Why Rousimar “Paul Harris” Palhares + Steve “Mazz” Mazzagatti is Bad for the Sport

Rousimar Palhares

Meanwhile, in Las Vegas…


I’m an “I just came here to read the comments” kind of guy. And last Saturday’s WSOF 22 was the kind of event that gets the keyboard warriors all worked up.

For its main event, UFC veterans Rousimar “Toquinho” Palhares and Jake Shields competed for the World Series of Fighting’s welterweight title, Palhares’ second defense after winning the belt from Steve Carl March of last year. Shields dominated the first two rounds. He looked to be doing the same in the third when Palhares swept him out of nowhere, caught him in a kimura, cranked it – prompting Shields to tap 9 times – and cranked some more.

On Rousimar Palhares

It was a masterful display of technique muddled with a horrendous showing of sportsmanship.

The Brazilian, whose surname American MMA fans wittingly misspell as “Paul Harris”, is notorious for holding onto submissions after a stoppage. He was first suspended for not letting go of a heel hook submission against Tomasz Drwal in UFC 111. His second offense, yet another protracted heel hook on Mike Pierce, led to the termination of his contract with the UFC.

Following his release, WSOF VP Ali Abdel-Aziz took the gamble and signed the dangerous Brazilian under their budding promotion. “You have to understand, I’m the guy who f–king stood up for him,” a pissed Abdel-Aziz reminded media during the fallout of what was overall a great night of fights. “I’m the guy who said, ‘You know what, I’m going to sign him,'” continued Abdel-Aziz. “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.”

Thing is, not letting the kimura go was only one of the two (sets of) infractions Palhares committed that night. A new wrinkle to Toquinho’s dirty game came during the second round when he repeatedly gouged Jake’s eyes while Shields was on top.

Palhares Shields

And what did Rousimar get for all his troubles? A warning from Steve Mazzagatti. A WARNING.

On Steve Mazzagatti

Steve Mazzagatti. Referee to some of the most controversial fights in UFC and MMA history. Remember Lesnar vs. Mir 1? Lesnar was hammering away on Mir when the referee stopped the action, separated the two, issued a point deduction against Lesnar for hitting the back of Mir’s head, and when the fight resumed Mir caught Lesnar in an ankle lock shortly thereafter. Yep, that was Steve.

Or, how about Jones vs. Hamill, where Jones received his first loss after throwing 12-to-6 elbows on a covering Hamill, with the referee supposedly calmly warning Jones before hurling a DQ after Hamill could not continue? Yes, that was Steve.

And in WSOF, when Josh Burkman walked away from an unconscious Jon Fitch before the daydreaming referee called a stoppage to the bout? Yes. Yes. Yes. That was Steve.

In this episode, Las Vegas’ most notorious referee patted on Palhares’ back to signal the stoppage. As if Shields wasn’t tapping enough. He could’ve signaled to Palhares that the fight was off from an angle where Palhares could actually see him. He could, in a more aggressive manner, pull Palhares away to release the pressure from the kimura (which he somewhat did after two full seconds of pitter-pattering Toquinho). But, just like in the Jones-Hamill fight, he chose to gently inform the fighter to let go.

One could argue that, while controversial, Mazzagatti technically made the right call in most cases. But why would repeated eye gouging merit a warning whilst a select number of strikes hitting the back of the head incur a point demerit or two to three 12-to-6 elbows lead to a disqualification? The inconsistency of Mazzagatti’s calls, added to his general inability to assert himself and control the action, make him less effective (and here, I’m being very kind to him) than, say, Herb Dean or Big John.

I personally don’t have a clue on how the NSAC decides on refereeing duties, but I guess it’s just our luck that one of the most incompetent referees around gets assigned to one of the sport’s most notorious fighters in a championship fight.

Paul Harris + Mazz

Beyond the outrage/dismay felt by the collective MMA community, the most recent Paul Harris situation sets the sport back in terms of the general public’s acceptance of MMA as a bonafide combat sport and not human cockfighting. Not too long ago, a church mate asked me why I maintain a site that “glorifies brutality,” to which I replied by highlighting the discipline and restraint professional MMA fighters show from training to competing inside the cage. Last August 1, Rousimar Palhares was none of that. He was unprofessional, undisciplined, unrestrained. For such a fighter to be touted as a champion in one of the top three promotions in the US is unacceptable.

I guess, the shining light at the end of all this is Ray Sefo and the rest of the WSOF brass deciding to strip Palhares of the title and suspend him indefinitely. “As a fighter with over two decades of ring experience,” the multiple-time kickboxing world champion explained, “I am always going to be an advocate for other fighters and, in this case, I feel that World Series of Fighting must protect its athletes and rules of competition by imposing swift and firm disciplinary action to address what we saw as unfair play in the cage.”

Prior to this, the Nevada State Athletic Commission likewise elected to withhold Palhares’ entire, contractual win bonus, pending a review of the bout.

It’s such a shame, really. WSOF has gifted us with some of the best career resurgences we have seen of late in the form of Anthony Johnson, who fought for the vacant UFC light heavyweight title, and Andrei Arlovski, who is currently ranked No. 4 and will face Frank Mir next in UFC 191. With the WSOF serving as a weird halfway house for former UFC fighters, a disciplined Palhares could have made a strong case for a second chance in the UFC. Instead, he got this.

Hopefully, Toquinho accepts the disciplinary action positively and takes the time off to evaluate (or get evaluated on) his tendencies. Whether he returns to the cage or not, here’s to hoping that this is the last incident anyone needs to write a negative article on Paul Harris.



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