Fight fans in Calgary on Saturday night were prepared to watch one of the most anticipated debuts in UFC history, as Hector Lombard took to the UFC’s world-famous octagon for the very first time.
The heavy-handed Cuban, a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and former Olympic judoka, entered the arena with a 31-2 record (with one no-contest, and one draw). He had finished 17 of his wins by knockout and seven by submission.
Riding a 20-fight win streak, and unbeaten in 25 fights, since November 2006, fans were ready for Hector “Lightning” Lombard to make his mark on the UFC in explosive fashion.
In reality, what transpired was little more than a damp squib.
Lombard’s aggressive fighting style, which had earned him fans all over the world, was nowhere to be seen, and he endured the jeers of the impatient Canadian fans for the best part of the 15-minute bout, before seeing Tim Boetsch’s hand raised as the winner of a split decision.
Lombard’s debut promised so much and delivered so little; having all the appeal of a bubble bath with Mila Kunis, but ending up about as absorbing as a night in with Morrissey.
His first appearance on the grandest stage in mixed martial arts was, unequivocally, a failure.
However, despite the doom and gloom, the fifteen minutes of disappointment and near-boredom fight fans were subjected to, and all the (completely justified) criticism of Lombard, it’s still too early to give up on his UFC career.
Those who portrayed him as a write-off following his loss were not only doing him an injustice, but they were also doing the same to Tim Boetsch.
“The Barbarian” is now 4-0 at middleweight in the UFC, including a win over former UFC title challenger, Yushin Okami. He may not be the most exciting name in the world of MMA, but his 16-4 record proves he is no slouch in the ring.
Furthermore, the step up to the UFC is huge; from fighting competition such as Trevor Prangley, Jesse Taylor, Alexander Shlemenko, and the running man, Kalib Starnes, he went straight into battle with a top five middleweight in the world’s biggest promotion.
In addition to the change in competition, his live audience has increased nearly four-fold from his last fight in Bellator at the Hard Rock Hotel in Florida, to fighting in front of a sold-out 16,000 arena in Calgary, Alberta.
You would hope that a top MMA fighter would not suffer stage fright, but given the expectations of those in attendance, it would not be outside the realms of possibility that Lombard was feeling the pressure of those expecting him to win, which could have resulted in his cautious approach, as he hoped to avoid a loss.
Forgetting all else, it is also conceivable that Lombard, quite simply, had an off-night; Boetsch was the better fighter on the night, and as a result, he won.
To give up on Lombard now, and call him a scrub or can-crusher, two names which have consistently appeared across the web to describe the Cuban fighter, is not fair. We have seen him fight once in the promotion; an informed opinion cannot be made on that.
It was clear that he struggled in the cage, for whatever reason, but he deserves another chance to try and show he can beat top opponents.
If Lombard comes out swinging in his next bout and wins, the Boetsch fight will be all but forgotten, and Lombard will, once again, be heralded as a future UFC champion.
Dana White has already said Lombard should consider a drop to welterweight, and fight at 170lbs to counter the height disadvantage he may experience at middleweight. If he chooses this route, it could also help his UFC career, especially considering he comfortably matched former light-heavyweight Boetsch, in this department.
Finally, fans should also not forget Lombard was willing to risk his reputation and legacy by entering the UFC. It would have been easy for him to continue circling less prestigious organisations, picking off lesser opponents.
He can only be commended for testing himself against the UFC’s athletes, and, regardless of the success of his run in the UFC, his achievements in Bellator and around the world, cannot be ignored.
It may end in tears, and a record stained by consecutive losses in his only few bouts in the UFC; Fedor would vouch for that following his ill-feted stint in Strikeforce. Sadly, that is often the way things go.
Nevertheless, Lombard is a UFC fighter. He endured an awful debut, but fans should reserve judgement on him until after his next UFC fight.
His 31 previous victories do not count for nothing, and while Lombard’s UFC journey may eventually be remembered as a failure, until fans see how he copes in his next fight, we should refrain from writing him off.