Lewis Gonzalez has finished five opponents in the first or second round. | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
In the future Lewis Gonzalez envisions, he sees himself ascending to the top of the World Series of Fighting lightweight division.
Gonzalez will put his perfect professional record on the line when he confronts Luis Palomino in the WSOF 12 main event on Saturday at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. The 26-year-old Californian employs tactics not all that dissimilar to two of the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s most successful fighters, according to WSOF President Ray Sefo.
“He’s a grinder,” Sefo said during a pre-fight media call. “I like to compare him to some of the greats, like Randy Couture and Chael Sonnen, who bring a type of game to the table that is just grind, grind, grind.”
Gonzalez developed his skills and disciplined approach as an accomplished high school wrestler in his native California, where he won two state championships. He went on to wrestle at Palomar College, the same community college in San Marcos, Calif., at which current UFC heavyweight contender Travis Browne once played basketball.
“I have the mentality, like Ray said, as being known as a grinder,” Gonzalez said. “I work hard and I pride myself on having more heart than my opponent, and I just keep the pace longer than they do. No matter what happens, I just keep going forward and I just think my mental toughness is what has kept me undefeated so far.”
The “Lethal” lightweight’s transition to MMA has gone swimmingly. Gonzalez sports seven finishes among his nine victories and has struck three different opponents into submission. He last fought at WSOF 4 a little more than a year ago, as he took a technical unanimous decision from former Maximum Fighting Championship titleholder Antonio McKee at the Citizens Bank Arena in Ontario, Calif. Their clash ended in controversial fashion, as an inadvertent illegal elbow from Gonzalez left McKee unable to continue and sent the fight to the scorecards.
“In the third round, he was just covering up in guard and I was dropping my blows on him and then I don’t know,” Gonzalez told Sherdog.com. “It just felt like I went to throw the elbow and he kind of … he turned his head away, but yeah, right when I hit him in the back of the head, I even under my breath said a curse word and I think the ref saw that and he stopped it. He knew I messed up on that one. They weren’t intentional. Sometimes in the heat of the moment, you don’t know which way your opponent’s going to react and which way he’s going to turn.”
Despite the anti-climactic conclusion, Gonzalez felt he had the fight won.
“Everyone that was there and saw it live or just got to watch it could see that I had him beat already [between] the second and third rounds,” he said. “He pulled guard, and when does Antonio ever pull guard? I think he was beat. I don’t think he was looking for a way out, but I think he was trying to look for some time to recover because he was so burnt and tired from me imposing my will on him.”
Gonzalez was booked to face Justin Gaethje for the vacant World Series of Fighting lightweight championship in January before an injury forced his exit. Gaethje went on to capture the title in a 69-second rout of Richard Patishnock and has since defended it against Nick Newell. With Melvin Guillard already tabbed as the No. 1 contender, Gonzalez settled for a headlining matchup with Palomino.
“I was already offered the fight [against Gaethje] back in January, but unfortunately, I got hurt,” he said. “I can see why they gave it to Melvin, but I think with a win [over Palomino] that would put me next in line for that title shot against whoever wins that fight.”
Palomino poses a significant threat. He has rattled off nine wins in his past 12 appearances, knockout victories over Daron Cruickshank, Charles Bennett and Gesias Cavalcante included. Palomino made his World Series of Fighting debut in January, when he wiped out Jorge Patino with second-round punches at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, Calif. The 33-year-old Peruvian brawler wields more than three times as much professional experience as Gonzalez, having also tested himself against “Ultimate Fighter” winners Efrain Escudero and Jonathan Brookins, current Bellator MMA featherweight champion Pat Curran, Yves Edwards and Jorge Masvidal.
“He is a very heavy-handed guy and I’ve watched a couple of his fights, and his hands are dangerous,” Gonzalez said. “I’ve just got to play it smart and keep my range. The one thing that I’ve noticed was in the fights he’s won by knockout, that even before he knocks them out, he’s taken down a couple of times. He swings for the fences and when he connects it’s devastating, but when he misses, he leaves himself open for takedowns. I feel like I’m a stronger wrestler than most of the guys he has fought.”
Gonzalez can feel the stakes rising with each outing.
“The pressure builds a little every time [having an undefeated record], especially being on the big stage and having that zero in the loss column; but when you get in the cage, all the fights are the same and it all goes away,” he said. “The nerves are up a little more, but once you get in there, it all goes away and the pressure is all off.”