Lance Palmer had multiple reigns as the WSOF and PFL featherweight champion over the past decade, but feels it’s time to dive head-first into other challenges after ending what he described as a “tumultuous” relationship with the PFL.
Unhappy with the company’s decisions since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Palmer completed his deal with a win over Sheymon Moraes this past June and recently became, in his own words, an “unrestricted free agent.”
“Honestly, I don’t think [PFL] have interest in re-signing me, so that kind of gives me the freedom to do whatever I want to do,” Palmer said this past week on The MMA Hour. “Obviously, I have interest in going other places and there’s a lot of fights that I would like to get involved in, hopefully to push myself over this next run, wherever it is.”
Palmer won 11 fights in a row between 2017 and 2019 to claim two season titles in the PFL and pocket a pair of $1 million checks along with his fight purses. It was a profitable run for him, no doubt, but fighting isn’t only about money for the 35-year-old veteran.
“The Bellator featherweight division is stacked, the UFC featherweight division is stacked,” Palmer said. “Even after winning 2018 and 2019 seasons, I still feel I didn’t get any credit for it as far as the guys that I beat because nobody knows who they are. You can be the champion of any organization, but if it’s not the UFC, you’re really not going to get the notoriety of being a world champion. That’s something that was looming as well. I’ve made a lot of money fighting for PFL over the last few years, but it’s also that I didn’t come to the sport for that reason.”
Palmer said he’s just enjoying family now a few weeks after the birth of his second child and hasn’t explored free agency that aggressively yet. He knows UFC and Bellator will likely pay him less than what he was making at PFL, but competing for other major promotions would make him feel “complete” as a fighter.
“I’d like to talk to Sean Shelby, I’d like to talk to [Scott] Coker, Mike Kogan, kind of see what they’re thinking also, because I’ve been around a long time but I don’t feel that I’m done yet,” Palmer said. “I’ve had talks with different people and like, ‘Man, you’ve done really well, you’ve made good money,’ but for me it’s not about the money as much as it is about proving that I can hang with these guys and I am one of the best in the world.
“I’ve never really got the opportunity to do that, because when I did win those two seasons, I fought guys like [Steven] Siler, [Alexandre de] Almeida, who were all tough guys, but they’re people that if you’re not a UFC vet or somebody who was involved with the UFC, they don’t really know what to gauge you on. Even though I was on an 11-fight winning streak and beat a lot of tough guys, they have no idea how good you are.”
The dream scenario for Palmer would be facing one of UFC’s biggest stars at 145 pounds ever: Max Holloway.
“A guy that I look up to, I follow him on Instagram and I always love his fights, was Max Holloway,” Palmer said. “I still consider him the champ. Once the champ, always the champ in my book. He’s one of the guys that I really look up to in the featherweight division in the UFC and he’s a guy that I would love to fight if the opportunity came. He’s a super dangerous opponent, really good striker, really good on the ground as well, you just don’t see it as much because a lot of his fights are on the feet. He’s young but he’s been in the game for a long time, so he’s a seasoned vet and that would be an awesome fight. I respect the guy a lot, but I would love to fight him at some point. That would be cool.”
Palmer holds no grudges towards PFL officials but disagreed with their decision to run no events during the COVID-19 pandemic after UFC and Bellator resumed doing shows.
“The year of COVID was kind of the start of things, we didn’t see eye to eye,” he said. “I think the main thing, at first is I thought that we could still have events towards the end of 2020, at least. There were talks about it, they kind of assured us that we were going to maybe have one fight at least by the end of the year, once things started clearing up. When UFC and Bellator and other organizations started having fights again, it kind of made it a little more tumultuous and that was kind of when I started getting a bad taste in my mouth.
“It wasn’t that I didn’t agree that COVID was serious and we shouldn’t have people traveling around and stuff, that was not my intention whatsoever, it was more that I disagreed with any type of back pay or some sort of support because that was the time period also where they weren’t going to get me a release when I asked for the release because they weren’t able to fulfill my contract with the fights that I was supposed to get that season.”
Palmer revealed that he requested his release but PFL officials said it wasn’t a breach of contract because they were going through a pandemic. Palmer said he felt “shelved” and considered filing for arbitration, but was advised against it by his team. Palmer regrets not going through with it, even though he doesn’t know how that would have worked.
“Then we got in 2021 and I just felt I was kind of stuck in the mud,” Palmer said. “Fighting is hard enough of a sport, and it’s very hard if you don’t feel like the place that you’re fighting for is not on the same page with you no matter what it is.
“They kind of took my love for the sport. Getting through ’21 and the first fight of ’22, I was like, man, I’ve got to change this up, it’s my career on the line every time I fight, it has nothing to do with them. And I had to get that through my head like, being angry or holding a grudge doesn’t do anything for me if I’m losing these fights.”
“My last fight against Sheymon Moraes, I really took it upon myself to see a mental coach,” he said. “He helped me a lot just to kind of be present and be in the moment and go out that and kind of get back to having fun, the reason I fight, because I like to do it.”