When speaking to Steve Carl last October after defeating Josh Burkman via triangle choke at WSOF 6 for the inaugural World Series of Fighting (WSOF) welterweight title, the new champion was headed to Key West, Florida, for a vacation. The reality of being the new 170-pound kingpin had not quite sunk in yet for the Iowa fighter. He wasn't the favorite to win it. He pulled off the upset and he was unsure who would be first up to take a crack at his new belt.
One thing he was sure of, was not wanting to wait too long to get back into the decagon.
"I was asking after WSOF 7 I believe, when I was going to fight again," the champion said recently as a guest on Darce Side Radio.
"They had told me June. I thought that was way too far away, so I asked them to come up with something else and they asked me If I'd fight Rousimar Palhares at the end of this month and I said 'absolutely.' I didn't really question it. He is a high caliber fighter."
However, the new champion's sentiments on fighting the leg-wrecking machine known as "Toquinho" were the exact opposite before winning the WSOF title.
Fellow WSOF welterweight Jon Fitch, as well as others, were very outspoken about the promotion signing a fighter with a reputation for deliberately trying to injure his opponents. Palhares had been released by the UFC due to wrenching Mike Pierce's leg long after he had tapped to a heel hook submission and the referee was trying to separate the two fighters at UFC Fight Night 29.
"Fitch came out and said he wouldn't fight Palhares and my mindset was the same way," Carl admitted. "I didn't want to fight him because of those worries. As soon as I won the title and he was offered to me, it was a different mindset," he continued, explaining the change in his stance.
"I'm the champion and I'm not going to refuse any fight; I'm not going turn down any challenge. Going into this fight obviously, I'm aware of his leg locks and his reputation, but I'm not concerned with it. If I go in there worried about it there is a good chance that it will probably happen. If I go in there just thinking about how to finish him there is a better chance I will win this fight and that is how I'm going to go with this."
Palhares causing his opponents worry is a drastic understatement.
Out of his 11 submission victories, only two were not of the leg-lock variation. Regardless of confidence or a brave mindset going in against him, if you do not prepare properly, there is always the possibility of the Brazilian tapping you rather quickly, and with heel hook submissions, the damage can be devastating. Ligament damage -- which can often be the case -- means surgery, physical therapy and recovery time. That puts a fighter on the shelf for quite awhile. That is something that no one, whether champion or not, can afford in this sport.
Not only is Palhares a master at his craft, he can literally hit his go-to submission from any position. Preparation is key, and Carl shared some of what he has been doing leading up to Saturday's fight.
"That's the thing of it, he can hit it from everywhere," the champion said, on his opponent's capabilities. I've been training with my buddy Ed Burns who is super slick on the ground. I went down to Texas and trained at the Grapplers Lair with TJ Waldburger and John Moore, but mostly I'm just working on myself. It's going to be my abilities and my tools that are going to finish the fight."
Finishing fights is something the welterweight champion has done rather frequently. He has submitted his last seven opponents and has 16 career submission victories on his resume. On the flip side, he has only lost by submission once, succumbing to a kimura against Dan Hornbuckle at Bellator 19.
Taking a much different approach than most current fighters, the champion doesn't belong to a big camp or have a lot of training partners. "I just kind of do my own thing," he said. "No coaching, just self motivated. That's all it takes. You can push yourself a million different ways, but you can prepare by yourself."
That approach has worked fine so far for him and he is confident that it will continue to bring success.
Carl's win over Burkman at WSOF 6 was the first time the 29-year-old fighter had ever seen the fourth round of a fight. He is readying for a "two-minute fight or a 25-minute fight," he said, but the champion doesn't "expect the fight to see the second round."
"That bell is going to ring and it's going to be fireworks," Carl predicted. "We are going to get after it. It's going to be fast paced and one of us is going to get finished. I don't expect it to go past the first."
As the cliché goes, to truly be considered a champion, one must successfully defend his title. Carl wasn't supposed to defeat Burkman at WSOF 6, and many will doubt him against Palhares and certainly the pundits will pan him should he be defeated on Saturday night.
Carl is only focused on the positives and said beating Palhares will "absolutely" be the biggest victory of his career, even bigger than winning the title. He gave a matter of fact response on being the champion saying, "it's cool and all and it feels pretty good," but he admits it's really the "spotlight" and recognition that he covets.
"I'm not looking at what I can lose in this fight, I'm looking at what I can gain," he explained.
"The notoriety of beating Palhares is going to be bigger than better than beating Burkman. There are a lot of people that are still doubting me out there and I think beating Palhares is really going to put me up there in people's minds. Obviously going into the Burkman fight I was kind of the guy that wasn't expected to win. I don't feel like I'm in the spotlight yet and I'm ready to put myself there with a win over Palhares."