Lance Palmer had a New Year’s Eve celebration to remember last year — and he hopes history repeats itself by the end of 2019.
The four-time NCAA All-American won a life-changing $1,000,000 purse on the final day of 2018 after emerging victorious in the inaugural PFL featherweight season. Palmer ran the table to do so, racking up a 5-0 record over a six-month span. In the process, he made history by becoming the first-ever three-time WSOF/PFL champion. The entire experience was a blur for Palmer, whose defense of his throne kicks off Thursday at PFL Uniondale with the start of season two’s featherweight bracket. And more so than anything else, the sense of accomplishment he felt last New Year’s Eve is a feeling that Palmer is eager to rediscover.
“The money wasn’t really the high, honestly,” Palmer told MMA Fighting ahead of PFL Uniondale. “I mean, it was cool and I was able to do some stuff with it, be able to do some things that I’ve been wanting to do. We refinanced our house and put some into some investment accounts and stuff like that. But the high was really just from being able to get through five fights in six months and be healthy through it all. I was more happy with that than with anything else, to be honest. It was more of a relief than a high after the fight on New Year’s Eve, to get through such a great thing like a tournament like this.”
That being said, the prize money certainly didn’t hurt either. Being handed a seven-figure lump sum can change a lot in one’s life. Fortunately, Palmer seems to have been prudent with his winnings thus far. Most of the money either went into investment accounts, savings accounts, or his house. Only once since the tournament has Palmer truly splurged — a fan of American muscle cars, who has long wanted a vehicle that could run a quarter-mile in less than 10 seconds, the 32-year-old wrestler bought himself a destroyer grey Dodge Challenger Hellcat Redeye. He’s quite happy with his decision.
But the only thing better than one $1,000,000 paycheck is two $1,000,000 paychecks, and that is exactly what Palmer is angling for in 2019. PFL’s second featherweight season kicks off this week in Long Island with a 12-man field headlined by multiple tournament veterans, including last year’s runner-up Steven Siler and former WSOF/PFL champion Andre Harrison. Such an experienced lineup means that Palmer won’t be the only returning veteran who picked up a few tips and tricks from last year’s marathon bracket.
“The season wasn’t long, but it wears on your body when you’re literally in fight camp for about eight months out of the whole year, straight through, and there’s not really much time off in between,” Palmer said. “I mean, you have your time off in between fights, but you’re training for the next fight that whole time.
“For me, it was more about just being smart with my training. Just knowing that I’m already in shape from the first fight. I’m already putting the work in, I’m already in shape, I’m already eating healthy. There’s no reason to go above and beyond, because most of the time that’s what you think — you think you’re not doing enough. You think just because you feel good after a practice, that you need to be doing more. That’s where a lot of guys either get injured or get over-trained. And a lot of times, once you’re over-trained, it takes weeks and weeks to get back to feeling good again.
“I’ve done a good job of balancing training hard and recovering hard,” he continued. “And I think a lot of guys don’t do that. And that was the main thing that helped me with getting through that last stretch of the last eight weeks before the finals last year.”
Other than the trio of Palmer, Siler, and Harrison, no other veterans of PFL’s first season are making their return for season two. The two that were supposed to — Brazilian featherweights Alexandre Almeida and Alexandre Bezerra, both of whom made last year’s playoffs — were removed from the tournament Wednesday due to weight-cutting related issues.
That means plenty of new faces will be debuting in the bracket this week in Nassau Coliseum, and for Palmer, that feeling of journeying into the unknown is a familiar one.
“When we went into it last year, I knew the guys that I had fought before,” Palmer said. “I knew Siler, I knew Almeida, I knew Harrison. This year, it’s pretty much the same as that — I know the guys that I’ve fought before. Like, Jeremy Kennedy is a tough guy because he only had one loss in the UFC and then he didn’t end up re-signing with them, and had a couple fights outside of the UFC, and he was a training partner for some of my time last year in Vegas, so he’s going to be a guy who’s definitely going to be tough in there.
“There’s other guys that are tough but I just don’t know of them, so that’s the other hard part too. There’s a Russian guy who’s really tough. He’s a really tough guy but he’s mainly a striker from what I know. And then there’s a Brazilian guy who has a really good record — he has like 30 fights or something, but I don’t know the quality of all of those guys that he’s fought, so you can’t really just look at the record and be like, ‘dang, this guy’s really good.’
“The good part is we’ll get to see everybody fight [on Thursday] and get a really recent look at their fights, because it’s hard to tell sometimes — their fights either aren’t on YouTube or aren’t televised, or they haven’t fought in a little while so you don’t get the most recent version of them. So it’s good to have that tournament feel, because you know they can only do so much to improve from one fight to the next with these fights being so close together.”
Palmer’s first opponent is one of those new faces. The reigning PFL featherweight champion is slated to face Alex Gilpin at PFL Uniondale, a 27-year-old prospect who captured victory on the UFC’s Contender Series in his most recent outing. With a 12-1 record and a litany of submission finishes to his name, Gilpin has a chance to be the darkhorse of the featherweight tourney, but Palmer has made it his mission to see that doesn’t happen. After all, being the only four-time PFL champion has a nice ring to it.
“I see a lot of holes on his feet mainly,” Palmer said of Gilpin. “On the ground, he likes to be in the submission game. He likes to attack the neck, likes front headlock positions and d’arce positions and guillotines, stuff like that from trying to attack the neck with grappling. So just making him uncomfortable in those positions [is key].
“Guys are going to be trying super hard not to get finished,” added Palmer. “I mean, that’s just the way it is. So when I go into these fights, I’m going to be looking for the finish as always, but if the finish doesn’t accumulate, I’m not going to be down on myself just because three points is still three points. It’s still going to take you towards where you want to be, and they can’t deny you if you win. You’ve got to win and you’ve got to score points.”