Luis Palomino’s first two title fights in the World Series of Fighting have not gone to his liking, and yet, back-to-back losses to WSOF lightweight champion Justin Gaethje have left him undeterred.
Palomino finds himself with a clear path to a third shot at Gaethje, as he partakes in an eight-man lightweight tournament at WSOF 25 on Friday at the Comerica Theatre in Phoenix. The tournament winner will be granted an automatic title shot, and regardless of the seven other men entered in the draw, the “Baboon” has tunnel vision.
“The only one I want is Gaethje, because I know I can beat him,” Palomino told Sherdog.com. “I don’t see anybody else. I don’t care who it is. It doesn’t matter.”
Palomino -- who meets Richard Patishnock in the tournament quarterfinals -- won his first two World Series of Fighting bouts by knockout, as he cut down Jorge Patino and Lewis Gonzalez. Then the Peruvian ran into Gaethje at WSOF 19 on March 28, losing by third-round technical knockout in one of the most exciting fights in the promotion’s young history. They fought again at WSOF 23 six months later, with Gather recording the TKO in another spectacular striking battle. Palomino did not agree with the stoppage and believes a third meeting between the two lightweights will produce a different result.
“I felt really good, I felt well-conditioned and I felt perfect in that fight,” Palomino said. “I had him hurt, and my mistake was that I wasn’t patient enough to finish him like I normally would have. I saw red, and I didn’t do the job the right way. That cost me the fight.”
“The stoppage was a horrible stoppage,” he added. “You have to give the fighter the benefit of the doubt that he can take a punch and get up and come back from it. I mean, I was never out. I got hit, and then when we hit the floor and I got hit in the face and I leaned back so I don’t get hit again and I leaned forward to start getting up, and I’m getting stopped. Completely unfair, you know?”
To secure another shot at Gaethje, Palomino will need to run the gauntlet in the eight-man tournament. He admits he has never competed in this type of event but welcomes the challenge of potentially fighting -- and winning -- three times in one night. The Peruvian’s aggressive style would seem to lend itself to success in a tournament setting. Quick finishes often mean less damage. The 35-year-old has delivered 15 of his 23 professional victories by knockout, technical knockout or submission, 11 of them inside the first round.
“If you don’t go for the kill and you don’t win that first fight, there is no more fights for you,” Palomino said. “I’m always going to go for the kill. I’m that type of fighter. I know that most fighters will go for the safe side. They will not perform to the audience. Most guys will go for the wrestling, go for the takedown and end up getting caught by a person like me.”
The tournament quarterfinals will be contested over two five-minute rounds, while the semifinals and final will be fought across three five-minute rounds. Elbow strikes will not be permitted in the quarterfinals and semifinals, as the promotion attempts to minimize the likelihood of cuts.
“It kind of sucks [that elbows are not allowed],” Palomino said. “I was working a lot elbows for my last few camps, but I understand why they don’t want elbows in the first few fights, and I can adapt to any rules that they have.”
Palomino’s team, the Miami-based MMA Masters, is having a busy month of November. Besides Palomino’s appearance at WSOF 25, Ricardo Lamas will square off with Diego Sanchez at UFC Fight Night “Magny vs. Gastelum” on Saturday in Monterrey, Mexico. Lamas has played a prominent role in Palomino’s training camp.
“We’ve been training for the last two weeks together,” said Palomino, whose career has been highlighted by victories against Gesias Cavalcante, Daron Cruickshank and Jorge Masvidal. “It works out perfectly for us. We’ve been going at it.”
Patishnock, Palomino’s quarterfinal opponent, has not fought since he suffered a first-round TKO loss against Gaethje nearly two years ago. The 27-year-old lasted just 69 seconds. Should Palomino defeat Patishnock, he will face the winner of the Brian Foster-Joao Zeferino quarterfinal. The two other quarterfinals will pit Mike Ricci against Brian Cobb and Patino against Islam Mamedov. There will also be two reserve bouts: LaRue Burley vs. Joe Condon and Benny Madrid vs. Ramil Mustapaev. Palomino likes his chances.
“I’m feeling confident, and my camp is feeling confident in what we have to offer in this fight,” he said. “As long as the night goes my way, I feel I can beat everybody in this tournament, and again, that next title shot will be mine.”