The Evolution of a Champion: Lance Palmer’s Journey Into MMA – Part 1


Four-time All-American wrestler Lance Palmer from The Ohio State University is training and working with Urijah Faber’s Team Alpha Male as he prepares to make his professional mixed martial arts debut in May. This four-part series will give an insight into Palmer’s journey as he gets ready to transition from wrestling to fighting.

With so many top-level wrestlers making their way into the UFC, it looks almost as if the promotion is handing out contracts to NCAA All-Americans as they step off the wrestling mat for the final time in college.

That’s not the reality, however, and while a great many collegiate wrestlers have started to make the move to MMA, the path is no easier than for anyone else who wants to be a top-caliber fighter.

Enter four-time All-American wrestler Lance Palmer from The Ohio State University.

Palmer was a finalist in the NCAA championships in 2010, and immediately signed on with MMA Incorporated, the management group that works with fighters like Urijah Faber, Chad Mendes, and Chael Sonnen, starting his path towards professional fighting.

Palmer made the move to head out to Sacramento, Calif., to work with Faber’s Team Alpha Male, and learn the tools of the trade that would prepare him for a future in mixed martial arts.

Somewhere along the line, however, life got in the way.

“A lot of people don’t understand that it’s a little tougher to get into the UFC than just stepping right in the Octagon,” Palmer said. “A lot of it had to do with financial factors. There’s not really any money to be made in MMA until you start winning fights and stuff like that.”

The financial factors forced Palmer to leave Sacramento for several months and take a job as an assistant wrestling coach at Virginia Tech. While his head was always wrapped around going back to Sacramento to continue his dream of becoming a fighter, paying the bills took precedence.

“I just had to do what I had to do to make some cash, and that’s the main reason I took the job. Unless I’m making money training and fighting, then I wouldn’t have taken the job, but that’s just not the way the situation was,” explained Palmer.

So he headed back east and worked with the Virginia Tech wrestling team for their season. The Hokies ended up sending seven athletes to the NCAA championships during the season that Palmer worked with the team, but came up short for any of them reaching All-American status.

While Palmer enjoyed coaching the squad, he had to sacrifice his own aspirations to make ends meet. The hardest part for the Ohio native was not being able to improve or even really work on his MMA skills while he coached in Virginia.

“There wasn’t anything by Virginia Tech where I could train, so I was basically just doing shadow boxing and doing work on the wrestling dummies, and stuff like that,” said Palmer. “I was actually teaching a few of the wrestlers some stuff just so I could work on it in the off time of wrestling practice.”

Palmer never stopped thinking about his dream of fighting, even while coaching. When he did have free time, he flew back out to Sacramento to work on his skills and knock off the rust instead of taking a Christmas vacation.

“My mind was always set on coming back and training and I actually came back for a month in December and trained out here,” Palmer commented. “It’s always been in the back of my mind all year when I was coaching. It was actually kind of frustrating not being able to come out here as much as I wanted to while I was coaching, but I also had to make some cash and do my thing out there.”

Making money to live on is the reality of a young athlete trying to make their way into MMA. Even for an All-American wrestler like Lance Palmer, nothing is easy and nothing is handed to you. Although he wishes he was able to spend the last several months just training to make his debut, it didn’t work out that way.

Once the wrestling season was over, Palmer packed up his bags and hopped on a plane that took him back to Sacramento. He immediately headed to Ultimate Fitness and hit the mats with his training partners at Team Alpha Male.

Palmer admits it’s been tough since he’s been back in the gym, but nothing worth having in life is easy to attain.

“It wasn’t bad. I didn’t feel like I missed a step, but all that time I was coaching I could have been getting better and better,” said Palmer. “I stepped in there with the thought process of I’m a lot farther behind than if I would have stayed, so I’ve got a lot of catching up to do.

“Everything I learned the first couple times I was here I was a little rusty on it, but I still remembered it all. So it came back pretty quick and it’s definitely a lot easier when you’re already in shape.”

It wasn’t the road he wanted to travel to get his first professional MMA fight, but Palmer still traveled down the necessary highways, and now his eye is back on that ultimate goal… to be a professional MMA fighter.

“I had to take a little detour, which I didn’t really want to do, but it’s something I had to do or I would have been poor,” Palmer said.

Lance Palmer will continue his training at Team Alpha Male in California as he prepares for his MMA debut in May.

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