Rousimar Palhares' manager, Alex Davis, doesn't believe his client has ever intentionally injured another human being. That said, he is expecting further sanctions following Palhares' controversial win over Mike Pierce, and he admits the powerful submission ace needs to adjust his approach to fighting.
"We have talked about it at length," Davis today told MMAjunkie.com. "The one thing I can certify is that Rousimar does not hold on to a sub out of malice. It's unconscious, a mix of adrenaline and years of being conditioned to not let go."
Palhares (15-5 MMA, 8-4 UFC), of course, faced Pierce (17-6 MMA, 9-4 UFC) on the main card of Wednesday's UFC Fight Night 29 event in Barueri, Sao Paulo, Brazil. While Pierce was the early aggressor in the FOX Sports 1-televised bout, Palhares wasted little time attacking his opponent's leg, dropping for a nasty heel hook that he torqued until earning the tap.
Unfortunately for Palhares, neither Pierce's rapid taps nor referee Keith Peterson's hands-on intervention was enough for the Brazilian to immediately let go of the hold. UFC officials ruled the transgression "unsportsmanlike conduct" and declined to award Palhares the evening's $50,000 "Submission of the Night" award, even though he scoring the only tap-out win of the night. (Watch the full Rousimar Palhares vs. Mike Pierce fight video.)
UFC executive Marshall Zelaznik admitted after the contest that Palhares' history, which includes a previous 90-day suspension for holding on to Tomasz Drwal's leg too long in a 2010 win, factored into the promotion's decision.
"Obviously there's been a bit of a history with 'Toquinho' and how long he's held submissions in the past," Zelaznik said. "He's had come controversial issues surrounding some of the submissions."
Palhares has long maintained that his MMA mentor, Murilo Bustamante, instilled in him a need to hold on to submissions until there is no doubt as to the victor, an attitude the former UFC middleweight champion developed after he was essentially forced to submit Matt Lindland twice at UFC 37.
While Davis admits that attitude probably needs a little tweaking, he also said the 33-year-old Brazilian isn't looking to intentionally harm an opponent – despite the dangerous nature of leg-lock submissions.
"I can attest to the fact that Rousimar is a very simple, humble and well-meaning person," Davis said. "This is not malice but instinct, nature of the beast.
"That said, we need to keep on working on it. Rousimar used to hurt people in training, but he has become very controlled now. Now we need to work on the fights, work on keeping him conscious rather than just automatic."
Brazil's athletic commission (CABMMA) is currently investigating the matter, and Davis said he has already spoken with commission officials and is happy to assist them in any way needed. He understands the commission's concern but also points to another fight at UFC Fight Night 29 in which Dong Hyun Kim scored a powerful follow-up blow to an already unconscious Erick Silva as an example of how a fighter's mindset can often change in the heat of battle.
"Kim hit an obviously unconscious Erick Silva," Davis said. "It is a different situation in the fact that with Kim, the referee had not stepped in yet, but it was similar in the fact that both Rousimar's hesitation to let go and Kim's last punch were after the opponent had already been finished.
"These guys are in the zone. To me, it's pure instinct."
Davis said he's aware of the apparent public outrage surrounding the result and expects further sanctions from either the CABMMA or the UFC. However, with his fighter already losing out on $50,000, he believes enough has already been done and Palhares can improve moving forward.
"It might be hard for people to understand that don't know Rousimar personally, but I'm telling you, he holds on out of instinct," Davis said. "He only realizes it afterward. But I think that the UFC has already deprived him of an obvious $50,000 bonus for 'Submission of the Night.' That should be enough, I think."