If you follow the MMA prospect scene even peripherally, you have probably heard of Lance Palmer. After all, the undefeated former Ohio State wrestler is thought to be on the watch list of the UFC and every other big promotion.
But you may not have heard that when Palmer next fights on June 21, he’ll face an opponent who’s a pretty good prospect in his own right.
Jared Downing may not have Palmer’s All-American pedigree or natural presence in front of a microphone, but the 23-year-old featherweight still hopes to be more than just a stepping stone.
“I’m aware of it,” Downing said of the red-hot hype surrounding his opponent. “But I don’t really hear it much. I’m pretty good, too.”
Jared “Demon Eyes” Downing is 10-1 as a pro and, though Palmer is the bigger name, it’s entirely possible Downing will be the one with his hand raised after their scrap, which is currently scheduled for Resurrection Fighting Alliance 8.
Experienced as both a bantamweight and a featherweight, the former high school wrestler's style is primarily ground-and-pound, thanks to a full-throttle double-leg takedown, a heavy pair of fists and an abundance of innate strength. There’s also the small matter of fact that Downing is the defending RFA featherweight champion.
The Cedar Rapids, Iowa product made his way to the sport through schoolyard chum Erik Koch, who now draws paychecks from the UFC. But Downing's predisposition to self-defense started much earlier. Downing has lived with a significant speech impediment since childhood. The impediment proved as good as any teacher when it came to toughness.
“I’ve always had a fighter’s mindset,” Downing said. “I grinded through life a lot and I still do.”
Despite a clear penchant for fighting and a nearly spotless record, Downing’s pro career is dogged by his lack of finishes—only two total, and none since he suffered his only loss, a 2011 decision defeat to Roberto Vargas.
Downing hopes to turn that around against Palmer. All he has to do, he said, is channel the man he cites as one of his strongest influences.
“I don’t look up to any other fighter, but guys like Wanderlei Silva, you have to respect guys like that,” Downing said. “In my next fight, I want to give people a new highlight reel.”
Downing knows he’ll have his hands full with Palmer. If there's a case to be made that Downing is the better fighter, Downing seems most comfortable making it with his fists.
“Hype this or hype that, it’s not up to me to decide,” Downing said. “I’ve fought big names. I’m pretty good. I’m a tough match up for anyone, and I’m a tough match up for him. I just want to go do it.”
The Beaten Path is an article series profiling MMA prospects. Read the previous installment here. Scott Harris is a featured columnist with Bleacher Report. Find him on Twitter @ScottHarrisMMA. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.