This is how the next big thing in MMA gets its start.
It will happen on a local card in Bakersfield, Calif., on Friday night, where the competitors are fighting to save a wrestling program. And it will take place well before the main event.
It will complete an exercise in patience for Lance Palmer.
Palmer makes his professional debut against Emelio Gonzalez in a featherweight bout on the Fight for Wrestling card, which is a show set up to benefit the wrestling program at Cal State-Bakersfield, and throughout the state. It’s happening almost 2,300 miles west of where many of his people will be interested in the result, in a place where wrestling thrives at the collegiate level.
Columbus, Ohio is where Palmer starred and became a collegiate wrestling champion, proudly wearing the singlet for Ohio State. After school, he made a choice to leave his native Ohio and head to Sacramento, to be part of Urijah Faber’s Team Alpha Male and get right into his MMA career. There might not have been a better place to make the transition for a high-level NCAA wrestler who planned on fighting at one of the lower weights in MMA.
Instead of immersing himself, Palmer faced the real-life decision of putting his budding MMA career on hold to pay the bills. He went to Sacramento for a month in August 2010, then headed back to Columbus and was in between packing and moving. In that span, he received a call and a “good offer” from Virginia Tech, and accepted an assistant coaching job there, yielding his spot in Sacramento for one Blacksburg, at least temporarily.
“I always wanted to fight, it had nothing to do with me not wanting to come out here (to Sacramento) and fight,” Palmer said. “But it was an easy way for me to catch up on some bills and still be able to train, because wrestling’s the best conditioning for any sport.
“I make the best of every situation that comes to me. At that time, the best situation for me was to make money, and that’s what I did. There wasn’t really anything I needed to make a big decision about because I knew I would be back here to fight and I needed to get myself up on my feet. It really wasn’t any type of thing I had to think too hard about.”
With all due respect to the home of the Hokies, the two locations could not compare for what Palmer eventually wanted to do. While Virginia Tech is becoming a home for
He just needed patience.
“I’m not going to get into everything with the head coach, but I am welcome there,” Palmer assured. “I am on good terms with everyone except the head coach. Ohio State’s a great place, and I didn’t let one bad situation ruin my whole time there. I don’t hold grudges, but it’s something that I’ll never forget about. It’ something where you move on from it and one day it’s not going to matter to me because if I get to where I’m going, it’ll be a situation I don’t care about. But all the other coaches there are great. I had an awesome time at Ohio State, great friends, great camaraderie with the teammates and I met great people. The girl I’m dating now is from Ohio State, so it was good to meet here there. Everything about Ohio State was great. So I don’t let one little thing ruin my time there.”
The call from Virginia Tech came relatively late in the process, and essentially was a shot-in-the-dark that paid off for the Hokies. They caught Palmer at precisely the right time, as he had not sought out previous offers during the customary times where collegiate staffs are built.
The confidence comes from being in competition, alone on the mats in front of thousands of people, time and again. Having been through that at Ohio State, it’s a mental advantage that Palmer carries into his MMA career.
Even at the highest levels in the United States, wrestling’s appeal has shown to be not as broad as other sports’. After college, the pinnacle for Americans who want to stay with the sport is the Olympics. International wrestling recently received a healthy dose of exposure with the Beat the Streets program that showcased an Americans vs. Russians match set in Times Square, outdoors in the heart of New York City.
Because of his focus on the impeding MMA debut, watching coverage of the New York City event may not have kindled his competitive-wrestling fire. But discussion of it lead to Palmer not ruling out a run at the 2012 Olympic Games, which will be held in London.
While he was in his formative years, Palmer shared the same influences of many fighters. Watching the early days of the UFC were part of his routine.