Play to the Whistle

Posted on September 16, 2010


There are no shortage of cliches in sports, because let’s face it, if their gifts lied elsewhere they wouldn’t be playing a game for a living. Besides, an adage becomes a cliche only out of necessity and because it almost always holds true.

One of these is “play to the whistle,” and while there are few similarities in execution and motivation between team sports and combat sports, there are times like this that we are reminded of the commonalities in competition.

Just ask Rousimar Palhares.

Going into the main event of Thursday night’s Ultimate Fight Night 22, Palhares was thought to be a contender in the Middleweight Division and a very real test for Nate Marquardt. A win would not only secure his place at the top of the division but potentially put him a fight or two away from a title shot.

Instead, Palhares became the prime example of what not to do in a fight.

Palhares secured an ankle lock against Marquardt early in the fight. Marquardt, who had drilled leglock escapes in preparation for the fight against the submission specialist and had spent 45 minutes prior to the fight working up a sweat, slipped out of the hold with relative ease.

Instead of recovering and refocusing, Palhares immediately protested and claimed Marquardt had covered himself in a slick substance. He made several gestures and motions to the referee and his corner, expecting someone to intervene and investigate the manner.

Problem is, there was still a fight going on. Marquardt was momentarily confused by Palhares’s behavior, then saw his opening and took it. Palhares ended up losing the fight in 3:28 of the 1st Round via TKO.

Palhares performed the requisite embrace after the fight out of respect, but then indicated again that Marquardt had greased his ankle. Marquardt was stunned at the allegation and urged Palhares to see for himself. Palhares declined the offer, but the Texas State Athletic Commission didn’t. They immediately saw there was no substance anywhere on Marquardt’s body and cleared him of any wrongdoing.

Marquardt’s innocence, though, is moot. Whether Marquardt slipped out due to preparation or vaseline, the end result is that Palhares walked out a loser and has been shoved down the rung of an increasingly crowded division. He has gone from a highly touted prospect who might be a future champion to a punchline that is in danger of being known primarily as a cautionary tale.

All because he failed to do what every coach tells his players, whether they’re in practice for a game on Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs or lacing up for the very first time: take nothing for granted, make no assumptions, and don’t wait for the opportunity to be given to you. Seize whatever you can, because a win won’t be simply handed over.

And always, always, always play to the whistle.