By Raphael Garcia
The UFC has picked up a free agent who knows how to back up his brash talk with violent action in the cage. Hector "Lightning" Lombard confirmed on Tuesday through his Twitter account that he is now a part of the Ultimate Fighting Championship. Riding an undefeated streak that goes back to 2006, the former Bellator middleweight champion has now made it to the big stage of mixed martial arts, where many middleweights would welcome him to the fray. His unique personality and ability to stop opponents with one strike have given him the opportunity to perform in front of millions of UFC fans.
At 31-2-1-1, Lombard will be an interesting infusion into the 185-pound division, as Anderson Silva has had the division by its throat for the majority of the last six years. In nearly the same amount of time, Lombard has been wrecking opponents across various promotions, where he has racked up 24 victories, 18 of which have come by stoppage. While some may argue that he wasn’t facing the best fighters in the sport, he was still winning and winning decisively. In a sport where one highlight reel stoppage can catapult you to the top, Lombard certainly has the abilities to do so, now that the Octagon is the place he will call home.
In a division that is in need of a contender beyond Chael Sonnen, Lombard is coming at the right time. Mark Munoz, Tim Boetsch, and Michael Bisping seem to be the only other individuals on the cusp of a title shot within 2012, so Hector can add his name to that list with a strong introductory win over one of the organizations best names. Here are some suggestions of whom Lombard should be matched against in his first bout as a Zuffa employee:
Winner of Rousimar Palhares – Alan Belcher
Set to face each other at UFC on Fox 3, both Belcher and Palhares are strong tests for any competitor looking to make a splash in the organization. While they may not be top contenders, they are not to be considered “gatekeepers” in any form or fashion.
Palhares is a grappling ace unlike any that Lombard has faced in his career. He is known for the ability to quickly grab a leg lock and not only finish the fight, but threaten his opponent’s career in one fell swoop. Lombard does have the power to rock and finish the Brazilian, as Nate Marquardt did.
As his nickname suggests, Belcher is a very talented striker who throws his attacks from a variety of angles in the cage. He has shown a habit of leaving himself open for damage, however, which is the worst thing he could do against Lombard, who throws with power behind every blow.
Loser of Mark Munoz – Chris Weidman
This bout was recently announced, and is a contender eliminator for Munoz, who could be one win away from a middleweight title shot. Weidman has burst into the middleweight contendership conversation recently, and a win in this bout would set up a potential number one contender’s fight at the end of 2012 for the New York native. While the winner may be too highly ranked for an opening match, the loser of this contest would be a great way to welcome the Australian into the Octagon.
Munoz presents a challenge as a wrestler who has done a good job of adding striking into his game. While he is not in the technical realm of Lombard, he has learned how to tie it into his high level wrestling. However, he has shown that he can be hit, as Demian Maia did back at UFC 131. Leaving himself open against Lombard would make for this being a tough bout, in which he would most likely be finished.
Chris Weidman is another wrestler that has strong takedown abilities. His striking isn’t on par with Munoz’s yet, but he does have a submission skill set that would pose problems. Two of his four UFC victories have resulted in his opponent being put to sleep in the cage, so if he gets Lombard to the ground early, you can expect him to attempt some type of choke very quickly. The question is whether he would be able to get the very powerful Lombard down and keep the fight there for extended periods of time.
Quietly Ed Herman has put together a three-fight win streak, and the Ultimate Fighter season 3 finalist seems to have shed the injury problems that have plagued his career. He’s been in the Octagon for six years and faced a high level of talent while under the Zuffa banner. This bout would be a way for him to break the “gatekeeper” mold while giving Lombard the opportunity to impress those fans who may not know who he is. Herman’s 20 wins have come in a diverse fashion, but 13 submissions show that he has the ability to grapple when he can find a way to get his opponent to the mat. With Lombard, Herman would have to avoid the standup exchanges that he has been prone to get into in the past, because “Lighting” has the ability and the power to stop an opponent with one blow.
“The Crippler” is sitting on the sidelines waiting out a suspension due to his drug test results after UFC 138, but the former Ultimate Fighter contestant would be a great name to place against Hector Lombard to welcome them both back in front of the UFC’s crowd.
Leben and Lombard are both known for being powerful strikers who have no problem standing in front of their opponents to exchange blows. What would be interesting to see is how Lombard would react once he hits Leben and Leben keeps moving forward. Chris has become famous for his ability to absorb damage and keep coming forward to attack and change the tide of a fight. If Lombard can put away Leben in a vicious and exciting fashion, he will join Brian Stann and Anderson Silva as the only men to have done so.
Lombard may be the most valuable prospect that the UFC could have poached from Bellator. Yes, rumors are swirling that former lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez is preparing to place himself into a position to make that same jump, but one could make the argument that the UFC could use Lombard more than they could use Alvarez. Eddie would find himself thrown into the shark tank that is the lightweight division. When you look at the MMA Ratings lightweight rankings, three individuals in our top fifteen are outside of the UFC. If those rankings were expanded to 20, it would be hard to find lightweight names to place on that list that are not under the Zuffa banner. Alvarez joining the organization means he would be yet another top name added to the division, but he would have to navigate through tough waters to get past the many other names that are currently in front of him in the path towards a title shot.
Lombard, on the other hand, gives the UFC a new face that can be built up into a contender in less than a year. One or two solid wins and it would be very hard to argue against giving him a shot at whoever holds the title. Even though the middleweight group is on the cusp of infusing some new interest into the division, a new face with a streak like Lombard's adds some much-needed spark, one that will make him a the most valuable fighter the UFC could have plucked from Bellator.