It’s been half a year since Turlock’s Lewis Gonzalez was forced to withdraw from what would have been his first shot at a World Series of Fighting championship belt. Scheduled to face Justin Gaethje on Jan. 18, Gonzalez suffered a knee injury weeks prior to the event and was forced to sit and watch as Gaethje defeated his replacement, Richard Patishnock, via TKO to become WSOF’s inaugural Lightweight Champion.
Now, after months of rest and recuperation, Gonzalez is slated to enter the cage for combat once again in an Aug. 9 showdown with heavy-handed lightweight Luis Palomino at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.
The matchup is one of an up-and-coming wrestler against a veteran striker as Gonzalez enters with a 9-0 record and Palomino enters with a record of 22-9. Adding to the fight’s intrigue is the possibility of the winner getting a shot at Gaethje and his belt in the near future.
“Right now I know we’re right there in contention for a title shot. So either after this fight, or I might have to go one more to get another title shot,” Gonzalez said. “I’m just excited to get back in the cage, especially on a big stage like this.”
Gonzalez was originally supposed to make his comeback in September after being cleared to compete in early June, but when he and his camp were approached to fight Palomino less than a month ago, they couldn’t pass on the opportunity. Despite not knowing much about his opponent, a quick film session was all it took for Gonzalez to accept the fight a day after receiving the offer.
“We really liked the matchup. It looks like I’m a lot stronger than him on the ground,” Gonzalez said. “He is a dangerous striker; he fought some guys who are fighting in the UFC right now and he has some heavy hands. But the thing is, I know I’m going to be bigger than him — longer and a couple inches taller than him.”
Palomino has won six of his last eight fights, four of which came by way of knockout. The 33-year-old Peruvian made his professional MMA debut back in 2006 when Gonzalez was fresh out of high school and has fought a number of big names in the industry. His reputation is that of a vicious striker who’s always on the lookout for a KO.
“I’ve seen on some of his film that he has openings because he likes to swing so heavy, and he swings and misses, and his ground game doesn’t look too great. So I feel like if I get him to the ground I’ll have a big advantage. I feel like I can stand with him, too, but I’m going to try and expose his weakness on the ground,” Gonzalez said. “I’ve done well against straight stand up fighters compared to other wrestlers where we kind of neutralize each other. When I look at his losses, all of his losses are from guys who have wrestling backgrounds or strong grappling backgrounds.”
Conversely, 26-year-old Gonzalez is less than three years into his professional career, though he’s made a big impact in that short amount of time. Winning seven of his nine fights via TKO or submission, four of which came in the first round, Gonzalez has established himself as a serious threat inside the cage. Though his last two wins were awarded via decisions, the Turlocker is looking to return to his finishing form against Palomino.
“One thing that I feel like doing is getting back to finishing fights. I’m not trying to go the distance and leave it up to the judges, I want to get back to finishing fights,” Gonzalez said. “That’s one way I want to make a statement.”
The Aug. 9 matchup will be Gonzalez’ first main event fight and will be nationally televised on NBC Sports. The fight will also be shown at Jura’s Pizza Parlor in Turlock during a viewing fundraiser for the Turlock Wrestling Club.
“It’s a big jump. It feels good that the organization feels highly of me to put me right back in the main event again, especially on a big stage like the Hard Rock Hotel,” Gonzalez said. “He wants to stand and trade and make it a brawl, so I have to make sure not to play his game. I have to be more technical than him and frustrate him a little bit. And if I do get him down to the mat, I’m going to grind him down and break him.”