Within the context of divisional relevance, the most important fight on last night's UFC on Fuel 8 card in Japan was between middleweights Hector Lombard and Yushin Okami. It was a huge fight for Lombard, who could easily re-insert his name into the title picture with a win over Okami. For Okami, it was a chance to earn another victory over a top 10 middleweight and maintain his high-level status at 185 lbs.
Lombard came in as the favorite, but Okami was able to effectively work his jab, take Lombard down multiple times, and survive the desperation onslaught in the 3rd round by Hector for the victory. While one judge inexplicably scored the fight for Lombard, you might as well count this in the same bucket as Cecil Peoples' ridiculous "Mark Munoz over Okami" scoreline in August 2010.
The split decision win gave Okami yet another triumph over a top 10 opponent, while Lombard dropped to a disappointing 1-2 in the UFC. So what does the future hold for these two?
Hector Lombard - Either cut to 170 or get cut
It's pretty obvious that Lombard would not pose a threat to Anderson Silva. The talent disparity between the opposition Lombard faced in Bellator and Tim Boetsch and Yushin Okami is massive. He did not look impressive against Boetsch no matter what you think of the decision, and Okami had his way with him in the first two rounds before he turned on the heat in round 3. At just 5'8" he's an undersized middleweight and it was really best illustrated last night. There's essentially no point in pushing him as a middleweight contender anymore, and the division is fairly thin on striker-friendly matchups. He's definitely a talented fighter, but it's best for him to drop to 170.
Of course, if he doesn't want to drop to 170, something he's dismissed in the past, then the UFC would be perfectly justified in cutting him. And this was a realistic possibility even before Jon Fitch's release. He was paid $300,000 to show against Tim Boetsch, and that's about as "really f'ing expensive" as you can get. Lombard is 35, has been far from exciting in 2 of his 3 fights, and is not going to factor in the UFC's top 5 at middleweight any time soon. It is clear-cut that Lombard was paid to contend, and he can't do that. The return-on-investment here is low, and giving him the pink slip isn't that crazy.
Yushin Okami - A steady dose of top 10 talent, but no title shot
Okami is in a rough spot as far as getting another title shot. He just received his shot at Anderson Silva less than two years ago and was completely destroyed. There's no reason to believe a 3rd fight between these two wouldn't end in another Silva victory. The only way Okami fights for the title again is if Silva is no longer the champion ... added bonus if he relinquished his belt through retirement.
It's undeniable that Okami is one of the best middleweights in the world, but how much longer can he keep winning without at least being in the title conversation again? I think he'll be given other top 10 or fringe top 10 middleweights whether he wins or loses. That includes the likes of Michael Bisping, Ronaldo Souza, Vitor Belfort, and Luke Rockhold. Okami as at a point in his career where he's a big test for anyone looking for a title shot at middleweight, but he himself cannot earn another title fight unless something dramatically changes at the very top of the division.