LAS VEGAS – The crowd at the Mandalay Bay Events Center did the right thing at UFC 74 Saturday when light heavyweight Renato "Babalu" Sobral – henceforth forever known in this space as "Babaloser" – ignored the submission of David Heath and the pleas of referee Steve Mazzagatti and continued to hang onto a choke.
It booed him vociferously after having been clearly behind him during the bout. We can only hope that the Nevada Athletic Commission and UFC president Dana White have the same strong sense of right and wrong that the 11,118 in the arena did.
What set Babaloser off was that Heath had said, "You're going down, mother (expletive)," as they posed for photographers after Friday's weigh-in.
As a result, when he got the opportunity, he squeezed the choke for nearly four additional seconds after Heath tapped his submission, as Mazzagatti attempted to pry the Brazilian's arm from around Heath's throat.
In the ring after the fight, Babaloser was defiant when questioned by UFC color analyst Joe Rogan. He said he was aware Heath had tapped, but said, "He has to learn respect. He deserved that. He called me mother (expletive)."
Well, now it's time for Babaloser to learn a lesson. And this lesson, quite likely, is going to cost him his job as well as a pile of money.
His attorney, Richard Wilner, said Babaloser would not comment out of deference to the Nevada Athletic Commission, which will begin formal disciplinary hearings Friday.
White doesn't have to wait for the commission, though. He simply can drop Babaloser from the UFC roster to make the point that such behavior is not only unacceptable but also potentially dangerous.
White was very ill Monday but worked up enough of his fiery temper to summon a few choice words for Babaloser.
He declined to discuss what actions he would take because he said it's his policy not to discuss such matters publicly, but he clearly condemned Babaloser's actions.
"He comes from the jiu-jitsu world, and that is what you do there sometimes," White said. "It's a normal thing there. But this is a sport, and you can't do that here. It's completely unacceptable.
"What it was was a total chicken (expletive) (expletive) thing to do. I realize this isn't golf. This is the fight game and (expletive) happens. But no way can you do what he did."
The sport is a great one but still has to fight the human cockfighting label that Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., once laid on it. There still are many critics – who haven't paid the least amount of attention to what really happens in the octagon – who rail against it as a barbaric enterprise.
There is no shortage of irony in the fact that Babaloser pulled the stunt with Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., one of the most powerful men in the country, sitting cageside to view his first mixed martial arts event.
Babaloser's vigilante justice not only threatens to harm a growing and suddenly vibrant sport but also brought with it the real possibility of serious harm.
No doubt you will hear from many so-called MMA fans who claim that being choked unconscious is "peaceful," although I frequently wonder how many of them would think peaceful thoughts if they were the ones gagging and gasping for air.
Long-time residents of Nevada – such as Sen. Reid – will remember the sad case of Charles Bush, the Las Vegas man who was choked to death in 1990 after he resisted when three police officers illegally entered his apartment.
His estate won a $1.1 million wrongful death judgment against the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police.
It may be a stretch to compare the Babaloser case to the Bush case, but how long would he have had to hold the choke before it became a truly dangerous situation?
Babaloser crossed a line that a professional fighter can't cross. He put Heath's life and the credibility of his sport in jeopardy. That's why it is incumbent upon White and the Nevada commission to punish him severely.
The commission held $25,000 of Babaloser's $50,000 purse. But given that light heavyweight boxing champion Bernard Hopkins was fined $200,000 earlier in the month for a shove at a weigh-in, what is intentionally choking a man unconscious worth?
Keith Kizer, the executive director of the Nevada commission, was not satisfied with Babaloser's answers when he went to speak to him in the dressing room.
But Babaloser flat lied to Kizer. He initially told Kizer that he wasn't sure if it was a tap and compared it to a situation when Matt Lindland fought Murilo Bustamante for the UFC middleweight title in 2002.
Bustamante had Lindland in an arm bar which likely would have finished the fight, but he released it when he felt Lindland had tapped. But Lindland said he didn't tap, and referee John McCarthy allowed the fight to continue.
But if that were Babaloser's belief, how does he explain the fact that he continued to cinch the choke as Mazzagatti tapped him on the shoulder with his left hand and tried to pry Babaloser's arm from under Heath's throat with his right?
And Babaloser never mentioned Lindland when he spoke to Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist Ed Graney in the dressing room after the fight. By the time he spoke with Graney, Babaloser had a chance to cool off and realize that his actions and his words in the octagon were incorrect.
Instead, he mocked the crowd for booing him, telling Graney "The crowd didn't like it? Who cares? At least they had a reaction. (Heath) had enough blood, so maybe he could have gone another round."
Babaloser isn't the first MMA fighter to hang onto a choke after a tap. Royce Gracie did it several times in his career. B.J. Penn held onto a rear naked choke after Jens Pulver tapped his submission in their June 23 fight at The Palms.
The difference is that Penn held it for only a split second, didn't choke Pulver unconscious and then didn't laugh about it while admitting it was intentional in front of an audience, as Babaloser did.
Given his actions, Babaloser deserves to be the lowest-paid fighter from Saturday's card. That "honor" now belongs to Ryan Jensen, who made $4,000 for losing to Thales Leites.
Here's a suggestion: The commission ought to fine him another $21,001 and suspend him for nine months. That fine would mean that Babaloser's purse would work out to be $3,999 and make him the lowest-paid fighter on the card.
And the suspension would force him to miss at least one more payday.
I'm guessing he'll choke on that. And I guarantee you that he won't find it peaceful.
- Nevada Athletic Commission