After almost three full years of competing for the Bellator Fighting championships, arguably the #2 North American based MMA promotion, reigning inaugural Middleweight champion Hector Lombard (32-2-1(1)) could opt to make the move to the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
After competing for Bellator for almost three full years with a contract that permitted him to compete in other promotions frequently, Lombard’s contract is set to expire in May, especially after news has broke that the UFC has officially made an offer to sign him once he officially becomes a free agent. Similar to other sports like Football and Basketball, when an athlete’s contract expires they enter a stage where they are a “free agent”. This means that an athlete is free to sign with whichever team, or in this case whichever promotion, that makes the best offer to them. For Lombard, the situation he is in is even more interesting seeing that he does not have to worry about the annoying “champion’s clause” that has forced other fighters in different promotions to resign with the promotion they are competing in. The importance of a “champion’s clause” for many promotions, especially promotions that are in competition with the UFC when trying to sign big names that garner some publicity, is that it forces champions bound by that clause to remain with that promotion. Fans should recall the situation with then Middleweight champion Jake Shields when he opted to let his contract expire over time so that he would become a free agent and sign with the UFC. After defending his title for the first and only time in the promotion against decorated veteran Dan Henderson, Shields made it no secret that he wanted to sign with the UFC to take on top ranked fighters in the world. Choosing not to resign with Strikeforce, Shields simply had to wait for the contract to expire so that negotiations with the UFC could legally commence for his to sign with the new promotion.
Standing at 5’9”, Lombard is a 34 year old Cuban born Olympic level Judoka who immigrated to Australia while a member of Cuba’s Olympic Judo team at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney. A veteran of MMA since 2004 and a decorated competitor in Judo holding the rank of 4th degree Black belt, Lombard has garnered the most attention in his MMA career with his time served under the Bellator banner. After competing primarily in the Australian MMA scene, with two Australian based titles to show for it, Lombard made the move to compete in the United States with his promotional debut in Bellator’s inaugural Middleweight tournament in the promotion’s third event. Coming into the tournament going 11-0-1 in his last twelve bouts and holding the Australian based Cage Fighting Championship title, Lombard won both his quarterfinal and semifinal tournament bouts in under five minutes combined with a KO and TKO, and a hard fought Rnd4 TKO win over an enduring Jared Hess in the finals, he became Bellator’s inaugural champion at 185lbs. With a contract that permitted him to frequently fight in other promotions while still remaining a champion in Bellator, Lombard extended his unbeaten streak with ten straight victories which included defending his CFC Middleweight title 3x, defending his Bellator title 1x, winning the inaugural Australian Fighting Championship Middleweight title, officially fighting at Light Heavyweight in another promotion, and four non-title/catch-weight bouts in Bellator. With an unbeaten streak of 24-0-1 that includes 19 victories via form of stoppage and wins over current UFC fighters like fellow Australian MMA veteran Brian Ebersole, heavy hitting New Zealander James Te Huna, and a lone Draw with TUF11 alumni popular Australian fighter Kyle Noke, Lombard would be a big name for the UFC to sign.
For potential match-ups in his debut, or match-ups that would present interesting challenges among some of the top ranked competitors in the division, Lombard has plenty of names to pick from that could make for interesting bouts to watch (that is if the following fighters listed are available of course).
Vitor Belfort: An interesting match-up that I personally think could turn into a great exchange and serve as one of Lombard’s biggest tests is against former Light Heavyweight champion Vitor Belfort. Comparing the two, Belfort is recognized as possibly possessing the fastest hands in the UFC with pure one-punch KO power, with Lombard possessing an accurate one punch KO game of his own. In the ground game, Belfort is a BJJ Black belt under Carlson Gracie earning the bronze medalist in the ADCC 2001 Absolute division, while Lombard is a 4th degree Black belt and decorated practitioner in Judo. With both possessing their own respected one punch capabilities to knockout out the other, this could end in a flurry or turn into a tentative and stand-up match with either or both competitors showing amazing respect for the power of the other. It could also turn into clinch only affair against the cage with either trying to drain the energy of the other with Lombard likely being the one to attempt takedowns with a strong Judo background that can get the fight down as well as keep it standing.
Mark Munoz: Another interesting match-up that stands out could be a meeting with heavy hitting wrestler Mark Munoz. With a kickboxing game that continues to progress and is amplified with amazing one punch KO power that has either finished or sent opponents stumbling, Munoz is a strong competitor that analysts feel could be a legitimate challenger for the title. Comparing his grappling game, Munoz is one of the strongest wrestlers in the division and is a former 2x NCAA1 All-American collegiate wrestler out of Oklahoma State University. Able to make his opponents fear his power and his takedowns at the same time, Munoz is no easy opponent in the division. Even with a great deal of power in his hands Munoz is definitely one wrestler who doesn’t stray from his roots and will want to take Lombard down to deliver his signature “Donkey Kong” punches. With plenty of power and wrestling game that can put Lombard’s takedown defense on blast, Munoz could prove to be a threat to the Lombard’s unbeaten streak.
Michael Bisping: In a match up that could test Lombard’s endurance, TUF3 winner and British contender Michael Bisping could turn out to be one of Lombard’s biggest challenges in the stand-up. Possessing one of the most technical striking games in the division, Bisping uses a strategy that picks his opponents apart with accurate shots from different angles to wear them down. Though his grappling game is rarely seen in action on the ground, Bisping possesses incredible takedown defense and counter-grappling capabilities. With a striking game that emphasizes picking apart opponents from a distance, constant lateral movement, and a 3” reach advantage, Bisping will be one of Lombard’s most difficult challenges in the division when engaged in the stand-up game. With resilient takedown defense that gave Olympic level wrestler Chael Sonnen a difficult time in trying to get the fight to the ground, Bisping could also make Lombard’s attempts for takedowns worthless even with his decorated background in Judo. Size could also be a key factor with Bisping standing a full 5” taller which will add to his range and momentum in strikes landed in the clinch.
Rousimar Palhares: A match-up that interests me immediately after hearing the news of Lombard’s possible inclusion into the UFC is against leg-lock master Rousimar Palhares. What makes this match-up so exciting for me is the fact that both fighters are relatively smaller than the rest of their competition in the division. Though his striking technique still needs to develop, Palhares does pack some solid power with his compact frame. While Palhares has lacked in his stand-up game, he more than makes up for it in making his opponents fear his dangerous submission game and have to concentrate on keeping him at a distance. For takedown offense, Palhares utilizes a deferent approach as he actually begins to work on his signature leg locks in the process. Whether looking for a double or a single leg takedown, Palhares will begin isolating a leg targeted for a submission, and will even close the distance and drop down immediately targeting a leg. In the stand-up Lombard would have the clear advantage with his boxing and knockout power. In the clinch Lombard should be able to maintain control with his Judo skill-set and fend off takedowns likely matching or besting Palhares in strength. As for dealing with the submission initiating takedowns of Palhares, Lombard could also find it easier to slip out of them than other competitors possibly because of his smaller legs that may give Palhares less to grab onto in time. This is one bout that interests me greatly, and I think this could be one of the more likely match-ups for Lombard in his promotional debut.
Tim Boetsch: Though Tim Boetsch may not be a huge name in the UFC’s Middleweight division, he could prove to be a powerful test for Lombard. Shown in his first two bouts as a Middleweight, Boetsch is a strong grappler that can put his opponents down and has the power to brutalize them while they are down. Also seen in those bouts, Boetsch’s striking technique has developed more from being a heavy handed slugger to picking his shots more accurately. What has made Boetsch a more recognizable name in the division was his most recent outing when he took on Japanese power house and recent title challenger Yushin Okami in a bout where he was being brutalized for the first two rounds to the point that some felt the fight was close to being stopped, but rallied early in the third round to earn the stoppage and his biggest victory yet in the octagon. Matched against Lombard, Boetsch could make this into an entertaining bout. In the stand-up Boetsch packs amazing power and has shown great technique in his recent outings. Matched against Lombard’s striking and power Boetsch make him tentative and pick his shots more carefully. In the clinch Boetsch’s strength and size combined with a wrestling and Judo game of his own could give him the upper hand for control. With those same attributes Boetsch could also outmatch Lombard’s Judo game to score takedowns and maintain control on the ground.
Written by @PaulinoArias