At least a few times a year it appears the UFC brings in somebody who has the capability of being just a win or two away from earning a title shot in their respective division. Last year was no exception as one of those hyped fighters was middleweight Hector Lombard. Unfortunately, Lombard’s debut was a disappointing split decision loss to Tim Boetsch at UFC 149 in July of last year.

As soon as Boetsch’s hand was raised, the air was completely let out of the hype balloon of Lombard. Instead of coming in and using his chiseled cartoon-like body to dominate Boetsch, he looked flat and timid in the loss.

Five months later at UFC on FX: Sotiropoulos vs. Pearson, Lombard gave fans exactly what they were looking for in his debut–a first-round knockout over Rousimar Palhares. Palhares had been fighting in the UFC since 2008, but didn’t really have any signature wins; the closest one being a victory over Jeremy Horn at UFC 93. Palhares subsequently failed a post-fight drug test.

The win was crucial to the longevity of Lombard’s career within the Octagon. Another loss would have further diminished the reputation and star power that he brought with him to the UFC. Fans now see what a physical specimen and good technical fighter he can be. Lombard’s knockout power will always be his bread and butter, but he will also need to compliment that with his judo and BJJ experience as he works his way up the middleweight ladder.

Lombard turned 35 in early February, so he can’t afford to have many more losses if he wants to be considered a true contender for the title. The next man standing in his way is UFC veteran Yushin Okami. Okami has been with the UFC for almost seven years, since UFC 62 when he made a victorious debut against Alan Belcher. Interestingly enough, Okami’s last opponent was also Belcher, whom he beat once again via unanimous decision.

Okami’s popularity buzz took a bit of a hit with UFC fans when Boetsch had an impressive comeback win and TKO’d Okami at UFC 144 in Japan. One has to realize, however, that Okami’s only other losses inside the Octagon have come against Rich Franklin, Chael Sonnen, Anderson Silva and the aforementioned Boetsch. Overall, he has put together a very respectable UFC record of 12-4.

The implications of this fight are huge. Both appear to be on the cusp of advancing their careers in a huge way, but a loss by either one will send them tumbling down the ranks once again. Lombard’s only chance of seeing his stock rise at his age is to beat Okami in convincing fashion. It would be the most impressive win to date for Lombard, who doesn’t have much star power on his resumé of 32 fighters he has beaten.

This will be the fight that launches Lombard’s title run. Now that Lombard has had a taste of a UFC win, he will build upon his last performance and use his strength to overcome a size disadvantage and subdue Okami in an impressive way. Although Okami is six inches taller than Lombard, their reach is just about even. Lombard likes to finish fights, whereas Okami historically has a high rate of his wins come by grinding out a decision. That’s exactly what Okami will try to do to Lombard this weekend–smother Lombard and use counter opportunities to go for takedowns. If it goes Okami’s way, the fight will not be one of the more exciting fights of the evening.

All the video and stats point toward Lombard coming out with the win. It’s not going to be a three-round ground battle, but rather Lombard showcasing his power and catching Okami when he shoots in for a takedown attempt early on in the fight.

It could be argued that this fight should be the main event due to the implications it has on the middleweight title picture. A key reason why it is not headlining is because the three fights above this one on the card have a great shot of being explosive fights, although the outcomes of all those fights (Gomi vs. Sanchez, Hunt vs. Struve, Silva vs. Stann) do not have as much immediate importance within those respective divisions as Lombard vs. Okami.

A win by Lombard should catapult him into the top five of the division. He is currently ranked No. 8 by the official UFC rankings. Another win beyond that and he would most likely become the No. 1 contender.

For Hector Lombard, it’s now or never.

Photo: Hector Lombard (James Law/Heavy MMA)

About The Author

Joe Chacon
Staff Writer

Joe Chacon is a Southern California writer that has also spent time as a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report, as well as a Staff Writer for Operation Sports. Joe has a passion for the sport of MMA, as well as most other sports.