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Winning a championship in the Professional Fighters League is a serious test of an athlete’s physical and mental fortitude. Over a six-month period, eventual champions must win five times in total and twice in one night. Lance Palmer took that test in 2018, and he passed it en route to winning a million dollars and a new championship belt for his trophy case. At PFL 2019 2 on Thursday night, inside the NYCB Live at Nassau Coliseum, Palmer will take the test once again in hopes of becoming a two-time league champion.
“I think getting through the tournament, and being healthy the entire year; I think that stuff was more impressive than actually winning the [championship itself],” Palmer told Sherdog.
In a sport where winning a major championship is the goal for most athletes, that may be a surprising revelation. However, the grind of a season and the playoffs in the PFL is what separates this organization from the competition. Just crossing the finish line can mean even more than hoisting up the winner’s trophy.
Palmer’s opinion is also a slightly different tune than the one that he played for Sherdog before the PFL finals. Last December, the Ohio native admitted that winning the PFL championship would not outshine his personal achievements in amateur wrestling. As he maintained, “Honestly, my wrestling career is something I cherish a lot, and I don’t think anything will surpass that.”
With time having passed since his monumental win on New Year’s Eve in New York City, Palmer was asked if the PFL title ended up meaning more than he had expected. Upon reflection, “The Party” sang a different tune.
“I think so, because of the sacrifice I put into it,” Palmer expressed. “Being away from my hometown and my wife, [it takes] basically the entire year to get to that championship. So, it was more of a relief after, to be able to go home back to Ohio, spend time with my wife, and be able to celebrate that with her.”
Palmer feels relief because he was in camp for over seven months preparing for his five bouts last year. The process was a tough physical and mental undertaking. He had some nagging injuries throughout the season through which he was forced to work and which he had to keep under control. He also had to maximize the limited recovery time that he had between fights. Between each fight, he had only a week or two at a time to leave his camp in Las Vegas and go back home to be with his family in Ohio.
“It is a grind mentally,” Palmer admitted. “It’s one of those things [where] you’ve got to take the time in-between fights [and] take a rest period. Try and get away from it a little bit.”
Despite the league’s trying format, the Xtreme Couture fighter does like it. He feels that staying in camp for seven months straight keeps fighters in shape and their skills sharp. He also appreciates knowing his schedule for months in advance, which allows him to plot a proper training strategy. And strategizing in the PFL is an element that he thinks is key in winning it all.
“I like the format, because I know exactly when I’m fighting and when my next fight will be,” Palmer explained. “You’ve got to plan it out the right way and be strategic about it. If you’re in shape from the fight before, you just carry that into the next one, and the next one. It makes for an easier camp as the year goes on. Instead of getting completely out of shape and restarting from scratch.”
With the start of Season Two just days away, Palmer is aware that there is a bullseye is on his back. A win over him means a win over the reigning featherweight champion. Yet, he feels no added pressure. As a former World Series of Fighting titleholder – the predecessor to the PFL – he knew going into last season that he had a higher profile than most of his competition in the division. His mindset has not changed in 2019 – he is all about getting wins and scoring as many points as possible during the season to secure a top seed in the playoffs.
“I kind of felt that way last year, but I didn’t go into my fights thinking I’m the one to beat,” said Palmer. “I went into my fights more focused on scoring points and getting finishes.”
At PFL 2, Palmer starts his journey anew against former Cage Fury Fighting Championships featherweight title holder Alex Gilpin. The Wisconsin native is a relative newcomer to the main stage of MMA. Outside of his CFFC title win, Gilpin’s most notable career moment was an appearance on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series last summer. Although he may be an unfamiliar name to many, Palmer is taking Gilpin very seriously and will not be looking past the four-year veteran.
“He’s a tough opponent. I don’t take any of my opponents lightly, regardless of who they are or how many people know them,” Palmer emphasized. “I don’t really look at that. I go into it the same way I go into any other fight.”
Palmer will take the same approach, even if he fought Steven Siler again. Palmer faced the Factory X fighter last year in the PFL finals as well as in November of 2017, winning both of their previous matchups decisively via unanimous decision. The two may very well compete for a third time at some point this season. Facing someone that you have beaten soundly twice before could take the edge off for some. However, Palmer feels that a third fight with Siler would increase his focus inasmuch as he would look to avoid a surprising slip from his previous success, not to mention that neither win came easily.
“It’s just part of [the job]. I guess you get up even more for it, because you don’t want him to get a win over you,” Palmer said. “He’s a tough guy. Every time we’ve fought, there’s no time in a fight where you can relax, because he’s a guy who can always get something on you. You have to be on your A-game every time you fight Siler.”
Whether or not he views winning the PFL championship as the pinnacle of his sporting career, the victory undoubtedly meant a lot to Palmer. And repeating his 2018 success is all the motivation that he needs to head into the 2019 season with just as much fire. Although he thinks that he may only fight for a couple more years, the fire to succeed at the highest levels is still burning.
“I love to fight,” Palmer proclaimed. “It’s something I did when I was 4, it’s something I do now, and it’s something I’ll do until I decide it’s done. It has nothing to do with the money. Obviously, the money is great, but money comes and goes, and it really doesn’t necessarily create happiness.”