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Exclusive Interview: Palomino Ready to Go to War Again with Gaethje

Luis Palomino (Courtesy of World Series of Fighting)

Luis Palomino hardly had a leg to stand on—figuratively and literally—when he called for an immediate rematch with World Series of Fighting lightweight champion Justin Gaethje two days after their slugfest in Arizona. WFD’s, weapons of fisticuff destruction, were flying as both men chucked technique out the window and settled for caveman slugging.

It was the kind of free-for-all popcorn brawl that leaves every man, woman and teenager standing. This fight was so damn special I stood in my living room alone, gleefully clapping like a complete idiot. I’m a diehard technical fight fan, who thoroughly enjoys the brilliance and mastery shown by combat specialists.

But there are also times when I don’t want to thumb through the sciences of techniques. There are times when I simply want to see a good fight. Gaethje and Palomino delivered upon every fight fan’s gluttonous obsession. They came to fight—from beginning to end—until Palomino’s leg was rendered useless in the third round from Gaethje’s unrelenting kicks.

Speaking with Palomino on Monday, he reflected on making the most of his opportunity in the spotlight against an undefeated champion. After nearly a decade of fighting, Palomino finally found his coming out party at the age of 34:

“It was a day of war, it felt great. It was a very high paced fight, and I could have been in better condition for that fight. Things didn’t go my way from the very beginning of the fight. I hurt my ankle in the very beginning. …I’ve been doing my thing, and mostly I’ve been known around the rest of the pro fighters out there, even UFC fighters and all that. But I haven’t really had a chance for the rest of the world to know me, and I think this fight did that for me, especially being live on NBC.”

Palomino has never been one to shy away from exchanges, but he also didn’t plan on spending three rounds slinging haymakers. However, Gaethje is the type of fighter who tends to bring out the inner-cavemen in even the most technical of opponents. He tucks his adamantium chin, storms across the cage and throws high-volume strikes.

This strategy either puts fighters on the defensive or forces them to open up and mirror his method of attack. Mirroring Gaethje is exceptionally dangerous, as it often means you are playing right into his hands.

While Palomino is proud of his performance on a grand scale, he won’t allow himself to be lulled asleep by all the talking heads. His top priority is to be a world champion, which he failed to accomplish in the first fight. Admittedly, he believes it had much to do with his decision to deviate from a more technical approach:

“Not necessarily, [that wasn’t the game plan]. That was the way the fight went because of my injury and the way that he fights. That was not the game plan. The game plan was to go in there and pick him apart. …I’ll definitely be more technical [in the rematch] and keep the aggression going because I’m naturally an aggressive fighter, but I’ll definitely be more technical.”

After losing to Gaethje, Palomino was granted an immediate rematch after calling in and requesting the fight the following Monday. WSOF Vice President and matchmaker Ali Abdel-Aziz told MMAFighting.com the rematch was offered to Palomino because he “puts it on the line” and “takes risks.”

It’s rare in combat sports to see immediate rematches doled out to challengers without some form of controversial ending. Palomino, who was nearly put to sleep several times in the first fight, stood in the fire against one of the most dangerous fighters in the world at 155 pounds. His unyielding heart helped him pave the way for a new precedent.

“When you put on exciting fights like that, [you get] immediate rematches,” said Abdel-Aziz.

Luis Palomino (Courtesy of World Series of Fighting)

Luis Palomino (Courtesy of World Series of Fighting)

Palomino’s immediate rematch with Gaethje for lightweight gold will come on Friday in the main event of WSOF 23. The fight will once again take

place in Gaethje’s backyard at the Comerica Theatre in Phoenix. But none of that matters to Palomino, who is determined to change the outcome in the rematch.

From life in the streets as a teenager to a professional MMA fighter—Palomino has been fighting to survive his entire life. He hopes to use that same fire and drive to help him become a world champion:

“I’ve been fighting all my life man. This is something I’ve been doing since I was very young. I’ve been training all my life for this. I started out boxing, and I was in capoeira for years and became a black belt in Jiu-Jitsu. I’ve always liked competition. I had a rough time growing up in the streets without getting killed where I lived. So there was a lot of fight in my life, and it just comes natural for me.”

When asked what fans can expect to see on Friday night, Palomino didn’t mince words with his prediction.

“Expect an early knockout. I’m definitely going to knock him out this time around,” said Palomino.

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