During his three-year run as the Bellator Middleweight Champion, fans had to hear a constant barrage of commentary from Jimmy Smith and Sean Wheelock, who made claims that Hector Lombard was one of the top middleweights in the world.
They'd praise his five-year undefeated run and his penchant for stopping fights in the most violent manner. They'd argue that his 25-straight fights without a loss somehow made him the Bellator equivalent of Anderson Silva.
And the sad thing is that Zuffa bought into the hype.
A couple months ago, Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney released some details of the UFC's contract offer to Lombard. He claimed that Lombard received a $400k signing bonus, a starting purse of $300k and PPV points—which would have been fiscally irresponsible to match.
Lombard made his UFC debut at UFC 149 against Tim Boetsch, replacing Michael Bisping, who was forced to withdraw due to injury. Boetsch was able to land more than double the significant strikes and earned a split decision victory over the Cuban judoka.
The stats don't tell the entire story.
Lombard failed to throw any combinations. At no point did he double up a jab or try and make Boetsch guess what strike came next. Heck, I can't remember him throwing a single straight punch through 15 minutes.
Instead, he threw looping hook after looping hook, connecting on only 34% of significant strikes thrown. In fact, the only positive statistic for Lombard was he prevented all nine of Boetsch's takedown attempts.
This past weekend at The Ultimate Fighter: The Smashes Finale aka UFC on FX 6, Lombard faced an over-matched Rousimar "Toquinho" Palhares. It was clear that Palhares' sole path to victory was scoring a takedown and finishing with a leg lock.
Lombard proved his worth with a first-round knockout that put Palhares to sleep. It was the stoppage that fans expected in his UFC debut.
After the bout, Lombard called out Michael Bisping in a post-fight interview with Jon Anik. This got me thinking. Can Hector Lombard actually compete at the top of the UFC's middleweight division? Like, for real?
While fans love to discuss the apparent lack of depth at 185, I'd argue that it's deeper than it's ever been. Gone are the days where Patrick Côté and Thales Leites "earned" title shots with wins over Drew McFedries.
And the top of the division is a shark tank of talent with several fighters all justified in demanding a shot at the belt.
Let's take a quick look at the top 10 fighters in the UFC's middleweight division and how Lombard would fare against them. Out of fairness to Lombard, I won't include Strikeforce fighters such as Luke Rockhold and Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza.
Anderson Silva: LOL. C'mon, stop. The only thing these two have in common is an extended winning streak. The difference is that Silva's came against top competition and Lombard's came against Alexander Shlemenko and Joe Doerksen.
Chael Sonnen: Chael is by far one of the best wrestlers in the UFC. Ever. He's been able to outwrestle everyone he's faced in the UFC and is relentless on the ground. His one kryptonite is his submission defense and even then, Lombard isn't throwing up triangles off his back.
Chris Weidman: The heir apparent to the UFC's middleweight strap. He's made significant improvements in his striking and was able to take Mark Munoz down when they fought this past summer. There's no doubts that Weidman could put Lombard on his back and keep him there.
Tim Boetsch: We saw how this played out. It'd likely be the same result again. Lombard didn't show much in the fight besides takedown defense.
Yushin Okami: There was a time when the consensus considered Yushin Okami the No. 2 middleweight in the world. He's strong in the clinch and has worked on improving his striking to the point where he's got solid boxing. There's little question he'd be able to own the body lock with Lombard.
Michael Bisping: The man that Lombard wants next. The man who is one of the most under appreciated fighters in the UFC. Love him or hate him, Michael Bisping is one of the top guys. He has the footwork and combinations to give Lombard fits. He'll win by outworking the Cuban.
Vitor Belfort: Belfort is currently scheduled to face Michael Bisping. He has some of the fastest hands in the division and like a good bourbon, he's gotten better with age. Sure, Lombard could clip him, but it's more likely that Belfort beats him up from range with straight punches.
Mark Munoz: The Mark Munoz hype train got derailed after he suffered an epic KO loss at the hands of Chris Weidman. But he's still one of the best middleweights in the division. Of everyone in the top 10, I think that Lombard has the best shot at beating Munoz—but not by much. It'll come down to his ability to land the big punch.
Alan Belcher: Belcher is an interesting case in the UFC's middleweight division. It seems like fans are just waiting for him to finally fulfill his destiny of being the champion. He has the striking, wrestling and grappling to wear the gold. He also possesses a crazy chin and won't get caught with a looping hook from Lombard. This is one of those un-winnable fights in the UFC for Hector Lombard.
Brian Stann: Another winnable fight for Hector Lombard, but not because he has the power to put Stann to sleep. Lombard's clear advantage is in the clinch, where his judo will overwhelm Stann. The issue for Lombard will be dealing with Stann's power and footwork, as well as his reach. It's winnable, but not a gimme.
And just to be kind of a jerk, I'll include someone outside of the top 10.
Can Hector Lombard actually hold UFC gold?
Constantinos Philippou: While driving, I was thinking about fighters outside of the UFC's Top 10 that would present a challenge for Lombard. It's my belief that Philippou has the skill set to be an absolute nightmare for a brawler like Lombard. He has solid grappling from training with Matt Serra and Chris Weidman, as well as the striking to stay on the outside. He very well could overwhelm the former Bellator champion to a decision victory.
After taking a look at the Top 10 middleweights in the UFC, there are only two fights that are winnable for Lombard. Fights with Weidman and Bisping sound great on paper, but there's just too great a distance in skills.
Even fights with Stann and Munoz, two fighters on the bottom of the Top 10, aren't guaranteed wins. And a fight with Constantinos Philippou? To be honest, I'd lay money on Philippou—if the line was right and I would do so with confidence.
Hector Lombard is a solid fighter, but his 25-fight unbeaten streak was done so against regional level talent. No offense to those in Bellator, but there's a big difference in competition.
Being the biggest fish in a small pond is nice, but right now he's a minnow swimming around aimlessly in an ocean of killers.
The reality is that he's a blown up welterweight fighting way outside of his natural weight class. He has a better chance of hanging with Rory MacDonald than he does with Michael Bisping. Basically what I'm trying to say is, let's not fool ourselves. Hector Lombard has reached his ceiling as a UFC middleweight.