UFC 149: How one win can put Lombard into title contention
Last week, I penned a piece (typed, you know what I mean) about middleweight stud Chris Weidman, and why I thought he should be the next man to challenge UFC champion Anderson Silva.
Though I still stand behind my choice, there is one man who can throw a wrench into those plans this weekend, and that’s former Bellator middleweight champion and UFC newcomer Hector Lombard.
The 32-year-old knockout artist debuts against Tim Boestch, a former light heavyweight who has found new life and a place in the top 10 since moving to middleweight. “The Barbarian” has rattled off three consecutive wins since relocating, including an earning an impressive come-from-behind stoppage against Yushin Okami last time out at UFC 144 in Japan.
With a wrestling base and proven power, he’ll be a solid test for Lombard, who enters looking like a dominant force, riding a 20-fight winning streak and having not lost in 25 consecutive fights.
This is the point where someone invariably shouts, “Yeah, but look at who he’s beaten!” While there is no way of denying that Lombard hasn’t exactly been facing the best of the best in the middleweight division over the last five years, invoking the standard “But it wasn’t in the UFC, so they must be bums” argument is off base.
For starters, there are a handful of fighters scattered throughout his list of conquests who are currently or have recently been on the UFC roster. That group includes surging New Zealander James Te Huna, Dubbo’s Kyle Noke, welterweight contender Brian Ebersole, and former UFC fighters Kalib Starnes, Jay Silva, Joe Doerksen, Jesse Taylor, and Trevor Prangley.
While I admit that none of these men have been championship contenders during their respective UFC tenures – perhaps not yet in the case of Te Huna and Ebersole – they’re not exactly complete unknowns without credentials either.
Lombard may not have been beating elite fighters at every turn, but he hasn’t been dominating regional doormats either.
Here’s the other part people tend to forget or overlook: if amassing 20 consecutive victories and an unbeaten streak that dates back to November 2006 isn’t all that impressive, how come there are so few fighters who can boast such an achievement?
Five people in the history of the sport have put together an longer undefeated streak than Lombard, and only two of them – Renan Barao (28 and counting) and Fedor Emelianenko (27) – did so while facing some quality competition along the way. For the record, the other three are Travis Fulton (40), Igor Vovchanchyn (36), and John Strawn (29).
That’s it though: just five people, and that includes guys who are beating the hell out of regional punching bags every week throughout the American midwest.
I know there have been some easy wins along the way for Lombard, but when you can go five years without getting beat in a sport where one shot can end a fight, that’s saying something, and it’s part of the reason why a win Saturday in Calgary, Alberta could land Lombard the role of “Middleweight Title Challenger” in his second UFC appearance.
There are a bunch of other factors to consider as well, including who he’s facing on Saturday night at the Scotiabank Saddledome. While some people may want to diminish what Boestch has done to date in the middleweight ranks, it’s not like there have been a ton of people beating Yushin Okami in the last six years.
He had lost three times prior to being stopped by the AMC Prankration product back in February. The men who beat him are Anderson Silva, Chael Sonnen, and Rich Franklin; the current champ, his toughest foe, and the former champion. That’s it.
How Boetsch beat him doesn’t matter either. Yes, he was dominated for two rounds, but he still came out in the third, and finished Okami to earn the victory. Trying to diminish the value of his win because he was on the business side of things in the first two frames is ridiculous; it’s like saying Silva’s first win over Sonnen carries less value because he was badly beaten for the first 23 minutes.
What matters most is the final outcome, and Boestch won, impressively at that.
Despite this being Lombard’s first fight in the UFC, walking in and beating Boetsch, especially if he duplicates some of the dramatic finishes he produced during his Bellator days, vaults him up the list of title challengers, potentially even carrying him all the way to the top of said list.
There’s more working in his favour as well.
As much as I don’t think you should squander the opportunity to promote an unbeaten prospect, you can’t waste a guy on a 21-fight winning streak either. His highlight reel – though the UFC doesn’t own any of it – is crazy impressive, and the kind of violent knockout power he possesses is something Silva hasn’t faced in a long time, perhaps going all the way back to his UFC debut against Chris Leben.
With that kind of winning streak and momentum from a debut win and the power to put your lights out in a hurry, it just might be easier to sell Silva versus Lombard to the casual audience. The casual audience craves potential knockouts and fireworks displays in the cage.
This may excite them more than the well-rounded, grappling-based approach of Weidman at this point, even though he just stopped Mark Muñoz with a nasty short elbow.
Lombard’s debut in the UFC is something a lot of people have been anxiously awaiting, as people are eager to see if he can continue his impressive run when he steps up to face stiffer competition. If he can win this weekend and push his winning streak to 21, the former Olympian might just earn himself a title shot as well.
Even though I hate to admit it.
Follow E. Spencer Kyte on Twitter (@spencerkyte)
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