Anyone that has seen Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney talk about his fighters knows he's prone to a bit of sensationalism. That's what promoters do, but it's hard not to raise an eyebrow when he claims his champions are among the best in the world.
At Saturday's UFC 149, Rebney's last 185-pound champion Hector Lombard made his UFC debut, he of the 25-fight win streak and dominance of nearly everyone that ran through his path. Originally slated to fight Brian Stann, he drew the surging Tim Boetsch instead when Stann got hurt, shifted to pay-per-view instead of free TV.
Media talked about his judo background, the streak and his power. Boetsch would be a tough draw, they said, but Lombard should be able to get through and get a title shot against Anderson Silva.
Then the fight happened and it was aesthetically awful. And as the luck of this Calgary card went, Lombard lost by split decision. Streak over. Championship aspirations on hold. Suddenly, fighting the Falaniko Vitales and Herbert Goodmans of the world on the safe shores of a smaller promotion seemed a lot better for casting an illusion of one's standing in the world of MMA.
In reality though, we should have seen this coming.
More on why and additional SBN coverage of UFC 149 after the jump.
Put in a spot to succeed, Lombard (31-3-1-1) was brought in to be a top player in the UFC's middleweight division. His debut was originally set to be the main event of August's return to Fox, a nod toward the expectations the promotion had for him. With a great look and a run of finishes, Lombard was a welcome addition in a division that needs more legit challengers for Silva.
As we found out Saturday, Lombard simply wasn't competing against the best in the world, wasn't being challenged and it caught up to him.
He fought journeymen like Trevor Prangley and Jesse Taylor and crushed fighters like Jay Silva and Goodman, none of who would come close to getting a UFC opportunity in the current era. The one tough fight Lombard had in recent years was against one of the best 185'ers Bellator has in Alexander Shlemenko. Even so, you don't see the Russian in any Top 10 middleweight rankings.
The jump to top level UFC competition is a bit more than most give it credit for, something easy to forget with the mass amount of events these days. While Boetsch isn't a household name among casual MMA fans, he's a damn tough fighter and someone that has competed in the UFC for years on bigger stages. He understood the buildup, the media commitments, fight week and fighting in front of 16,000 fans when the expectations are high. Lombard didn't and it cost him.
Perhaps Lombard comes back, starts destroying opponents again and this loss turns out to be the best thing for him. But he has provided a cautionary tale for future external champions that come into the UFC riding a train of hype, especially those in Bellator. Competition matters. Being on the big stage matters. How you come through in the moment matters.
Lombard will have another shot, but as the saying goes, you never get a second chance to make a first impression and that first impression was about as bad as it gets.