You don’t have to look too closely at the events of UFC 111 to see that hypocrisy is alive and well in mixed martial arts, yet it seems that most are content to not notice two glaring examples of it from within the event itself. Somehow, everyone is talking about Rousimar Palhares’ vicious heel hook against Tomasz Drwal, all while missing the most interesting aspect of the issue.
And what is that? What I’m alluding to is that somehow, fight fans, promoters, announcers, journalists and even athletic commissions will treat slightly different, but largely similar events in very different ways.
Look at Palhares’ heel hook that ended his bout against Drwal. The UFC’s color commentator, Joe Rogan (who I am a fan of, despite this particular criticism) immediately began talking about how long it took Palhares to release the hold. He even somehow counted out loud during the replay to show how long Palhares held onto the heel hook, without noticing that he was counting to a slow motion replay, turning a few seconds into seven.
I’m not going to argue that what Palhares did was cool, because if I was Drwal, I would probably not think so. Furthermore, I understand the old school jiu-jitsu mantra of “don’t release the hold until the ref sees it,” but that doesn’t hold up as a valid defense when the referee has to physically yank Palhares off of Drwal’s injured leg.
However, I’m also not as infuriated as many of you seem to be about the whole thing because I don’t believe that Palhares holding onto it for a couple of seconds did any additional damage. With a heel hook, the damage is done when the fighter applying the hold “cranks” it. Continuing to hold it without applying extra pressure may hurt very badly, but it isn’t going to do any extra damage in terms of the injury that will result. The injury was caused by the time that Drwal tapped, plain and simple.
This is all beside the point, anyway. What I’m getting at is that the level of outrage that resulted after the fight, as well as when Renato “Babalu” Sobral memorably held onto his anaconda choke against David Heath, is much different than what happens when a fighter continues to punch an obviously unconscious opponent, which happens dozens of times per year in the UFC alone.
We already know that there’s a double standard at work- BJ Penn held his rear naked choke against Jens Pulver for about as long as Babalu held his choke after referee intervention, with none of the repercussions- but how can fighters get away with punching unconscious opponents until and even after the referee physically halts the proceedings without getting any real flack for it?
Babalu was reprimanded by the athletic commission and released by the UFC after his choke on Heath, while Palhares was given a 90-day suspension from the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board. By contrast, nothing was done to Quinton “Rampage” Jackson when he continued to punch an unconscious Wanderlei Silva for several seconds, even as referee Yves Lavigne was attempting to push him away. Similarly, when people talk about a fight like the one between Shane Carwin and Frank Mir, where Mir was out for several seconds before the delayed stoppage and Carwin continued punching away, the criticism is almost always reserved for the referee, as fighters apparently supposed to “fight until the ref stops it”.
Why doesn’t this guideline apply to submissions? While people were mad that Palhares held the heel hook for a second or two after the ref moved in to stop the fight, but most of the outcry had to do with the few seconds after Drwal tapped, where Palhares ignored the tap and instead waited for the referee to stop the bout, instead. This begs the question: why does Palhares have to show any more consideration for his opponent than Drwal would have to show if he knocked Palhares out? Would Drwal be criticized if he had escaped the hold, leaned forward and knocked Palhares out, then continued punching him until the poorly-positioned ref intervened, maybe getting a shot or two as the ref was breaking it up for good measure? Not to the extent that Palhares was.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not advocating holding a heel hook in after an obvious injury and several taps from your opponent. I think that Palhares should have released the hold, whether the referee intervened or not. I prefer Frank Mir’s method of watching the referee as he sinks in a submission, and then releasing as soon as the ref acknowledges the tapout. That’s not my point, though. My point is that continuing to hit an unconscious fighter until the referee intervenes should be treated the same way.
One of the worst arguments against what I’m saying is that a submission such as a joint lock can do serious injury to a fighter, while the extra punches after a knockout rarely have a lasting effect on the losing combatant. Let’s think this over, though. What’s worse for the sport and the fighter himself? Losing a few months due to an damaged ligament or suffering a serious brain injury or even death right there in the cage? Palhares couldn’t have killed Drwal by holding onto the heel hook, nor could Babalu have killed Heath by holding a choke for three extra seconds. You can cause serious injury or death, however, by continuing to punch a defenseless fighter who is prone on the mat. This is not to mention that broken jaws and other injuries easily occur when an unconscious fighter is punched repeatedly.
It’s ridiculous that Palhares was robbed of a possible $65,000 bonus and singled out for essentially doing the same thing that Rampage was given a “Knockout of the Night” bonus for against Silva, just as it’s crazy that Babalu’s UFC career was tossed in the gutter for a display of poor judgment that was no worse than what is glorified in “Ultimate Knockouts” DVDs. No one bought Palhares’ excuses regarding adrenaline, language barriers or waiting for the ref to ensure that the tapout was acknowledged, but there is never a question when a striker says that “everything happened so fast, I wasn’t sure if he was out,” as a defense against getting cheap shots in on a KOed opponent. When someone like Dan Henderson does the unthinkable and admitsthat he knows his opponent was out before he got an extra shot in, he is quickly vilified for the crime of…what? Being honest?
In other words, those that choose to can keep living in a fantasy world where fighters who punch sleeping opponents can’t react quick enough to stop themselves, while Palhares and Babalu are reprehensible human beings. Just know that it is, in fact, just a fantasy. Every fighter should be responsible for controlling their actions, whether it’s following a tapout or a knockout punch that puts the other fighter down for the count.