When the WEC merged into its big Zuffa brother last fall, most of its mainstays ported over to work for the new boss, same as the old boss – but with a lot more notoriety. And Palaszewski was no exception.
The fact it has taken him nearly a year for his long-awaited first fight in the promotion makes him stand out, though. Along the way, he lost 10 pounds and a big chunk of his hearing, but he promises he'll be wearing a big grin Saturday.
"I'm just going to put a big smile on my face," Palaszewski told host Ariel Helwani on "The MMA Hour" on Monday. "I've been waiting for this for a long time. I took the road less traveled – 50 fights to get to the UFC " but I wouldn't change anything. I want to put on a helluva show and prove to (UFC president) Dana (White) and everyone in the UFC that I'm worthy."
Palaszewski (34-14, 4-3 WEC) was scheduled to meet Cody McKenzie at UFC 130 in May. But an injury chased McKenzie from the fight, and soon after Palaszewski also had to pull out of the fight. That was to be his first fight in six months, after a tough split decision loss to Kamal Shalorus at the WEC's final event in December.
The Poland-born Palaszewski, who trains at Jeff Curran's gym north of Chicago and was a mainstay on the Midwest fight circuit before becoming a star in the IFL, self-diagnosed himself with a concussion. But that wasn't the case.
"I thought I had a concussion, so we pulled out (of UFC 130) with a concussion," Palaszewski said. "But I had MRIs done and CT scans and they couldn't find anything. So they sent me to an ear, nose and throat specialist, and I had a bad inner ear infection that attacked the nerve that controls your balance."
Turns out it was the mother of all ear infections, and after the virus went to work on the nerve in Palaszewski's left ear he was left with 30 percent hearing loss – for the rest of his life. Though Palaszewski joked that means he doesn't hear as much of his wife's complaining, he acknowledged "it wasn't too fun the first few weeks."
But there was an upside to pulling out of his May fight, and that was a chance to heal up and make the decision to drop from lightweight to featherweight, the division he'll make his UFC debut in at UFC 137 on Saturday in Las Vegas against Tyson Griffin.
Rather than having to make a tough cut to 145, Palaszewski said he was able to make a smart cut and scale back his training and fighting schedule for the first time in, well, ever.
"Sometimes you sit down and think 'ring rust, ring rust.,'" Palaszewski said. "But at the upper echelon, you can't be fighting every three months. That's insane. So this was the beginning of me slowing down a little bit. Between IFL and WEC, we kept a pretty busy schedule. I was fighting almost every month, so I never could make the (145) cut (before now)."
Palaszewski doesn't get a walk-through for his first UFC fight, but Griffin (15-5, 8-5 UFC) is the kind of win that could put him on the map with a larger audience. The former lightweight stalwart, had just two losses – to former and current UFC champs Sean Sherk and Frankie Edgar – before a recent three-fight slump. He broke out of that skid in June with a majority decision win over Manny Gamburyan in his UFC featherweight debut.
Palaszewski said he believes Griffin's drop to featherweight has made him more dangerous, and he knows Griffin's wrestling base is something he'll have to watch for. But he seems up for the challenge.
"There's a couple things we've changed and added to my game that are going to give him a hard time and go from there," Palaszewski said. "Since I fought Kamal, I've been working on wrestling. He took me down a couple times, but I stuffed him a couple times and I was super happy with that. All through this year, up until the McKenzie fight, I was working my wrestling a lot."
But takedown defense, ring rust, weight cuts and even how much less of his wife he can hear now will go out the window, he hopes, for a few seconds when Bruce Buffer announces his name.
"I'm stoked. I should be probably be nervous, because it's big time," Palaszewski said. "I'm one of the lucky four fighters on Spike that night, and it should be more pressure on me because of that. But I'm just turning it into positive energy. I just want to get on the scale, make weight, get some good food in me and put on a good show the following night."
Palaszewski and Griffin fight on the Spike TV-broadcast preliminary card of UFC 137 from the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas. The UFC 137 main card features a main event welterweight contenders bout between former lightweight and welterweight champion BJ Penn and former Strikeforce 170-pound champ Nick Diaz.
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