There are a lot of interesting fights this weekend, which features two cards as two seasons of “The Ultimate Fighter” have wrapped up. Both versions are headlined by a fighter who won the show (Roy Nelson, Ross Pearson) and another who did significantly better in the UFC after their time in the house was over(Matt Mitrione, George Sotiropoulos) . Both versions feature solid fights but not a lot of star power, as befits a TUF Finale headlined by its coaches. But it might have the most intriguing fight of the past six months as Rousimar Palhares and Hector Lombard square off down under in Lombard’s adopted home of Australia on the UFC on FX card on Friday night. Why? Because it’s a proverbial do or die moment in Hector Lombard’s career as an “elite” level fighter, for sure.
Lombard came into the UFC with a ton of hype as the reigning Bellator middleweight champion. A former Olympic judoka, Lombard came into the UFC with a near 20 fight win streak and with the exception of a draw to Kyle Noke in 2007 hadn’t tasted defeat since losing to Gegard Mousasi in Pride in 2006. That’s a long time to be undefeated, especially when he’s finishing guys regularly enough to make that streak matter, and he came into the UFC with a big contract and high hopes. Much was made about signing bonuses and the like but the thing is that the UFC didn’t trumpet his arrival as an elite level fighter finally arriving into the Octagon because they do this with every fighter they sign. They did it with an expectation he’d live up to the trumpets being blared in his honor.
And after a lackluster defeat to Tim Boetsch, in a candidate for worst fight of the year nonetheless, Hector Lombard’s status as an elite fighter is on the line this weekend. There’s no other way to think of a fight against Rousimar Palhares as anything but a proof of how good Lombard really is.
Palhares isn’t a low level fighter, not by any stretch of the means, but he’s in the same class as someone like Tim Boetsch was before he fought Lombard. He’s a fighter on the cusp of being elite. The only difference between Boetsch and Palhares is that the Brazilian leg-lock master hasn’t quite made that leap to elite just yet, faltering at the next big step up by winning out against anyone who isn’t a Top five caliber fighter in the division. At this point his career arc is starting to finalize in being a middleweight version of Cheick Kongo; always exciting, a good gauge for a prospect but doesn’t have that final gear to become elite.
If Lombard doesn’t win here, or wins in another listless performance, the catcalls from his split decision loss to Boetsch are going to get louder and louder that his status (and by proxy paycheck) are for a guy who was significantly overrated to begin with. If he were Napoleon Bonaparte this would be his Waterloo and if history repeats itself, like it so often does, this won’t end well for the Cuban defector.