When will enough be enough in the case of Rousimar Palhares?

First, there was Tomasz Drwal at UFC 111. And now there’s Mike Pierce at UFC Fight Night 29. Two opponents, two heel hook submission finishes and two late releases of the hold by Palhares.

In Drwal’s case, the aftermath was what Drwal deemed a “strong stretch” of his knee and ankle ligaments that didn’t require surgery. It could have been much worse. In Pierce’s case, there’s no word yet on any potential lingering damage.

Palhares, who was making his welterweight debut after spending five-plus years in the UFC’s middleweight division, has a history of this sort of thing. On Twitter, MMA Fighting’s Luke Thomas pointed out that the Brazilian’s reputation for holding submissions too long extends to jiu-jitsu competition, and UFC fighter Brad Tavares noted how the result could be damaging to the careers of Palhares’ victims.

The Drwal incident cost Palhares a 90-day suspension, issued by the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board. What will the Pierce incident, which happened in Brazil, bring the fighter? Despite being the night’s only submission finish, Palhares’ heel hook failed to net him a “Submission of the Night” bonus after UFC officials determined that Palhares had acted in an unsportsmanlike manner. Oh, and Brazil’s athletic commission is going to look into the possibility of disciplinary action.

Here’s the thing, though: Palhares’ actions have yet to truly cost him, and until they do, he’s going to continue to act in the same manner and then issue an apology afterwards. He’s done this on numerous occasions, not just in the case of submissions that he’s held so long that the referee calls for a crowbar to help pry Palhares off his feverishly tapping and screaming opponent, but also in such instances as when, mid-fight, he accused Nate Marquardt of greasing his legs. Although the accusation itself isn’t necessarily unsportsmanlike, the manner in which Palhares chose to object—he could have waited until between rounds and voiced his complaint to the official then—was. But I digress.

Let’s focus on the offending submissions and their cost, so far, to Palhares.

The 90-day suspension in the Drwal case was nothing more than a slap on the wrist for “Toquinho.” Rarely does a UFC fighter turn around and fight twice in any three-month period. Palhares has never done so in his UFC tenure. The closest he came, oddly, was when he fought on Dec. 12, 2009 at UFC 107 and submitted Lucio Linhares, then returned on March 27, 2010—105 days later—to meet Drwal. Even in that instance, he would have served his suspension without missing a beat.

In this fresh incident against Pierce, Palhares lost a fight-night bonus for his actions. In a way, you could say the unsportsmanlike behavior cost him $50,000. But, in reality, it didn’t. Palhares had publicly stated that if he took the prize, the proceeds would go to charity, specifically the Doctors Without Borders program. So, in fact, it’s the Doctors Without Borders program that suffers on behalf of Palhares.

There’s still the possibility that the Brazilian athletic governing body could decide to punish Palhares, who was seeing his first action since receiving a suspension for elevated testosterone levels following his December 2012 bout with Hector Lombard. However, if the suspension is minimal, as it was in New Jersey for the Drwal infraction, then it serves little purpose. Yes, it may again acknowledge that Palhares did something wrong, but it won’t really make him suffer the consequences or have enough of an impact on Palhares’ livelihood to cause the Brazilian to change his ways.

The one party that should deal with Palhares in a much sterner manner is his employer, the UFC. The denial of a bonus was a good first step in theory, even if the end result is that a charity, and not Palhares, lost money. But the UFC should look at disciplinary action that truly hits Palhares where it hurts—in his wallet. In addition to withholding a bonus that was not mandatory pay in the first place, the UFC should consider a significant fine, one that would put a large dent in his contracted purse for the fight. The promotion should also seek another suspension, one that would cause Palhares to miss at least one potential fight. Perhaps six months, rather than the 90-day ruling an athletic commission dealt him in the previous incident.

So far, the UFC and its other fighters have been lucky. Drwal escaped without serious injury, and Pierce might have been fortunate too. But Brad Tavares was right when he tweeted that serious harm could come from Palhares’ actions. If that day arrives and a fighter is seriously injured, the ones who suffer are the injured fighter and the UFC, which loses that fighter from its active roster.

It is one thing to hold a submission until a ref sees it, but it’s another to continue to hold or crank the submission when the official is already trying to pull the fighters apart. Furthermore, this isn’t an isolated incident, but rather a troubling pattern for the Brazilian fighter. It’s time for the UFC to deliver a harsher punishment, one that will convince Palhares to let go of a hold when he’s ordered to.

Unless Palhares pays for his actions, the UFC and its roster will.

Photo: Rousimar Palhares (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)