Is 34-year-old Cuban striker Hector Lombard a legit challenger to Anderson Silva's UFC middleweight throne or just another second-tier fighter who fueled the hype machine by beating up on B-caliber talent?
That's the burning question fight fans are asking in the lead-up to UFC 149, where Lombard will test his skills against No. 9-ranked Tim Boetsch, the first top ten middleweight he's even been matched up against.
Lombard may or may not be the real deal, but his resume is filled so far with victories over fighters who mainly compete on the independent circuit and former UFC competitors who haven't seen the bright lights of the big show in years.
Lombard holds wins over the Kalib Starnes' and Falaniko Vitales of the world. Yes, that Kalib Starnes who was last seen in the octagon doing his best "Running Man" impression in a 2008 UFC tilt against Nate Quarry.
And yes, that Falaniko Vitale, who was cut from the UFC close to a decade ago after Matt Lindland submitted him with a flurry of strikes.
A True Top Ten Contender?
A win is a win, but in MMA, losing to a top-level opponent is sometimes better than beating a bottom-feeder. Lombard reminds me of an aging pitcher who competed for an entire career at the Triple-A level and is finally ready for a shot at the big leagues.
Lombard did beat a very skillful James Te-Huna in 2007, and submitted a very game opponent in Brian Ebersole in 2008. Those are perhaps the top victories in his career, but even those fighters rank somewhere closer to No. 20 in their respective divisions than the top ten.
Since Lombard is close in age to Silva, and his 20 consecutive victories and 31 wins in 34 fights can be used as an appealing marketing tool, the UFC may try to say that he's a true threat to the champ's throne with a win over Boetsch.
In my view, a win over Boetsch would certainly propel him into the top ten, but he'll still need at least one more fight in the UFC octagon to build up his name and cement his status as an elite fighter.
Getting past Boetsch would perhaps set up a tilt between Lombard and Rich Franklin or Chris Weidman rather than an immediate shot at Silva.
"This is a different pond, with much bigger fish," Boetsch said in a Yahoo! report. " … There's a much deeper talent pool. The talent level is higher across the board. You don't get easy fights in the UFC."
Is Hector Lombard the real deal? Let me know in the comments.
Eric Holden is a lifelong UFC fan and supporter of the sport of mixed martial arts. Follow him on Twitter @ericholden.
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