Plenty is being made of the welterweight potpourri hitting Dallas this weekend at UFC 171. If anyone's ever heard of you and you can weigh 170 pounds while an athletic commissioner assesses you in your skivvies, it seems like you managed to find yourself a dance partner this Saturday.
Johny Hendricks and Robbie Lawler will do battle for the vacant welterweight title.
Carlos Condit and Tyron Woodley will slug it out moments before them, each with an eye on being the first to test the newly crowned champion down the line.
Jake Shields will try to remind people that he's actually pretty good when he fights Hector Lombard.
That's half of the top 12 guys at welterweight all in action, including the top three. And it's Lombard who's the man to watch, because it's Lombard who has the most to gain.
The shock of that statement is palpable, the stunned silence broken only by the droves of expert analysts clacking at their keyboards to explain why it's the dumbest thing they've ever heard.
Except it's true.
The thing about this welterweight Wild West is that everyone else has already arrived. Lombard is a snake in the grass, one explosive right hand away from bursting back to the front of MMA's collective consciousness.
Hendricks and Lawler are both there already. They're in the title fight. Sure they can become champion with a win, but it's less of a jump for them than for others in the division simply on circumstance.
Condit hasn't been more than a fight or two away from a title shot for nearly four years. He's exciting and entertaining, and people love him for his propensity to spill plasma so they get their money's worth. Another crack at gold is almost expected for him, so what he gains in victory is relatively little.
Woodley might be the closest to Lombard for potential gains, but he's also apparently been told that he could be next for a title shot if he beats Condit, according to MMA Fight Corner (h/t Fansided.com). That makes him less of an out-of-nowhere proposition, and he also went from getting badly KO'd by Nate Marquardt to being in the UFC title picture in under two years.
That's a win in itself no matter how the Condit bout ends up, really.
Shields should be getting right with the idea that he's the new Jon Fitch. He just goes out there and wins fights, but he's not doing it via head kick, so he's going to be overlooked. Hell, a guy he beat in Woodley is higher on the card and getting all sorts of hype because his two UFC wins happened violently. Shields has plenty to gain, but he'll never get it because the promotion simply doesn't think he's worth it.
That leaves Hector Lombard.
Mean, nasty Hector Lombard, whom many thought was among the best middleweights in the world as recently as 2012.
Hector Lombard, who's 2-2 in the UFC but who looked absolutely terrifying in his welterweight debut, effortlessly demolishing Nate Marquardt in 108 seconds.
You don't think the UFC wants that guy on a marquee? The guy who was a proven killer for years and who has had impressive spurts in the Octagon already? The guy it's paying buckets of money because it had to buy him out from under Bellator?
Of course it does, and if he beats Shields explosively, you can bet he'll rocket up the rankings and be on the fast track to title talk.
Sometimes what a man has to gain is as much about his own circumstances as it is about the circumstances of those around him. Going into UFC 171, everyone is ahead of Lombard in some way, shape or form. The other fighters are either ranked higher, closer to the title, in a bigger fight or fighting with higher stakes—perhaps even a combination of those things.
He's lurking on the periphery, though, waiting to jump the queue by showing up the right way at the right time. Others are looking to do the same on Saturday night, but it's Hector Lombard who'll gain the most if he does.