The void of Bellator’s middleweight division will finally be settled come Feb. 7,but the division still is trying to fill the massive shoes that Hector Lombard has left behind.

Much like the light heavyweight and heavyweight divisions of Bellator, the middleweight division has a bunch of fringe top-15 fighters, but no one that could be considered a stable top-10 fighter, like the promotion had with Lombard.

Alexander Shlemenko and Maiquel Falcao are battling it out for the vacant middleweight title on Thursday, but neither fighter can be what Lombard was when he was the dominant Bellator middleweight champion.

Sure, Shlemenko is the fighter that could have beaten Lombard and ended his hype train—or at least derailed it—before Lombard left for the UFC and had the wind taken out of his sails by Tim Boetsch. Shlemenko has the skill to certainly be a top-15 fighter, but in a division that is thin of top talent outside of the UFC, it is a stretch.

Both Falcao and Shlemenko lack wins over top fighters, which makes it hard to consider either fighter as top-10 material.

Falcao is an impressive 31-4, but his lone UFC appearance ended in the rare scenario of a victory immediately followed by a pink slip (granted, legal troubles played a role in his dismissal). He has put together a number of lengthy winning streaks, but his most significant victories came against Gerald Harris (in the fight that earned him the UFC release) and Andreas Spang.

Meanwhile, Shlemenko has made a habit of marching through Bellator brackets.  The Russian has even more wins than Falcao and holds a 46-7 professional mark. However, outside of his Bellator fights, Shlemenko has toiled around in a number of obscure promotions and has never seen the bright lights of the UFC, Pride, Strikeforce or even WEC.  The middleweight’s most significant wins came against Brian Rogers, Brett Cooper and Bryan Baker.

They’re good fighters and that can’t be denied, but to placing them alongside current Bellator champions Ben Askren and Michael Chandler in terms of status is a tough and impossible argument to make.

They’re following one of the most, if not the most, dominant champions Bellator has ever seen. Lombard decimated everybody outside of Shlemenko and left nothing in the cage, and this led fans to believe in the hype of the unbeatable beast that was Lombard.

Shlemenko has been dying to get the middleweight crown. Although the victory might not be as savory now that Lombard is a UFC fighter, it still will be a great win for Shlemenko. If Shlemenko wants the crown bad enough, he will take it, as this is his time to shine.

The same could go for Falcao, who was cut by the UFC after UFC 123. The promotion had every right to cut Falcao due to his prior legal troubles, but he can prove just how good he is if he does the unthinkable and fill the huge shoes that Lombard has left behind. That would be the ultimate way to prove the UFC wrong. Although it is a tough hill to climb, if anyone can do it, it is Falcao.

Photo: Maiquel Falcao (L) (Keith Mills/Sherdog)

About The Author

Sal DeRose
Staff Writer

Sal hails from New Jersey and is currently training for his first MMA fight. He hopes to use his knowledge and insight to generate articles that interest and entertain you. Outside of MMA, Sal is a big fan of every other sport. He's a diehard New York sports fan, with the exception of cheering for the Packers.