Having worked his way back up the World Extreme Cagefighting lightweight ladder and into position to make a seamless transition into the UFC, it’s easy to forget that Bart Palaszewski’s (35-13) WEC career got off to a rocky start.
After a second-round TKO victory over Alex Karalexis in December 2008, Palaszewski — a longtime, established veteran who had a successful run in the International Fight League — suffered back-to-back losses to Ricardo Lamas and Anthony Njokuani. In a sport with so many new, young, talented fighters vying for a spot in the big leagues, suffering successive losses and holding a sub-.500 record in a major promotion can put a fighter in a precarious position.
So what was going through Palaszewski’s mind after his second straight WEC setback? “Oh s***, I’m getting cut” he said with a laugh during an interview with ProMMAnow.com.
Palaszewski took both fights on very short notice. In the case of Lamas, he had only two weeks to prepare for someone that he knew little about.
“I had no idea who he was,” Palaszewski said of Lamas. “Obviously he knew a lot more about me than I did about him.”
As it turns out, Lamas was an accomplished wrestler and used stifling takedowns to subdue Palaszewski en route to a decision win.
“He went with an extremely boring strategy … just sit on top of me and do nothing,” Palaszewski said.
In Njokuani, Palaszewski faced a dangerous, aggressive striker. So he didn’t have to worry about a lack of action, but his fan-pleasing, aggressive style left him open and Njokuani scored a TKO victory early in round two.
“I had a guy that wanted to stand and bang with me and I got clipped,” Palaszewski said very matter-of-factly, knowing that getting caught is a part of the MMA game.
“It sucked having two losses in a row,” he said. “But I regrouped, got my stuff together, took a couple months off, and I worked on my, well I pretty much worked on everything.”
Palaszewski bounced back with a win over Tyler Combs in the Illinois-based Xtreme Fighting Organization. His WEC return came a couple of months later and Palaszewski hit the ground running by winning his last three fights, including a split decision win over Anthony Pettis, who will challenge Ben Henderson on Dec. 16 at WEC 53 for the WEC lightweight title and a chance to face the winner of the UFC 125 title bout between Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard.
On that same WEC 53 fight card, Palaszewski will face the heavy-handed world-class wrestler Kamal Shalorus.
Prior to the news of the UFC-WEC merger, Palaszewski said there had been hints that the winner of his fight would get the next WEC title shot. There’s still plenty of the line, though. Not only could a victory bolster Palaszewski’s spot in the UFC after the merger in 2011, but if Pettis beats Henderson, Palaszewski won’t ignore the fact that he’d have a win over a fighter challenging for the UFC belt.
“Before, I couldn’t care less who won that fight between Henderson and Pettis,” he said. “I worked my way up to get a title shot and [I had heard] I was one win away.
“Now we’re merging, but if [Pettis] somehow pulls off a win and gets that UFC title, I think with enough trash maybe I could get a shot at him a little bit sooner,” Palaszewski said, sounding as if he was cracking a smile on the other end of the phone line.
However, Palaszewski certainly isn’t looking past Shalorus, who blew through his first two WEC opponents before fighting to a controversial draw with former WEC champ Jamie Varner at WEC 49.
“He’s a very dangerous guy,” Palaszewski said. “He’s hard headed, he’s tough, and he just wings punches. If he gets in trouble, he’s a good enough wrestler where he can take someone down and recover.”
Even though Shalorus represented the British wrestling team at the international level, there isn’t a guarantee that he’ll take Palaszewski down. Shalorus has been more than willing to strike with his previous WEC opponents, and he also hasn’t necessarily had time to incorporate his wrestling into his overall MMA skill set. Palaszewski knows that not all wrestlers have the same amount of success.
“There’s wrestling and then there’s wrestling in MMA,” Palaszewski said.
And if Shalorus does get the fight to the mat, Palaszewski, a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt, isn’t too worried about fighting off of his back.
“I’ve been doing Jiu Jitsu for 11 years,” he said. “My Jiu Jitsu is probably better than my stand up.”
At times Palaszewski has taken risks in his fights and chosen to stand and trade on the feet to entertain the crowd instead of utilizing his ground game. But he doesn’t have any regrets about his choice of strategy.
“That’s why I got quite a few losses on my record,” Palaszewski said. “I put having an exciting before the win, and it’s worked out for me a lot of the time.”
He added, “I’ve told people this a million times and I hate repeating myself; but Jens Pulver told me this years ago and I’ve always remembered it. He said, ‘I’d rather lose an exciting fight than win a boring fight.’”
Palaszewski asked to thank the following: Jeff Curran, Doug Mango, Dave Davis, his training partners, and everyone at Team Curran, Brian Butler at SuckerPunch Entertainment, and Alienware Computers