Lance Palmer refuses to live in the past.
As he prepares for a return to action for the first time in over a year, the two-time PFL champion isn’t trying to claim his previous championship wins will predetermine the outcome for the upcoming season. He may be considered the No. 1 seed as the season gets started, but he understands better than anybody that rankings don’t determine outcomes.
Refusing to live off past glory might be the same advice that Palmer offers to his upcoming opponent, Bubba Jenkins, who makes his promotional debut when they clash on Friday night in the Season 3 opener, PFL 1: Pettis vs. Collard.
Back in college, Jenkins got the better of Palmer several times when they competed as rivals on two of the top wrestling programs in the country at Penn State and Ohio State, respectively. While the wrestling matches took place more than a decade ago, Jenkins has said in the leadup to the fight that he believes his superiority in those matches will serve as a mental roadblock for Palmer when they finally meet in the cage.
Much like his approach to the upcoming season, Palmer could only laugh at the suggestion that his past losses to Jenkins will play any role whatsoever in their fight.
“If we go all the way back to wrestling each other, I did beat him in one of the matches we competed in that year, and all the matches we competed in were in that season, that 2008 season,” Palmer explained in an interview with MMA Fighting. “So it’s like I guess he can go back and say, ‘Yeah, in 2008 I beat this guy or that guy,’ but if we go back to 2008, I beat Jordan Burroughs. Does that make me an Olympic champ? No, it doesn’t.
“There’s a lot of ways you can kind of look at it and justify things, but I think he’s doing that to keep himself motivated or give himself confidence going into it, which is fine.”
For his part, Palmer only sees Jenkins as somebody he’s faced in wrestling matches 13 years ago and nothing more. There’s no lingering rivalry outside of Jenkins still clutching onto those wins.
“Honestly for me, I’ve known Bubba since 2005 – I don’t consider this a rivalry at all,” Palmer said. “I just think of it as a person that I know outside of fighting that I’m fighting now. As far as there being a rivalry, I think he’s the one that’s tried to create a rivalry in his own head. I don’t see the rivalry there. I just see a good competitor. Somebody I know who did really well in wrestling, 12, 13 years ago.
“We’re both in completely different points in our lives. We’re in our 30s. The last time we both competed in wrestling was over a decade ago, and we’re both fighters now. I think people are trying to weigh our fight based off what our wrestling careers were. I think they’re going to be very surprised if they go by that.”
While Jenkins has certainly put together a solid MMA career with a 14-4 record overall, Palmer believes he’s just become the superior fighter while facing and vanquishing better opponents.
“I think as far as MMA careers go, I’ve fought tougher competition,” Palmer said. “I’ve done better against tough competition than he has, and I think I just have more skills when it comes to winning this fight.”
More than anything, Palmer loves the matchup with Jenkins because it gives him an opportunity to set the stage for the start of the featherweight season where he hopes to become a three-time PFL champion.
He may be the prohibitive favorite to win it all again, but Palmer knows he always has to go out and prove it.
Beating Jenkins in the first fight of the season will help Palmer kick off his 2021 campaign, but that also doesn’t mean the work will be finished. There are still six other guys gunning for the championship.
“Because he’s the loudest out of everybody, so it kind of puts him in the backseat for the rest of the season,” Palmer said about beating Jenkins in the first fight of the year. “But as far as competitor, Movlid [Khaybulaev] is probably one of the tougher guys in the division overall. I think skill-wise and fight-wise, he’s a really interesting opponent.
“As far as it goes right now, I’m just completely focused on Bubba and once April 23 is over, we’ll get to look at the other guys.”