Check the story stream on the right side of the page or the links at the bottom of the article for previous installments, where I've laid out the methods behind the list and the criteria for inclusion.
5) Lance Palmer, Featherweight (7-1)
Camp: Alpha Male
Years Pro: 2.75
Prior to falling victim to a guillotine from Armenian wrecking machine Georgi Karakhanyan last December, there were few prospects in MMA more hyped than Alpha Male's Lance Palmer. He has the camp (Alpha Male), the pedigree (four-time D-1 All-American at Ohio State), and the athleticism to make him as close to a can't-miss prospect as exists in a sport with as much uncertainty as MMA. The submission loss to Karakhanyan has removed a bit of the shine, but it would be a serious mistake to write off Palmer after a single defeat at the hands of a vastly more experienced fighter who's about a win away from the featherweight top 10. He's improved notably in every outing, his wrestling could potentially be dominant, he boasts the transition game for which Alpha Male fighters are rightly renowned, and his striking is developing in the fashion we've come to expect from Duane Ludwig-trained fighters.
Speaking of striking, let's start there. Palmer is a lot more advanced at this stage than, say, Chad Mendes was at a similar point in his early career. He moves well laterally, takes clean angles, and throws hard strikes with pretty solid technique for a relative novice from a southpaw stance. His forward movement is shockingly fast and explosive, and Palmer accentuates this with his consistent use of shift punches, meaning that his rear leg ends up in front in the course of the strike. He's been able to consistently catch much more experienced strikers like Jared Downing and Karakhanyan with this technique. Palmer still has a long, long way to go; while his fundamentals are sound, he's far too reliant on his left hand and left kick, he tends to reach a bit and therefore limit the power in his shots, and more generally, his arsenal is fairly limited. With that said, there's every reason to think that he'll continue to improve under Ludwig's instruction and build on the solid foundation he already possesses.
Palmer's wrestling is everything you'd expect from a four-time D-1 All-American. His level changes are quick and fluid, and his explosiveness serves him well as he drives forward to get deep onto his opponent's hips. His blast double in particular is absolutely outstanding, and one of the best I've seen from a prospect. He possesses a full repertoire of techniques, however, and uses a quick single-leg and a variety of throws to complement the double-leg. He chains his takedowns together nicely and wrestles well from his knees, which is something of a rarity in high-level MMA. What's most promising from an MMA perspective is his timing on reactive shots, and the speed with which he changes levels and shoots as his opponent moves forward. That's not to say that his wrestling is perfect - Karakhanyan was able to stuff his shots, albeit with great effort - and he occasionally forgets his distance and shoots from too far away, or neglects a setup. We've seen less from him in the clinch, but what he has shown is outstanding strength and good technique as he digs for underhooks and looks to pin his opponent against the cage. He could stand to do a better job of integrating strikes in the clinch, but generally that's a facet of a prospect's game that tends to develop over time.
Like most Alpha Male products, Palmer transitions extremely well. He's adept at moving directly to dominant positions off his takedowns, and is always looking for the signature guillotine choke as his opponent looks to scramble back to his feet. From top position, Palmer is a monster. He has real power in his punches and elbows, and integrates his strikes well with his guard passes. He maintains a brutally heavy base, and his squat frame makes it extremely difficult both to sweep him and work submissions from the guard. If he gets you to the ground, it's a tough task to either work to the feet or to generate offense. We haven't seen him from his back, and given his wrestling ability it's unlikely that we'll see him there anytime soon. The submission loss to Karakhanyan is worth discussing: it came in a scramble, and the vastly more experienced black belt was able to lock up the guillotine and show off a sick squeeze before Palmer realized what was happening. It wasn't so much a systemic flaw in Palmer's game that led to the submission as a momentary lapse against a really dangerous grappler.
So where does all of this leave Palmer? I'd argue that despite the loss to Karakhanyan, he's still one of the most promising (and probably safest) prospects in MMA. He's improving at a rapid clip under the direction of Duane Ludwig and the other coaches at Alpha Male, has access to fantastic training partners, and possesses absolutely outstanding athleticism, all of which point toward a bright future. I think he could use another year - perhaps two or three fights - to develop before he steps up to face UFC-level competition again. Essentially, Karakhanyan highlighted Palmer's weakness, which is something that shows up in a lot of prospects' games: a lack of multiple options in the face of adversity. After taking the first and probably the second rounds on the basis of his surprisingly effective striking, he effectively ran out of ideas in the third as Karakhanyan started to land strikes, and Palmer got careless in a scramble as he was desperately working for the takedown. Another year of training should round out Palmer's game, making him far less susceptible to the kind of experience edge that Georgi enjoyed. Once he does reach that point, however, watch out: we could have another Chad Mendes on our hands.
(Apologies about the lack of video - WSOF and RFA have been pretty aggressive about getting their content removed lately.)
25-23: Steve Mocco, Michinori Tanaka, and Nick Newell
22-20: Max Nunes, Gleristone Santos, and Walter Gahadza
19-18: Ramazan Emeev and Rick Glenn
17-16: Georgi Karakhanyan and Jim Alers
15-14: Tyrone Spong and Marlon Moraes
13-12: Mansour Barnaoui and Islam Makhachev