Some mixed martial artists go their entire career without fighting for a championship belt or seeing their name as a top billing on a card. But 24-year-old former Ohio State wrestler Lance “The Party” Palmer isn’t your typical MMA fighter.
The four-time All-American will compete for the Ultimate Victory Challenge featherweight belt in just his fourth professional bout on Aug. 4. After having his first three fights take place near his camp in California, the Ohio native is thrilled to be competing on his home soil once again.
“Having the opportunity to fight in front of my friends, family and fans is huge for me,” Palmer told The MMA Corner in an exclusive interview. “All of my fights [thus far] have been on the West Coast and my family can’t always afford to fly out. I’m looking forward to bringing a fight to them.”
Palmer’s MMA journey began one year and four months ago as he packed up his belongings and moved to Sacramento to train under the tutelage of UFC veterans Urijah Faber and Chad Mendes at Team Alpha Male. Despite the significant change in geography, Palmer found himself in a familiar environment.
“From the second I moved here, it was great. They took me under their wings. It’s just like a wrestling team—more of a brotherhood than a team,” Palmer declared. “It’s great to have guys that have come from the same wrestling background and have succeeded in MMA, Faber especially. He got me through the very basic stuff that he first learned. I wouldn’t want to be with any other team, that’s for sure.”
It’s not just Faber that has helped Palmer’s progression, as the recent UFC featherweight title challenger Mendes has given him yet another perspective in the gym.
“We go back and forth every day,” explained Palmer. “It’s awesome to have somebody ranked top five in the world train alongside you. Just to be able to pick his brain before and after sparring. We have different wrestling styles so we can feed off of each other.”
In addition to his training with the team, Palmer was fortunate enough to join them as part of the coaching staff for The Ultimate Fighter: Live where Faber was head coach. And despite having just a few fights under his belt, the more experienced competitors on the show welcomed him with open arms.
“It was a great experience,” recalled the featherweight. “In seasons past, guys have gone on there and been dickheads. I didn’t want to go in there like that; I wanted to have an open mind. The show wasn’t about me, it was about the fighters. A lot of the guys were really welcoming. Cristiano Marcello, who is 34 years old, was learning wrestling from me. And he showed me some jiu-jitsu. There was some good give and take there.”
“I got some great training from the guys. From coaching them, I got to see some other things in MMA that I wasn’t aware of before the show. Different techniques, game plans, strategies.”
The coaching gig on TUF was just one of the many MMA-related things to garner Palmer’s focus over the last year and a half, but the world of wrestling has not been forgotten. Especially with the Summer Olympics currently taking place in London.
“Wrestling is still my passion,” Palmer admitted. “It’s tough seeing guys that I wrestled in college like Jordan Burroughs and guys I was friends with like Jake Herbert competing on the greatest show on earth. Every time the Olympics come on, I say I want to wrestle and try to make the Olympic team. But when it comes down to it, I don’t feel that USA wrestling [financially] supports its wrestlers enough to train. That’s what shies a lot of great wrestlers away from it.”
So instead of pursuing an Olympic medal, Palmer’s attention has turned to aspirations of UFC gold. However, the fighter doesn’t want to get ahead of himself at this point in his career.
“I’m taking it one fight at a time and whatever happens, happens,” said Palmer. “There’s a smart way to try to build yourself—not necessarily your record, but your name and your experience level. I’ve been training consistently every day since I moved to California, so I feel like I’m ready to step up and fight guys on that next level, whatever promotion it might be.”
Palmer’s confidence in his young fight game comes, in large part, from a win over EliteXC and 24-fight veteran Chris David in just his second career bout.
“I actually had a different opponent going into that fight, but he pulled out. They called David the week before the fight,” explained Palmer. “He was a tough fighter. Really scrappy. Every time I got a takedown, he made it really hard for me to ground-and-pound.”
“For my second pro fight, it was definitely tough going against a veteran like that. I learned a lot in that fight. I had to pull out a lot of stuff that I never thought I’d do in my second fight. It was great to come out with a victory over such an experienced veteran.”
Now Palmer will meet Jon Washington to crown the first-ever UVC featherweight champion. Rather than concern himself with Washington’s submission game, Palmer is relying on the guidance of his mentor, Faber.
“I go into every fight the same way,” stated Palmer. “I don’t go in to stop any one thing for my opponent, or go for one thing. I want to be the type of fighter that Faber is, where you go out there, do your thing and let it all hang out. You look for openings and capitalize on them. If you try to force stuff, it’s not always a good outcome. “
After a five-month gap between fights, the fact that Palmer will be competing for a belt in his return to his home state has the featherweight excited and motivated.
“It doesn’t matter who you are, where you are in your career, or what promotion you fight for, it always adds a little more to the table when you’re fighting for a belt,” proclaimed the Buckeye. “Fighting for a belt is awesome. It gives me more incentive to go out there and perform for the home crowd.”
“My game has changed 180 degrees since my last fight. I’ve been working a lot of stand-up over the last five months, and I’m excited to go out there and show that. I’m going out there to finish Washington, one way or the other.”
Top Photo: Lance Palmer (center) poses with teammates Chad Mendes (L) and Urijah Faber (R) (Facebook/LTPaLmNuTZ)