By Adam Martin
Don’t call it a comeback.
At UFC 166 this past weekend, Hector Lombard — he of the disappointing 1-2 Octagon record in his first year with the organization — made his 170-pound debut after nine years as a middleweight, and it was a good one, as he absolutely obliterated former Strikeforce welterweight champion Nate Marquardt with brutal left hooks in under two minutes to save his job with the UFC.
According to Lombard, the UFC told him “take it or leave it” in regards to a potential drop to 170, meaning he could either make the move down to welterweight or get his walking papers after putting together a losing record as a UFC middleweight.
After all, the former Bellator middleweight champion was a huge signing for the UFC last summer, but after losing two disappointing split decisions to Tim Boetsch and Yushin Okami (with a KO win over Rousimar Palhares sandwiched in between), it was clear that “Lightning” was too small to compete with the bigger 185-pounders in the Octagon.
So Dana White and Joe Silva told Lombard to make the cut to 170, and if last Saturday night in Houston was any indication, this man is going to be an absolute force to be reckoned with in the UFC welterweight division.
In fact, I would even go as far as to say he’s an instant title contender.
Sure, a win over Marquardt these days doesn’t mean as much as it used to. After all, “The Great” has gone 0-3 in 2013, including a previous KO loss to Jake Ellenberger and a decision loss to Tarec Saffiedine. But still, he’s a former Pancrase/Strikeforce champion, a former top-three ranked middleweight, and a huge name in the sport.
So while a KO win over Marquardt in 2013 isn’t as special as it may have been three years ago — hell, even one year ago, when he was wrecking Tyron Woodley’s brains in Strikeforce — it’s still a good win on paper, and it’s the type of victory that will put Lombard on the fast track to a title shot at 170 pounds, if mostly because of his combination of muscles and hefty price tag.
The fact is the UFC hasn’t gotten the return on investment with Lombard that they hoped to get. Let’s face it, the UFC wanted him to beat Boetsch at UFC 149, up his record to 26-straight fights undefeated, and then set up a champion vs. champion fight against former UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva.
But Boetsch leg kicked his way to a head-scratching decision win, and, even though many observers feel the judges blew that one, it still wasn’t the kind of dominating performance that we’ve come to know (and love) out of Lombard, and there’s no doubt in my mind it was a loss that left UFC brass extremely disappointed.
After the loss to Boetsch – which reportedly cost the UFC a whopping $700,000 due to paying Lombard PPV points – Lombard was shifted to free TV cards so the UFC didn’t have to pay him that huge bonus. That’s why his last three fights against Palhares, Okami, and Marquardt have all been on free television. Let’s face it, in the UFC’s mind, paying Lombard $300,000 instead of $700,000 is a lot easier to swallow. And it’s even possible that with the move to 170, the UFC not only told Lombard to cut 15 pounds, but they also cut his salary (official salaries for UFC 166 have not yet been released).
But after Lombard’s destruction of Marquardt, his stock is way up now and I expect him to be back on pay-per-view for his next outing. And I expect him to be paired up with a top-10 opponent.
There are lots of interesting matchups for Lombard at 170 pounds, but the fighter I believe that Lombard will be paired up against is Jake Shields, who recently upset Demian Maia via split decision in the main event UFC Fight Night 29.
Even though most consider him “boring,” Shields’s name still carries weight in the sport. He’s a former Strikeforce champion, a former UFC title challenger, and, most importantly, a winner. If Lombard can go in the cage with him and wreck house, it could put him one fight away from a title shot, in my opinion.
With his Herculean-esque physique (especially at 170), cerebral demeanor, athletic background, and ridiculous KO power, Lombard is a guy who the UFC can market as a title contender, and now that he’s in the proper weight class, there’s a very good chance that he can go all the way to the top in the division.
When Lombard came to the UFC, many believed he was overrated and that he had been padding his record while fighting second-tier fighters in Bellator and CFC in Australia. I disagreed, though. I had been watching Lombard since the PRIDE days, and with his mix of knockout power, submissions, and strong takedown defence, I believed he could make a run to the top of the UFC middleweight division.
Unfortunately, Lombard’s fight against Yushin Okami in March proved that competing at 185 pounds wasn’t doing him any favors — he was just too small to compete at middleweight, and Okami “Okami’d” him to a decision win. Though he was essentially forced to drop to welterweight by his employers, the move to 170 pounds was exactly what he needed — and it’s why I think many were too quick to attach the “bust” label to him.
Looking at Lombard and his skillset, it’s my opinion that he could legitimately make a run for the title at 170 pounds. Now, let’s see him try to do it. At 35 years of age, the clock is ticking, but as we saw against Marquardt, Lombard’s time is not up. In fact, it might just be starting.