Welcome to the UFC Hector Lombard.
The former Bellator middleweight champion makes his UFC debut Saturday night amidst a freight train of hype against Tim “The Barbarian” Boetsch. Usually when a fighter comes in from a comparable organization, like Pride was, or a once-comparable organization like Strikeforce used to be, UFC rightfully hypes them up as a huge deal. Rampage Jackson got fast-tracked upon his entrance from Pride, and both Alistair Overeem and Nick Diaz would have had title shots by now after coming over from Strikeforce if they hadn’t made two separate, egregious errors.
Where Lombard’s case is different is that he comes in with this much momentum from a second-tier organization. While Bellator is a fine promotion and they put on quality cards, no one is ever going to mistake them for the UFC, or indeed even Strikeforce. For Lombard to be coming in with the amount of hype that he is from UFC, with some even speculating he could be in line for a title shot with an impressivge win over Boetsch, speaks volumes about the amount of faith UFC has placed in the Cuban-born fighter.
Lombard’s record and fighting style suggest he deserves the hype. He is currently riding a twenty fight winning streak, and possesses an ultra-aggressive striking style that have led some to compare him to an MMA version of Mike Tyson. Others have compared his style to Pride-era Wanderlei Silva. He owns one of the fastest KO’s in MMA history, a 6 second demolition of Jay Silva. In addition to his savage stand-up game, Lombard also served on Cuba’s 2000 Olympic judo team, giving him as well-rounded a resume as any in the sport. He holds nineteen first-round stoppages to his credit, making him one of the most feared opponents wherever he has chosen to compete.
It was this propensity for sudden violence which caused UFC to sign him to a big-money contract beyond the scope of someone who would usually come in from Lombard’s level. Lombard was promised a percentage of pay-per-view revenue, which not only speaks to the high expectations Zuffa has for him but was also a shrewd strategic move to work around Bellator’s right to match UFC’s offer. Faced with having to change their business model to be able to invoke their right to match, Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney reluctantly allowed his promotion’s biggest star to jump ship.
It is now squarely on Lombard’s shoulders to justify the investment made in him. While Lombard’s finishes have been highlight-reel worthy, his level of opposition has not always been top-tier. While he does hold wins over some respectable names, his UFC career will be the first time he’s truly testing his skills against the world’s best.
Lombard assures one and all that he is up to the challenge. The court of public opinion is split on whether a victory over Boetsch, no matter how devastating, should catapult him to number one contender status. The argument being put forth by fighters such as Michael Bisping that Lombard needs to put more time in at the highest level before jumping the line of contenders is a logical one. But if Lombard KO’s Boetsch in a Tyson or Silva-like fashion, Dana White may choose to strike while the iron is hot and push his new investment right into a PPV main event, where Lombard can earn his share of the vaunted pay-per-view percentage bonus.
If White has guessed correctly on Lombard, it will look like a savvy business maneuver to pick him up at the price he did. But if Lombard wilts under the pressure of the bright lights of the octagon, the contract will bring back memories of Pedro Rizzo, who was given a massive (for the time) contract but faded out of the promotion soon afterwards. The answer lies in Lombard’s hands, and how he makes use of them Saturday night.