From Lance Palmer’s perspective, there are a number of ways to look at Monday night’s PFL Finals and his chance at a million bucks. On the one hand, he’s 30 years old and entering his 20th fight as a professional mixed martial artist (having compiled a 16-3 record, and winning multiple titles). At this point, he should be getting a big payday because he’s earned it. On the other hand, he’s been fighting since 2011 and has only begun to make real money in 2018. Though the potential is there, MMA isn’t always a lucrative path.
So to cash a million-dollar check to close out 2018 by beating Steven Siler on Monday night? That would be very nice cherry on top.
“The first years were a struggle,” Palmer says. “A lot of people who don’t know the ins and outs of the sport and stuff, friends and family, they think you just start fighting and making a bunch of money where you sign and you’re making millions. It’s been a long road, a long process, but obviously the small wins along the way — the RFA title, then winning the WSOF title, defending the belt there, and then winning the belt back at WSOF. All those things that have happened, I am really grateful for.
“I feel like I’m just now starting to catch my stride. I’m on a five-fight win streak, and I’m feeling really good with the way things are going. And obviously financially, it’s starting to put me in a great spot for me and my family, so I’m excited for that too.”
It’s been a winding road to get here for Palmer, the decorated amateur wrestler who for years was Team Alpha Male’s secret weapon. While training partners such as Urijah Faber, Chad Mendes, Joseph Benavidez — and even the Voldemort of TAM, T.J. Dillashaw — have gone on to their various acclaims in the UFC, Palmer has slogged it out in other promotions. He won the RFA featherweight title in 2013, and then the inaugural WSOF 145-pound belt that same year.
Yet he’s also carried a very practical approach to MMA, after a stellar wrestling career at Ohio State University saw him become a four-time All-American. Though it naturally appealed to him, he eschewed going the Olympics route because there weren’t any guarantees, and at the same time there wasn’t much financial incentive. He also opted to segue directly into MMA right after his wrestling days because he wanted to gain experience so that he would compete at the highest levels in his prime, rather than begin his career in his later-twenties or later.
With a mind towards the big picture, he was already mapping his course towards coaching as well, which was one of the reasons he found his way to Sacramento to work with Faber. It’s there that he has achieved reverence in MMA circles. Over the half-decade, Palmer’s name is usually brought up when one of his training partners wants to talk about the badasses they train with. Meanwhile he’s been wrecking people with the WSOF/PFL during that time and winning titles. Unless you’re completely UFC-centric, by now you know what exactly Palmer can do in a locked cage.
“I feel like I’ve done it for long enough and I’ve been in enough big fights — and big scenarios in my life, including wrestling at the highest level, from high school to the collegiate level — I’ve been in that spotlight where I’ve had a lot of pressure put on me,” he says. “So for me it wasn’t really a situation where I was like, man, I really need to think about things differently.
“For me, right now, this is another day, another fight. Obviously there’s always a lot on the line, because every fight is your most important fight no matter what it is. I kind of always look at it like that. Push forward, and look for the next big thing.”
Palmer’s fight with Siler is a rematch from 13 months ago, when they met in Washington D.C. It was Palmer’s PFL debut, and he had his hands full that night— he rocked the former UFC fighter Siler with a left hand that would have ended the night for most people. Yet Siler kept coming, and survived to hear the scorecards. Palmer won a decision, but Siler won his respect.
“I expect him to be more polished from that fight, just like I’m going to be more polished,” Palmer says. “From what I’ve seen this entire season, I feel like he’s been in these situations where he’s had to come back from a lot of adversity, like getting dropped in the first fight of the season, and then coming back and getting a submission against that guy. Getting a controversial submission against [Alexandre] Almeida that first time.
“I’m not looking past him at all. A lot of people are like, ‘Aw man, you’re about to be a millionaire, you’ve already beat this guy.’ There are a lot of guys that I’ve already beat before in wrestling that come back stronger in wrestling, who come back tougher the second time.”
It’s not just that Palmer is on the brink of a new tax bracket if he beats Siler in New York City. It’s that he’s having a good time doing it. After Monday night, Palmer will have fought four times in 2018, which is exactly the way he likes it. Given his wrestling background, when he was getting rolling in MMA it was very difficult for him to find fights. Nobody wanted to face a sturdy, dogged beast with such a base.
And besides, the PFL’s season/playoffs structure reminds him of his days at Ohio State — especially at PFL 8 when he got to fight two guys in the same night. He beat Max Coga in the first fight out in New Orleans, then avenged his WSOF 35 loss in the semifinals against Andre Harrison (whom he’d broke his hand against the first time through). All told he fought for five total rounds, with a small break in between.
“[That night] definitely reminded me of the wrestling days, with a little break in between — I think it was an hour-and-a-half between fights — and then getting right back to it. In my eyes, a lot of people weren’t prepared for it, at least as much as I thought they’d be. I think that was just me…I’m very methodical in my training and the way I do things leading up to every fight, so that’s how I always was with wrestling. I prepare myself the exact way the structure is going to be for the tournament, or the fight, or whatever I’m competing in. So, I was prepared for all that to happen.
“For me, it was awesome to see all my training and all the things I did — with the sparring, and the way I took my breaks — pay off. It worked out perfectly, and it really did remind me of my wrestling a lot.”
After the first fight with Harrison back in March 2017, Palmer went back to his Ohio roots to prepare for his fight with Siler. The change of scenery was a good one for him, as he was able to beat Siler and kick off the best stretch of his career. Palmer returned to Team Alpha Male after the first Siler fight and over the subsequent four bouts — all of them victories — has split time between TAM and Xtreme Couture in Las Vegas.
The itinerant nature of his camps has given him fresh looks from a wider cast of training partners. It’s taken him nearly eight years to be in complete lockstep with where he wants to be in his MMA career, and it all leads to the Hulu Theater for a chance at a million dollars.
Beyond that? He hopes that Monday night’s outcome means he is locked into the 2019 PFL season — because that means he will have entered that new tax bracket.
“Yeah, I mean my goal with 2018 is to win this belt and be the Season One featherweight champion,” he says. “Part of that contract when you win is that you have to do the 2019 season. Right now that’s on my mind, and as far as I know that first fight would be in May. Obviously I’ve always had the goal of being the UFC champion on my mind, but if that doesn’t accumulate…it’s got to be right financially. This year I’ve already made more money than I have in my whole career.
“I really don’t want to fight more than three more years.”