April 19, 2014

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Lorain County wrestling great Lance Palmer fights for first pro MMA title tonight

Lance Palmer has known great success during his time in Columbus, and the featherweight is hoping to continue his winning ways when he brings his unbeaten MMA record to the Ohio State Fair for his first professional title fight.

Palmer (3-0) will face Jon Washington (5-2) for the Ultimate Victory Challenge’s first featherweight belt at the Ohio State Fairgrounds Coliseum tonight.

“It just kind of happened all at once,” Palmer said. “They called my manager and asked if I wanted to come back home for a fight and it just worked out from there. I actually knew of (Washington) before I started fighting because I’d go up to Buckeye MMA sometimes and work out a little bit when I was still in college.

“So it’s good that I’ll get to come back home and fight a guy out of Columbus.”

Palmer was a four-time All-American wrestler for Ohio State, winning a Big Ten title in 2010 and finishing as the NCAA runner-up the same season. Before his stellar career with the Buckeyes, Palmer — a Columbia Station native — won four high school championships at St. Edward.

Now he’s a member of Team Alpha Male, the MMA fight team based in Sacramento, Calif., and headed by top bantamweight contender and former WEC featherweight champion Urijah Faber.

“Urijah was sponsored by Cage Fighter a few years back and he was in Columbus doing some type of photo shoot,” Palmer said of his first meeting with Faber. “I talked to him and said that (MMA) was something that I might want to do after college. Then I saw him again after my All-Star match my senior year, and that’s when I told him that I wanted to fight.

“We stayed in touch and right after the season I got in touch with his management company and the rest is history.”

Palmer moved to the West Coast and has spent the last 14 months training with the likes of Faber, Chad Mendes, T.J. Dillashaw and Joseph Benavidez. He trained for nearly a year before stepping into the cage.

“The first time was just a little more nerve-wracking,” Palmer said. “I don’t even remember my first wrestling match because it was so long ago. The nerves are built up because you don’t know what to expect when you get in there, because obviously it’s something different.

“But once I got in there, once you start the fight, you kind of forget about all that and you just go back to your instincts. You go back to what you’re good at it, and for that fight it was just a takedown and I got myself to where I was comfortable.”

Palmer defeated Emilio Gonzalez with a rear-naked choke just over two minutes in the first round of his MMA debut in Bakersfield, Calif., on May 20, 2011. He won his next match against Chris David — a 13-fight winner — by unanimous decision in San Luis Obispo, Calif., on Oct. 1. He stayed perfect with a second-round arm triangle choke submission of Jordan Chandler in Orem, Utah, on Feb. 24.

Palmer is expecting to look even better during his future fights.

“Everything’s just started to click in the past five months,” he said. “Since my last fight, I feel like I’ve made the most gains just because I’m starting to understand how to put things together more than I was the first eight months or so. It’s going well and now that things are starting to click, I feel like I’m learning a lot faster.”

That could make for a long — or short — night for Washington, who has won four fights via submission and has one knockout. The KO victory is something Palmer is hoping to add to his resume soon, as many MMA fans believe wrestlers lack superior striking skills.

“I’ve been working on my standup game a lot lately and I feel like I’ve progressed a lot, even since my last fight,” Palmer said. “I wouldn’t be afraid to stand up with anybody during a fight and it’d be nice to get a knockout, but I’m not really going to be going out there and be swinging for the fences, you know?”

Palmer also got some recent TV time when he served as one of Faber’s assistant coaches on the UFC’s reality show, “The Ultimate Fighter.”

“It was a great experience because I got to see it from a coaching perspective,” Palmer said. “You get to see things when you’re coaching other people that you don’t normally see when you’re in training. So it was a good experience from that perspective, and also helped me get my foot in the door with (President) Dana (White) and all the guys in the UFC.”

Palmer’s ultimate goal is to fight in the UFC and win the organization’s featherweight belt. For now, he’s signed a three-fight deal with Resurrection Fighting Alliance, a group that boasts former UFC standouts like Jens Pulver, Houston Alexander, Joe Stevenson and Tyson Griffin on its roster.

That means even if Palmer wins the 145-pound title Saturday, he might not be returning to Ohio to defend it anytime soon, which is not something he’s hoping for.

“I probably come home three, four times a year at the most,” he said. “I try to set up some wrestling camps and clinics when I come home and kind of give back to the younger community of wrestlers, while also getting the chance to see my family and some of my friends — people I don’t get to really see as often as I’d like.”

Contact Shaun Bennett at 329-7137 or sbennett@chroniclet.com. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.