As a former Ohio State University wrestler and the current World Series of Fighting featherweight champion, Lance Palmer generally finds himself in command of his surroundings. Two years ago, however, he was in a situation in which his safety was out of his control.
Palmer and his brother Jordan were riding in their friend’s F-150 pickup truck on a rainy evening when the driver of the truck attempted to pass a car in front of them. Due to the road conditions, the tires lost their grip while approaching a bend, causing the truck to flip around eight times in different directions. Luckily, all involved in the crash survived without injury.
“That was probably the most scared I’ve ever been,” Palmer told Sherdog.com. “That’s really one of those moments where you really appreciate life and how precious it is.”
The incident has transformed his approach to fighting.
“I’ve always been the type of guy to go into every fight with a never-say-die attitude,” Palmer said. “After an experience like that, where you’re like, ‘Wow, that’s a blessing to be able to make it through something like that,’ stepping into the cage is nothing compared to a situation where you can’t control anything. Every time I step into the cage, it’s a blessing to be here. I can go into the cage and control the things I can control.”
Since that fateful night, the Team Alpha Male product has taken control of WSOF’s featherweight division. Palmer captured promotional gold by way of a third-round rear-naked choke submission against former champion Rick Glenn at WSOF 16 in December 2014. He then defended his belt by earning a neck crank submission on Chris Horodecki in the first round of their WSOF 21 main event in June.
The four-time NCAA All-American wrestler will put his featherweight championship on the line again on Friday, when he takes on Marcos Alexandre Campos de Almeida in the WSOF 26 headliner at The Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas. Much like his car accident, his fight preparation has been surrounded by circumstances outside of his control.
Palmer’s former teammate and current Ultimate Fighting Championship bantamweight king T.J. Dillashaw’s decision to leave Team Alpha Male for the Elevation Fight Team has generated serious attention among the mixed martial arts observers. Particularly, Dillashaw’s move created a rift between the bantamweight champion and Team Alpha Male founder Urijah Faber. However, Palmer said he only focuses on what he can control at the moment.
“I’ve just been staying focused,” he said. “We all know we have fights coming up, so there’s nothing that’s gonna change that. We have to get in that zone, stay in that tunnel vision, until the fight’s over. After that, we can sort everything out and figure out what’s best for everyone.”
Palmer was not surprised Dillashaw decided to leave Team Alpha Male to train with both Elevation Fight Team and longtime striking coach Duane Ludwig.
“If people didn’t realize that there were gonna be changes after Duane left, I think people were pretty naive,” he said. “The bond that him and Duane have is something that you look for in a coach. You look to put all of your trust in a coach, and if you can do that, there is no reason to leave that situation.”
Palmer has developed a similar relationship with some of his coaches, as well. As a longtime wrestler, his transition to MMA dictated a development in his striking and grappling skills. The former Buckeye has scored six submissions among his 10 victories, but he has yet to win a fight by knockout. Still, Palmer believes he has made significant improvements with Team Alpha Male boxing coach Joey Rodriguez.
“My striking is something that has gotten light years better over the past year and a half,” Palmer said. “Joey has been my boxing coach for a year and three months now, and we’ve made huge strides and huge gains together. I needed someone to teach me techniques of boxing and everything that comes along with the footwork of boxing. We started from square one, basically, and in the past year and a half, I’ve really done that a lot with Coach Joey; and we’ve made huge gains as far as the striking area goes.”
Almeida poses a unique challenge for the man holding the WSOF crown. Much like Palmer, the Brazilian featherweight is a ground artist, having secured 13 of his 17 professional victories by submission. Palmer claims that Almeida’s submission skills do not make him hesitant to take the fight to the canvas.
“I’m fine wherever the fight goes,” Palmer said. “I’ve prepared for numerous fights for guys who are good everywhere, so I think this fight doesn’t change anything. His strength is his jiu-jitsu, so he may try to take to the fight to the ground more than me. When it goes there, it’s something that I’ve prepared for, not for just this fight but many fights in the past.”
While the champion can largely control what happens in the cage against Almeida, his fighting future seems less certain. After his bout with Almeida, Palmer has two more fights on his current WSOF contract. The Ohio native knows his talents could take him elsewhere.
“I plan on winning these next three fights and then exploring my options,” Palmer said. “When I came into this sport, my goal was to win the UFC title and be the UFC champion. The reason I got into the sport was that Kevin Randleman and Mark Coleman, who were both UFC champs and wrestled at Ohio State ... they kind of pushed me into the sport a little bit. I almost feel obligated that I need to be over there and fight my way to a title.”
While a life beyond the WSOF featherweight title looms, Palmer remains focused on taking command over things that are within his power.
“I’ve done everything I can to prepare for this fight,” he said. “I’m ready for wherever the fight goes and I feel that I am better prepared for this fight than he will be, but on Dec. 18, we will find out who the better man is.”