Poland's KSW occasionally looks like the heyday of Japanese MMA transplanted to a different year and time zone, a place where watching former World's Strongest Man Mariusz Pudzianowski fighting the tomato can to end all tomato cans Bob Sapp is as normal as a sunrise. And that's where Rousimar Palhares—the former UFC competitor and World Series of Fighting's former welterweight champion and resident unstable ligament-twister—is headed next, according to Guilherme Cruz of MMA Fighting said. Palhares makes his promotional debut at KSW 36 on October 1 in the city of Zielona Gora, fighting at middleweight against former champion Michal Materla.
That Palhares would wind up in the hinterlands of Poland on a fight card bound to be filled out with mostly unrecognizable, consonant-heavy names isn't shocking. If you're the bogeyman, it's a fitting destination.
Palhares was a Brazilian farm boy who grew up in the sort of sleeping-in-the-dirt poverty that's impossible to imagine in the developed world. Then he grew into the body of a silverback gorilla and started tugging on other people's limbs like they were wishbones, no matter how much they tapped and screamed for him to stop. At first, during his half-decade in the UFC, Palhares and his team could write it off as zeal for the finish and for imposing finality. Later, it became apparent that this was pathology. With a language barrier that he couldn't surmount, Palhares's personality seemed vaguely sociopathic, and the possibility that you might watch his heel hooks and kneebars turn into something truly awful became part of his allure.
But if you've paid attention, you know Palhares has suffered consequences for going too far. After a perfunctory suspension from the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board, a failed drug test for testosterone, and a release from the UFC after holding onto Mike Pierce's leg past the breaking point, last fall the Nevada State Athletic Commission handed Palhares a two-year suspension for holding onto a kimura during his WSOF bout with Jake Shields after Steve Mazzagatti tried to end the bout.
Rather than wait and do his penance on the sidelines, Palhares did what some of his contemporaries—most recently Mirko Filipovic and Wanderlei Silva—do when sanctioning bodies bar them from competing stateside: they head overseas to keep beating people up, or at least make an earnest attempt to do so. His first MMA fight since the Shields fiasco came at Venator Fighting Championship 3 in Italy this past May, a semi-insane event in which Jason "Mayhem" Miller came in 24 pounds overweight. Palhares lost with a 45-second TKO against UFC-bound Emil Meek. Afterwards, Palhares complained to Cruz in a surreal moment: one of MMA's dirtiest fighters was angry about getting elbowed in the back of the head.
This seems to be the trajectory of Palhares's career: a tumble from the UFC to the WSOF to points elsewhere, carrying extra muscle and an obliviousness to the reputation for monstrosity that he's cultivated. According to his manager, Alex Davis, that's a reputation that he doesn't deserve. "I’m happy that KSW believes in Rousimar and signed him," Davis told Cruz. "Rousimar is a fighter that has made a few mistakes in the past, but he was a victim from the media more than anything else, which is really unfair. He held this too long, he did this or that. That’s not fair. He never stopped being one of the best welterweights on the planet, and over there in Poland people will appreciate him a lot. He will show what he’s capable of again."
With a past like Palhares's, seeing "what he's capable of" in the future is reason enough to follow the bogeyman into the MMA wilderness.
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