Before he steps into the Octagon this Wednesday to face Mike Pierce, Rousimar Palhares is fielding a lot more questions about the past than the future. That’s not surprising, considering that the fighter who will show up on fight night will be vastly different from the one we last saw against Hector Lombard in December of 2012.
Since that first round knockout loss in Australia, Palhares was suspended for nine months after a post-fight test revealed elevated testosterone levels, he dropped 15 pounds to the welterweight division, and he split with his longtime coach Murilo Bustamante and training squad Brazilian Top Team.
Now those questions about the past seem pretty relevant, eh? But the 33-year-old Palhares appears to be taking everything in stride leading up to an important – maybe the most important - fight in his career.
“I was going through a difficult moment in my career and decided to move in a new direction,” said Palhares through translator Michele Spinelli Davis. “I believe I made the right choice and today I am part of the biggest MMA gym in the world.”
Now working with Team Nogueira, Palhares enters this week’s bout on a two fight losing streak, getting stopped in emphatic fashion by Lombard and Alan Belcher. It was a tough pill to swallow for a fighter who had won seven of his previous nine Octagon starts, but at 5-foot-8, he was always going to give away some physical advantages to his opponents. So after plenty of deliberation, the decision to go south was made.
“It was a well-planned change, and my staff and I did a clinical test,” said Palhares. “We had a test done a few months ago and I felt very good. I am confident to debut in this new division. I think it is one of the most competitive categories of the UFC, with very well-known names. I know my potential and I believe I can be another household name for the division.”
Admitting that he already feels “faster and stronger,” Palhares is an interesting addition to the weight class, given his power and deadly leg locks. If he can stay disciplined and focused, the sky may be the limit for him. But first, he needs to snap his losing skid by beating Pierce, no easy task, especially with the Oregon native more confident than ever as he brings a four fight winning streak to Barueri.
“He is a tough opponent,” said Palhares of Pierce, “and he has great qualities in the grappling and standup game. In the UFC there aren’t easy fights; all the athletes that are present at the event have what it takes to be there.”
And while you can’t argue with the preparation Palhares received over the years from Bustamante and BTT, he isn’t exactly at a loss for quality coaching and training partners with Team Nogueira.
“I needed a breath of fresh air,” he said of the switch in training camps. “I felt like my time with my old team had come to an end. My new team adds a lot to my game. I've been working on the standing part and have had great training with quality athletes. Team Nogueira has a first-class physical structure and seven great trainers. They also have great fighters whose participation makes training sessions competitive, allowing for a great exchange of experiences among the group.”
Sometimes a fighter needs a bit of a shakeup to get back on track. Palhares has had more than that in his life since last December, and while the proof of the changes’ success will come on Wednesday, at the moment, he’s more than eager to put the gloves back on and get back to work.
“I am confident going into this fight and I want to show what I am capable of,” he said. “I am very motivated, I’m surrounded by great people, and I want to win for myself and my family. As for the fans, they can expect an aggressive “Toquinho” filled with determination. I am certain that this fight will be a great show and one that will be become a memorable UFC moment. I hope to be able to show my game and develop all of my potential that has been hidden all this time.”
Rousimar Palhares' Fresh Start
"I am confident going into this fight and I want to show what I am capable of. I am very motivated, I’m surrounded by great people, and I want to win for myself and my family." - Rousimar Palhares