Johny Hendricks and Robbie Lawler may have been fighting for the vacant UFC welterweight title last weekend, but fellow main-card welterweights Jake Shields and Hector Lombard had much more on the line in their bout earlier in the night.

Hendricks and Lawler, while being at different points in their careers, had one major thing in common heading into UFC 171 last weekend: job security. Win or lose, both of those fighters knew that they would live to fight another day inside the Octagon. And as long as they performed admirably, another shot at a championship would be within reach for the loser. That security allowed those fighters to go out and throw leather, and to participate in the wild scrap that won the “Fight of the Night” award and kept Lawler right in the thick of the 170-pound title race even with a loss.

Shields and Lombard didn’t have that luxury. Although they weren’t exactly in a WWE-style “loser-leaves-the-company” match, both fighters entered the cage with their careers more or less on the line. With Shields checking in at age 35 and Lombard at 36, both men were looking to continue to string wins together in order to make one final run towards a UFC title. The winner would get sent straight “into the mix,” as UFC President Dana White likes to say, and the loser would either begin a free fall down the welterweight rankings or get cut from the promotion entirely.

As fate would have it, Lombard had little trouble shutting down the grappling game of Shields. The judo practitioner stuffed every takedown attempt the former Strikeforce champion threw at him en route to a one-sided decision victory. The loss was devastating for Shields’ chances of ever gaining solid footing in the UFC’s title scene again, and it may have effectively eliminated him from the upper echelon of welterweight fighters for good.

However, the dominant performance from Lombard didn’t exactly get the crowd out of their seats either. “Lightning” had some good moments on the feet and displayed a good portion of his high-level judo game that the UFC fans hadn’t had an opportunity to witness yet, but he significantly slowed down as the fight went on. UFC commentator Joe Rogan was very vocal in his assessment that Lombard wasn’t doing enough to impress the UFC brass into giving him the next shot at the welterweight title, and Rogan was probably right. Lombard didn’t do enough to get the casual fans excited about a potential showdown with Hendricks. It’s going to take a lot more than a grinding decision over one of the division’s best grinders to make that happen.

The problem for both Lombard and Shields is that their UFC careers have been viewed somewhere between uninteresting and disappointing pretty much from the jump.

Shields, who came into the UFC as a Strikeforce titleholder looking to slay both Anderson Silva and Georges St-Pierre, has never quite been able to regain the level of confidence from fans that he enjoyed during his first couple of fights in the Octagon. After barely squeaking past Martin Kampmann in his UFC debut, Shields was given an opportunity to fight GSP for the UFC’s welterweight title. Although he was the first fighter in years to win a round against St-Pierre, he came up short on the scorecards and suffered a unanimous decision loss. Since that time, even Shields’ victories have been seen as disappointments.

The Cesar Gracie fight team member has gone 3-2-1 inside the Octagon since his loss to GSP, but not one of his fights would be considered memorable. Outside of his TKO loss to Jake Ellenberger, which lasted less than a minute, Shields has gone to the scorecards in every single one of his other UFC bouts. He has a grand total of zero performance awards that the UFC gives out at the end of each card. He’s generally considered to be one of the most boring fighters in the sport, yet his resume is good enough that it demands he fight high-caliber competition on a big stage. Fellow grappling-first fighters Jon Fitch and Yushin Okami were cut by the UFC last year after mostly successful, yet mostly bland, careers near the top of their respective divisions, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see Shields suffer the same fate.

Following Shields’ lopsided loss to Lombard, expect the former Strikeforce champion to, at the very least, have a long, long road ahead of him before he steps into the cage with another top contender at 170 pounds. The funny thing is, the road hasn’t been much easier for Lombard, and his win over Shields didn’t do him a ton of favors.

When Lombard made his (heavily hyped) debut after tearing up Bellator and countless regional promotions, the UFC positioned him as a ruthless middleweight finisher who was on a collision course with the then-reigning champion, Anderson Silva. However, when Lombard actually stepped into the Octagon, he came out on the wrong end of an uninspiring split decision loss to Tim Boetsch and effectively killed any sort of momentum he had going with the UFC fans. An up-and-down, four-fight stretch in the Octagon has followed, but even with a pair of first-round knockouts now on his UFC resume and a two-fight winning streak in his new weight class, Lombard has never quite regained the mystique he had heading into his debut.

Even with his back-to-back wins at welterweight, it’s hard to call Lombard a top contender at 170 pounds, especially with a half dozen other fighters circling Hendricks and his welterweight strap. Tyron Woodley, Rory MacDonald, Matt Brown, Lawler and even the semi-retired Nick Diaz all have a convincing case as to why they should be selected as the next in line for a title fight ahead of Lombard. Without a convincing win or two over one of these top guys, it’s going to be all but impossible for “Lightning” to end up in the title fight he craves.

There was a lot of pressure for both fighters heading into their bout last weekend, and it’s pretty clear that Lombard and Shields failed to live up to expectations. With a title shot potentially hanging in the balance, Shields was outclassed in almost all aspects of the game. However, Lombard did it in such a cautious and nonchalant way that it’s hard to say he didn’t underperform as well.

Lombard has been quick to defend his performance as a dominant win over a high-level fighter, but he spent so much of the fight being virtually inactive that it’s hard to take that claim without some sort of asterisk next to it. Whether or not he earned the victory is irrelevant at this point, as “Lightning” did just enough to scrape by with a win and not nearly enough to walk out of Dallas with a No. 1 contender label next to his name.

Lombard and Shields have consistently underperformed since they began fighting under the UFC banner. After their fight last weekend provided more of the same, it’s not surprising that neither man was able to stake a legitimate claim for the welterweight belt. Now, with Lombard on the short list of contenders, he’s likely down to his last shot to make the UFC brass feel like he’s ready for a title fight. With his back not quite as firmly against the wall heading into his next Octagon appearance, he has a golden opportunity to make a statement in his next fight. If he ever wants to get a chance to get his hands on UFC gold, that statement cannot come in the form of another lackluster performance.

About The Author

Vince Carey
Staff Writer

Vince Carey has been writing about the sport of mixed martial arts since 2010. Although he is just 21 years old, the Omaha-based writer is looking to provide readers with interesting content on all things related to MMA.