The fallout of a vastly successful but controversial weekend for World Series of Fighting – which included a brawl between UFC fighters outside of the cage – has left the burgeoning promotion with no choice but to suspend Rousimar Palhares indefinitely and strip him of his welterwight title after yet another infraction.
Palhares, who successfully retained his welterweight title in a highly anticipated showdown with Jake Shields on Saturday night in Las Vegas, will have to re-evaluate his career on the sideline after holding a submission well after his opponent tapped out.
His behavior has marred the grappling expert his entire pro career and resulted in his dismissal from the UFC in 2013.
WSOF took a flier on the immensely talented but troubled fighter. Yet after a foul-ridden fight that saw Palhares eye-gouge and fail to disengage a kimura after Shields clearly tapped out in the third round, WSOF came to the conclusion that it had seen enough.
“I don’t think [Palhares] is a bad guy, but I just think he has mental problems and shouldn’t be allowed to fight until he fixes them,” World Series of Fighting vice president Ali Abdel-Aziz told Yahoo Sports.
The WSOF executive said he had advised Team Palhares to send the fighter to a sports psychologist, but doesn’t believe it cared enough about its troubled fighter to help him.
Despite the controversy, World Series of Fighting is happy with its success over the weekend as it proved to be relevant against stiff competition with UFC 190 – headlined by one of MMA’s biggest stars in Ronda Rousey – and, to a lesser degree, a Premier Boxing Champions showdown on ESPN between rising star Danny Garcia and Paulie Malignaggi.
On the surface, things didn’t bode well for the young promotion. However, by the end of the evening, for better or worse, it was World Series Of Fighting that left a significant impression on fight fans. The combination of an unexpected brawl in the crowd between the camps of UFC fighters Khabib Nurmagamedov and Nick and Nate Diaz, coupled with the controversial main event, set social media ablaze.
The question is whether this is the beginning of the promotion making headway in the mixed martial arts landscape or if it was a perfect storm of a one-off.
The feud between Shields and Palhares stemmed from the former Shooto, Strikeforce and Elite XC champion suggesting that Palhares is a dirty fighter. Those claims aren’t unwarranted because of the Brazilian champion’s habit of holding submission maneuvers well after his opponent has surrendered.
“We have had enough of it,” Abdel-Aziz said. “He’s a nice guy but he doesn’t know when to turn it off and control himself. Those submission moves are dangerous and he can really hurt somebody or end their career. His team knows he needed help, and I have yet to see any improvement in him.”
Abdel-Aziz also suggested that Shields might face disciplinary action for throwing a punch at Palhares after the fight. Shields complained of numerous eye pokes that took place during the fight. Abdel-Aziz said that he, like many others, saw the eye gouging, and understood Shields’ frustration. However, the rules were still broken.
As for the brawl that took place outside of the decagon between the Diaz brothers and Nurmagomedov, Abdel-Aziz was upset with what transpired and said the Diazes will be banned from future WSOF events.
“Things happen and people fight, but I’m glad that nobody got hurt,” Abdel-Aziz said. “But kids are watching and what kind of example does this set? I like the Diaz brothers, but they will not be coming to another event of ours.”
The brawl happened outside of WSOF’s decagon when the camps of the Diaz brothers ran into Team Nurmagomedov during the main event walkouts.
Nate Diaz and Nurmagomedov had been trading barbs on social media for several months, and they were apparently the cause of a brawl that involved members of both teams and later spilled to the outside of the arena. Video of the melee immediately went viral.
What exactly started the brawl is up in the air. Several sources have said that it was Nate Diaz who threw the first punch while others blame a member of Nurmagomedov’s camp for attempting to attack Diaz. Nate Diaz apparently threw a punch and was swiftly escorted out of the building.
Order was eventually restored right as the main event started but video surfaced of the fight resuming just outside the theater.
Abdel-Aziz suggested that Nate Diaz and Nurmagomedov should square off in the UFC – something Nurmagomedov has suggested – to put an end to the feud. However, Diaz hasn’t competed for the organization in over a year and it’s no secret that he’s been difficult for UFC executives to deal with.
Despite all of the controversy, World Series of Fighting found a way to turn two negatives into a positive. The brawl got the attention of those awaiting Rousey’s fight, and followed that up with a contentious main event that just so happened to end minutes before Rousey’s 34-second shellacking of Bethe Correia.
“I think our event competed with the UFC and gave us some momentum,” Abdel-Aziz said.
WSOF’s next show will be a highly anticipated rematch between lightweight champion Justin Gaethje and Luis Palomino. Gaethje won the first bout with an impressive third-round TKO in a wild back-and-forth affair.
When surveying the landscape of MMA promotions, Abdel-Aziz is confident the two-and-a-half year-old company is planted firmly as the second-best promotion and ready to chase down the UFC.
“We don’t put on freak shows or stick two old guys into the cage,” Abdel-Aziz proclaimed with a thinly veiled jab at Bellator. “Our fights are very competitive with young lions who always come to fight.
“Everybody wants to talk about the negative, but I see everything as a positive. This is a turning point for World Series of Fighting because before we were taking baby steps. Now it’s time for us to take giant steps.”