Stop me if you’ve heard this story before. A fighter makes his name by demolishing no-name adversaries and eventually takes his talents to the UFC.
Hector Lombard was the latest highly-touted fighter to make his much-anticipated UFC debut. Coming off Bellator knockouts of Trevor Prangley and Falaniko Vitale (yeah, exactly), many expected him to run through his first big-time opponent en route to an eventual title shot against Anderson Silva.
What we got instead was…well, a dud. Lombard had a few chances to explode and finish, but eventually eased off of the gas every time. His opponent Tim Boetsch fought “the smart fight”, with emphasis on not getting knocked out, rather than winning. And it worked. Boetsch improved to 4-0 since dropping down from 205 and ended Lombard’s 19-fight win streak via split decision.
The fight itself was reminiscent of Jake Shields’ debut against Martin Kampmann. Shield also struggled on the outset, but the split decision went his way in the end. He then went on to face Georges St-Pierre in a fight that was closer on the scorecards than in the Octagon.
Many believe that Lombard was being groomed to take a similar path. Dana White said earlier in the week that we would know Anderson Silva’s next opponent by the end of the night. When the time came – whether due to Boetsch’s unimpressive win or Lombard’s loss – White admitted that his plans had been derailed.
But for the former Olympic judoka, this loss will help him in the long run. I doubt that Lombard underestimated Boetsch or the rest of the middleweight division, but after beating up on relative Bellator cans for the past three years he needed this wake-up call: a fighter with the smarts to avoid his knockout power, and the ability to execute a successful gameplan.
This is what the UFC’s top-tier is full of, and it may take him a fight or two to get used to it. Had he faced his original opponent, Brian Stann, the result may have turned out differently. But if given the immediate title shot, Silva would have surely put an end to the hype train.
Now Lombard likely has at least two more fights before he’s granted a title shot. Should he fight and get past proven middleweights like Chael Sonnen or Vitor Belfort, he’ll be much more prepared for the champion than he is now.
The idea of a fighter tearing up another organization and not missing a beat in the UFC is becoming more and more of a pipe dream. The last hope may be Strikeforce’s Gilbert Melendez in the lightweight division, but even he is far from a sure thing.
Being thrown to the wolves of the UFC rarely leads to success. But with his hype and win streak now gone, Lombard can better focus on acclimating to his new environment.