Hector Lombard will have a chance to take one step closer to his first UFC title shot in March, when he will meet fellow middleweight contender Yushin Okami at UFC on Fuel TV 8 (via MMAJunkie.com).
Though the winner of this fight will probably still need an additional victory to earn a spot in a championship bout, this matchup will provide a huge opportunity for both competitors to separate themselves from the pack of contenders in the 185-pound division.
Following an upset loss to Tim Boetsch, Okami has bounced back into title contention with a win over Alan Belcher. Likewise, Lombard rebounded from a disappointing loss to Boetsch with a dominant victory against Rousimar Palhares.
As he did against Belcher, Okami has almost always leaned on his grappling for success against elite competition. Facing an even more decorated judo black belt in Lombard, Okami is going to find difficulty in gaining the top position at UFC on Fuel TV 8.
Boetsch was the only fighter to beat Lombard in the past six years, and he heavily utilized leg kicks to gain an edge on the scorecards. Since leg kicks are not a weapon that Okami frequently uses, the Japanese middleweight could be in serious trouble if he doesn't find a way to take Lombard to the ground early on.
A ready Lombard will come straight at his opponent with heavy punches, much like Boetsch did with success in the third round of his fight with Okami at UFC 144.
Lombard's low center of gravity and years of experience in defending takedowns make him hard to drag to the canvas even when one of his flurries are timed perfectly. It's that kind of takedown defense that makes the former Bellator champion a stylistic nightmare for Okami.
After shrugging off a few of Okami's desperate attempts to take the fight to the ground, Lombard will begin throwing bombs. Once one connects, which I predict will happen late in the first round, there aren't many middleweights in the world who can stay standing.
With a knockout victory over Okami, Lombard will be on his way to competing for a UFC title, as many believed he would from the day he signed with the world's premier MMA organization.