NEW YORK -- After a month of working with Hector Lombard, MMA strength, conditioning and dieting guru Mike Dolce is confident that the Cuban-born middleweight can forge a new home in the welterweight division if he so chooses. For now, Lombard is undecided, hoping to gauge his strength and energy levels before committing to a change.
Dolce told MMA Fighting on Wednesday that Lombard and his manager Dan Lambert originally contacted him not with the goal of shifting divisions, but to overhaul his diet, help structure his training and reach an improved state of fitness. From there, they believe, a proper judgment on his future could be made.
According to Dolce, Lombard was 202 pounds when they started working together about a month ago. By comparison, welterweight No. 1 contender Johny Hendricks, who is also a client of his, walks around at 210 pounds in between fights. Dolce said that for his last fight at UFC 158, Hendricks weighed in at 196 pounds on the Tuesday before weigh-ins, just 72 hours before he checked in at 171.
After a month on his diet, he believes Lombard (32-4-1, 1 no contest) is already so close to that range that he could have Lombard on target to make weight within 48 hours.
"Honestly, nobody has said  is the target, but it's an option," he said. "We want to see how his body responds. He's a little reluctant to say, 'Yes, I want to do that,' because he's nervous. He is a big guy, he's had some bad weight cuts to make 185, but he was doing it the wrong way. We do it healthy, so I think it's going to be easy."
Lombard, who is 35 years old, has competed most of his career as a middleweight, though he's also fought several times as a light-heavyweight and has gotten as low as 183 for his two fights in the PRIDE Bushido series back in 2006.
At just 5-foot-9 with a 71-inch reach, he often gives up significant size and reach to his divisional opponents. For example, since moving to the UFC, he's lost matchups with Tim Boetsch, who is 6-feet tall with a 74-inch reach, and Yushin Okami, who is 6-foot-2 with a 72-inch reach. Other top 185ers like champ Anderson Silva (6-foot-2, 77.5-inch reach) and Chris Weidman (6-foot-2, 78-inch reach) have the same advantage. By comparison, top welterweights like champion Georges St-Pierre, (5-foot-11, 76-inch reach), Hendricks (5-foot-9, 69-inch reach) and Jake Ellenberger (5-10, 73-inch reach) are much closer in size.
Lombard is just 1-2 in the octagon since signing a lucrative free-agent deal, and his thickly muscled frame has led many to the conclusion that he could not make the drop to welterweight, but Dolce says that build is actually conducive to the change.
"Muscle is easy," he said. "It's easy to cut weight when you have muscle, because you can wring that water out of that. The guys who have extra body fat, there's no water that comes out of that. That's hard to work off."
Despite Dolce's confidence that Lombard can make the drop, a final decision remains in the future. Personally, he says, he feels that Lombard will end up at 170, but he won't push or make a case for it. The final call belongs to Lombard and his management team. That is an approach borne of experience. Dolce himself was once a fighter, and he knows that the athlete must have full conviction in his decision for it to work.
"He's already close enough [to make it], but I learned a while ago, my role is to listen to the athlete and help them do what they want," he said. "I'm not going to tell the athlete where to go. I never tell an athlete they should cut down because I know how hard it is. It takes a physical toll. But he can do it if he wants. He's been on my diet for a month. He's already within striking distance."