It appears that Bellator's Middleweight Champion Hector Lombard is about to test the market as a free agent for the first time in over two years. This is an extremely exciting idea because across promotions the middleweight division is lacking a real depth of star power. A fighter of Lombard's caliber being added into the UFC's middleweight division would be fantastically exciting.
This forces us to ask a question: what caliber of fighter is he? The answer to that question is slippery. Let me be perfectly clear, Hector Lombard would make one heck of a UFC fighter. Lombard certainly has the skills, prestigious power in both hands and a strong grappling background. He was a member of Cuban's Olympic Judo team which, if you are a follower of the gentle way you know, is no small feat as Cuba is a powerhouses in International Judo. On top of that he is also a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu by way of American Top Team. Throw in his aggressive demeanor and he is a very intimidating man to see across the cage.
The questions that surround Lombard simply stem from that we have never seen him succeed in MMA against top level competition. The only time we've seen Lombard against upper level opponents was in Pride in 2006 and those represent his two losses in MMA.
The first loss came to Akihiro Gono, who by Pride rules was a Middleweight but in modern weight-classes would be a welterweight. Gono survived the early onslaught from Lombard and then took the fight over as Lombard emptied his gas tank in ardent attempts to finish. His second loss to Gegard Mousasi, Lombard showed more restraint in the early moments of the fight but ended up simply getting out grappled by the Dutchman.
Now neither of these fights were crushing losses as Lombard acquitted himself well at times in both matches. And Lombard has corrected some the mental mistakes he made in those fights. For instance Lombard has adopted a much more controlled approach, today he sets up his power shots while still maintaining his aggression rather than charging in widely. Also in both fights he sacrificed position trying to force footlocks, and in both fights that decision cost him dearly. Clearly these issues were one of fighter young in MMA still learning how to fight to maximize his chances of winning.
But since the fall of the Pride there are questions that haven't been answered about Lombard. He still slows down in later rounds, and considering his frame and muscle mass he is likely never to become a cardiovascular machine. While this isn't a huge concern, it does compound his other problem. We have not idea what he looks like in an MMA context against an elite grappler.
How would Lombard respond to the grinding assault of a Yushin Okami, Mark Munoz or Chael Sonnen? In his entire career Lombard has not faced an elite wrestler and it seems the kind of style match that would give the Cuban fits. The hybrid attack of Chris Weidman also seems tailor made to drain Lombard's energy. While it seems clear Lombard could compete and win in the UFC, what isn't clear is if he is indeed a Top 10 Middleweight or will be able to challenge for a title in the UFC. Lombard is thirty-four and his prime is coming to an end, so if his goal is a UFC Middleweight Title he can't really afford a serious set back. I personally think a path to a title shot for Lombard would need to be very friendly and avoid wrestlers. And even if he gets a title shot, I don't think his striking will challenge Anderson Silva, who is more than equipped to handle a head hunter.
But that said, I welcome the chance of Lombard in the UFC and I am positively giddy at the prospect of possible match ups with Rousimar Palhares or Tim Boetsch. I just think we all need to temper our expectations of Lombard in the UFC.