The central issue of the weekend’s UFC event was not the interim bantamweight title fight between Renan Barao and Urijah Faber. Instead all eyes were on Hector Lombard, who had vacated the Bellator FC middleweight title to move to the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
Behind-the-scenes talk was that if Lombard was able to win big against Tim Boetsch, he would be going into a title shot against Anderson Silva next. There are a few fighters on the edges of contention at present but nobody who is categorically number one challenger and so Lombard had a huge opportunity to do bot himself and the UFC a huge favour.
He blew it.
Fans were expecting a super-aggressive whirlwind. Instead they got a tactical approach which had Lombard literally standing still for protracted periods of time. He did not ‘go after it’ in the way that fans, and UFC president Dana White, had hoped. And even though he landed more good punches than Boetsch, he ended up losing a split-decision.
Prior to the fight, Boetsch told reporters that talk of Lombard being a contender with a win “made me very excited because I would hope that they would then honor the fact then when I take him out in exciting fashion, I’m the next guy in line.”
Well, the split-decision wasn’t anything close to “exciting fashion” and Boetsch himself admits that he I “did just barely enough to get the W” from the judges.
“I’m certainly glad to give him his first loss [in the UFC] even though it wasn’t the manner I had hoped to fight in. It was a little too close for comfort, a split-decision. I certainly hate hearing the opponent’s name called during the decision,” Boetsch said of the fight.
“I think I landed quite a few strikes, my foot is testament to that, its throbbing right now. Super-tough dude, he is going to give a lot of people fits at middleweight. There has been a lot of talk about whether he is going to be successful here [in the UFC] and the answer is yes - he is going to beat up a lot of guys.
He is super heavy-handed, he clipped me with one of his left hooks and I definitely didn’t want to let him do that again. Definitely a power-striker and part of the gameplan was to eliminate that by keeping him at range with kicks. I was able to do that most of the fight though I wasn’t able to get the takedowns going like I planned.”
So Boetsch was a mixture of buoyant and despondent after the fight, happy with the win but knowing that if he had done more he could have perhaps been announced as the next middleweight challenger at the post-fight conference.
Instead he got mixed messages from UFC president Dana White.
“The fight was horrible, but if you look at a guy like Boetsch, Boetsch is this underdog. He came out of nowhere and beats Yushin Okami. ... He beats [Lombard who was] on a 20-fight win streak, and he beat one of the best 185-pounders in the world now for a long time,” said White.
“After beating Okami and Lombard now, this guy has put himself in a very, very good position.”
However, that position is by no means pole and White lavished praise on Chris Weidman for his gutsy performances against Demian Maia and latterly Mark Munoz. Those are the type of performances that fast-track a fighter to a title shot, as does something like Belcher’s comprehensive handling of Rousimar Palhares, and so there is some jostling for position at the top of middleweight.
Boetsch candidly admits he is not number one in the contenders list. “I'm ready for whoever. I train hard enough, and if I keep beating enough people, I'll get that title shot, and I'll prove what I need to do. I know I can do it. As soon as this foot heals up and I can get back to training, I'm going to grind it out. I'm going to do whatever it takes to get there.”
As for Lombard, has a hype ever been so comprehensively and quickly deflated as his in recent memory? From contender-anointed to mid-tier in just over fifteen minutes. Even taking into account the ‘Octagon jitters’ that so often accompany a UFC debut, plus the big pressure to get the win, there was much to be desired on his part.
Mark Munoz accused Lombard of fighting “cans” prior to joining the UFC. That does not hold up to scrutiny - his record includes wins over Brian Ebersole and Alexander Shlmenko - but it does set the stage for Lombard to fight Munoz now. They are both coming off losses and both badly need a win to be considered in any way relevant to the top end of 185lbs.