how to pursue takedowns tenaciously without suffering if they're unsuccessful. Rather than shoot from outside in all all-or-nothing attempt, Massenzio keeps plugging forward and conjoining his boxing and wrestling to pressure with a relentless stream of offense.
To beat Palhares, one must first survive. His submissions are so creative and dangerous that staying out of his clutches has to be an imperative priority. Persevering through the first round would be huge for Massenzio, whose strong will and determination could propel him to turning things around late.
Still, it's hard to pick against Palhares here. His improved striking is just another weapon to be concerned with and his submissions are out of this world. I do, however, give Massenzio a good chance to pull out some surprises.
My Prediction: Rousimar Palhares by submission.
All gifs via Zombie Prophet of IronForgesIron.com