Riding the Lightning: If Lombard Beats Okami, He Should Face Anderson Silva

By Adam Martin

There isn’t a clear-cut #1 contender in the UFC middleweight
division right now.

Many would argue I’m wrong in saying that, and that the undefeated Chris Weidman is clearly the next man in line for the belt. But I
would counter that by saying that Weidman has been sitting out on the sidelines since last July; why rush the 28-year-old into a fight with UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva, the consensus No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter in the world?

Yes, I know middleweight isn’t exactly chock full of title
contenders right now. There was Michael Bisping waiting in the wings, but as soon
as Vitor Belfort kicked his head off at UFC on FX 7, that idea went right out
the window. Then there’s Belfort himself, but he would rather move back up to
light heavyweight and fight Jon Jones in a rematch for the UFC Light
Heavyweight Title. And former Strikeforce Middleweight Champion Luke Rockhold?
He fights Belfort at UFC on FX 8 this May, but keep in mind that it’s his first
UFC fight, and there’s no telling if he can handle the pressures of the big
show yet.

Cue Hector Lombard.

The former Bellator World Middleweight Champion takes on
perennial contender Yushin Okami in a featured main card bout at this weekend’s
UFC on FUEL TV 8 event. It will be Lombard’s third fight in the Octagon since
coming over from Bellator, and thus far he’s gone 1-1 with a knockout victory
over Rousimar Palhares and a split decision loss to Tim Boetsch.

Sure, those don’t look like the stats of someone who deserves a
title shot, but hear me out.

First off, the decision loss to Boetsch can only be described
as dubious, considering the majority of fans and media scored it for Lombard.
It was a close fight, but Lombard pressed the action the entire time and should
have gotten the nod. I admit, though: it was a boring fight and it wasn’t the
best way to start your UFC tenure off if you’re getting paid a six-figure
signing bonus and another six-figures to fight, and it’s still a black mark on
his record.

But remember, before the loss to Boetsch, Lombard had reeled
off a 25-fight undefeated streak, and had there been a different set of judges
at UFC 149, it could have very well continued.

And consider that he redeemed himself with the impressive
knockout of Palhares, who was caught using a PED and suspended for nine months
after the fight. If he can go out and finish Okami this Saturday night in
Japan, especially considering Okami has only been finished in the UFC by Silva
and Boetsch (in a fight he was dominating before he was caught), one would have
to imagine a win over Okami would shoot Lombard up the middleweight pecking order.

In the grand scheme of things, Okami is akin to what Jon Fitch
used to be for the UFC welterweight division: The ultimate gatekeeper to the
title. With Okami, we saw the UFC throw guys like Boetsch and Alan Belcher at
him to see where they stacked up in the middleweight division. With Fitch, the
UFC threw Johny Hendricks, Erick Silva, and Demian Maia at him to see where
they stacked up at welterweight. Hendricks and Maia passed the test, and that’s
why they’re in the top five of the division right now, and well on their way to
title shots.

So I propose that if Lombard beats Okami this weekend, he
should get the next title shot at middleweight.

I really like Weidman a lot, but I feel as though, with a
year-long layoff, he needs to get some cage time in before taking on Silva, who
is at another level. With Lombard, he will have fought three times since
Silva’s last title defence, and if the judges had seen his fight with Boetsch
differently (and if he topples Okami this weekend), he’d be in possession of an
absurd 28-fight win streak, the mark of a top contender.

Also keep in mind that the UFC is paying Lombard a crazy amount
of money. They signed him to be in main events, not on FUEL TV and FX
undercards. And to get there, he needs to knock out Okami this weekend, and
make the statement he is the top contender at 185 pounds.

It would be an interesting fight: a short, stocky, and
explosive middleweight against the tall and lanky “Spider.” And I
think it would be a pretty big PPV fight, too, with Lombard being marketable
due to his hulk-like physique, so Silva wouldn’t have anything to complain
about as far as dollar signs go.

I still find it strange the UFC hasn’t announced Silva vs.
Weidman as official yet. You have to imagine, then, that they are looking at
alternatives, and Lombard has to be one of them.

One hard punch on Okami’s chin this weekend and Lombard can
punch his ticket to a potential fight with Silva. Now, let’s see if he can
handle the pressure.

UFC on FUEL TV 8: Silva vs. Stann is due to take place on March 3, 2013 at the Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan. Due to time differences, it will air on March 2, 2013 in the United States.

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