Shields: Palhares 'dirty' but effective

Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com

Jake Shields believes there are three key factors related to WSOF champion Rousimar Palhares' success rate with leg locks.

His technique is rock-solid, he's a physically strong welterweight and (this part tends to rile people up) he clearly intends to hurt his opponent when he goes for them.

"He fully explodes on them with the intent to do damage," Shields told ESPN.com. "When he goes for it, he's trying to rip your knees off and cause serious damage. It's definitely something to think about if you're going to fight him."

Shields (30-7-1) is one win away from doing exactly that. The former Strikeforce champion and UFC title contender will fight Brian Foster at WSOF 17 on Jan. 17 in Las Vegas. The winner will challenge Palhares (17-6) for the 170-pound title.

A former UFC fighter, Palhares is a polarizing figure in mixed martial arts. In 2010, the New Jersey Athletic Control Board suspended the Brazilian submission specialist for holding on to a heel hook too long in a win against Tomasz Drwal.

In 2013, the UFC cut Palhares from its roster after he again refused to release a heel hook in a win over Mike Pierce.

Palhares, 34, was under the microscope again last weekend after a first-round submission via knee bar against Jon Fitch. Andy Foster, executive director of the California State Athletic Commission, expressed anger over what he saw to be a hesitancy by Palhares to release the hold.

Palhares claimed he did nothing wrong, and Fitch, who screamed in agony as he tapped to the knee bar, has reportedly not suffered serious injury. Ultimately, the CSAC decided against any disciplinary action.

Shields, a Cesar Gracie Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, says he has mixed feelings about Palhares' style. On one hand, he says the Brazilian still hangs on to submissions too long, but believes it's directly tied to how aggressively he goes for them.

"I think everyone looks at it differently," Shields said. "Obviously, he's viewed as a dirty fighter because he doesn't always let go. That's his one thing. You can't really say it's cheap to go for it if that's his only move and it's always working. You can't bash him for it. It's up to the top-level guys to find a way to stop it.

"It's definitely dirty and it hurts people and he continues to do it -- but it's also why he's successful."

Despite his wealth of experience in the grappling world, Shields, who participated in a pure jiu-jitsu match at Metamoris 5 last month, says even he would have to study up on leg-lock submissions ahead of a potential title fight against Palhares.

"I train very little of them, to be honest," Shields said. "There are not very many guys who have dangerous heel hooks like that, and in training, you do them very lightly because you're not trying to hurt each other. It's something that's hard to train for."

When asked if the threat of damage caused by one of Palhares' submissions would make him think twice about accepting the fight, Shields said no.

"For me, I've always gone out and just fought whoever," Shields said. "I've never dodged anyone, so that would be the wrong approach. But definitely, I could see other guys approaching it like that.

"A lot is on the line when you're fighting that guy. He might hurt you, and it makes you want to go out and hurt him first. Let him know if he's going to play that game, you'll play that game right back. Put a little fear in him."

Of course, the decision to fight Palhares won't even be Shields' to make unless he defeats Foster (22-6), which Shields says he's well-aware of.

"Anyone I'm fighting at this level is talented," Shields said. "I've started watching his fights, and he's a talented striker with decent submissions and decent wrestling. He's a tough, well-rounded guy."