As different as mixed martial arts often appears to be in the grander scheme of professional sports, it harbors a few elements to reel it back into normalcy: It has its casual fans and it has its diehards.
The diehards don’t just watch the UFC—they watch Bellator, World Series of Fighting, ONE FC, Invicta and just about every professional underground fight organization out there.
They like watching tough people duke it out for money with no exclusive ties to the UFC, and that’s OK.
Even the biggest of MMA diehards have to recognize one thing, though: Zuffa’s brightest lights shine on the best collection of fighters on the planet. Period.
A handful of fighters outside the UFC’s roster tend to combat that argument. Fighters like Ben Askren, Patricio Freire, Will Brooks and Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos are allprime examples of proven talents whose checks aren’t signed by the Ferttitas.
More often than not, however, these fighters are often paired to dance with partners of lesser skill. Opponents who can’t seem to make for the same instant-classics the UFC’s capable of providing on a more consistent basis.
WSOF 22: Palhares vs. Shields makes for one of those rare nights that an off-brand promotion matches two exciting fighters of equal skill.
Former Strikeforce middleweight champion and UFC title contender Jake Shields steps into the World Series of Fighting cage Saturday night, primed to challenge WSOF welterweight champion Rousimar Palhares for his crown.
Palhares was also part of the biggest MMA show in town at one point, before seeing his tenure come to an abrupt end after a heel hook submission was arguably held for too long against Mike Pierce. Palhares’ opponent tapped, but, as visible in the GIF, he didn’t let go immediately.
“The bottom line is anybody who is involved in jiu-jitsu knows that is the nastiest submission you can put someone in,” Dana White said on FOX Sports following Palhares’ release. “It’s the dirtiest, nastiest submission in jiu-jitsu or in the sport of mixed martial arts. When you get it, and you know you got it, and the guy taps, you let go. And if you don’t, I will cut you.”
As wrong as it may feel to attach any sort of excitement to the idea that Palhares may very well secure a (hopefully merciful) heel hook or kneebar submission against an opponent, the dynamic is there. It’s become the conversation leading up to most of his fights in WSOF, and it’ll be the conversation leading up to his upcoming bout with Shields.
But it’s not just this “Will he? Won’t he? talk that’s got people moving. Not this time. Because this time he steps in there against a man with 14 years of preparation to prevent himself from falling into Palhares’ grappling trap. You can make the argument for guys like Demian Maia or Gunnar Nelson as the absolute best, but Shields has long been considered one of the best submission artists the welterweight division has ever seen.
And, you know, seeing Shields voice his concerns over Palhares certainly doesn’t hurt the excitement surrounding this fight.
“I can’t really say 100 percent, because I don’t know. But I’m not really buying it. He’s done it over and over,” Shields said of Palhares’ controversial submissions on The MMA Hour. “I feel like it’s a cover up and he hides behind, ‘Oh, I’m Mr. Nice Guy, Mr. Jesus.’ That’s even worse. I think I’d respect him more of he was just like, ‘Yeah, I hurt you. Get over it.’ But the fact that he pretends that he’s so nice makes it even worse to me.”
What does hurt the excitement surrounding this fight, however, is being scheduled on the exact same night as a UFC event—an event headlined by the promotion’s golden girl, no less.
Mark it an ill-advised attempt to go toe-to-toe with the UFC. But let’s face it, with how many shows the UFC has scheduled from now until the end of the calendar year, it’s not as if WSOF had much of a chance to not overlap. It was bound to happen.
If nothing else, WSOF just made it a busy night of multi-tasking for a good portion of the MMA diehards out there.