Esther Lin, MMA Fighting
It's too early to call Hector Lombard a bust, but in his UFC debut, he was certainly a disappointment. The hyper-aggressive fighter who boasted 13 first-round knockouts during his 25-fight unbeaten streak was nowhere to be found, instead electing to fight a passive style of counter striking against Tim Boetsch, and never scrapping the plan even when it became clear it wasn't working.
It could have simply been a case of the octagon jitters. Lombard had been anticipating this day for years -- dating back to his first rumored arrival in 2007 -- and when it finally arrived, he was in a co-main event. And before he knew it, people were booing him.
That had to be a disconcerting development. Suddenly, his new home was not so inviting. Instead, it had turned adversarial. All throughout fight week, everything had been perfect for him. He'd been treated royally by the UFC, many media members and MMA observers were placing him smack into the middleweight title picture, and he was a solid favorite to beat Boetsch.
Now, all of that is gone. Lombard is tainted goods in the eyes of many, particularly to those who previously thought he was only the product of beneficial matchmaking outside the UFC.
But the good thing is this for Lombard: MMA fans tend to have short memories.
For proof, think about Carlos Condit, who like Lombard, came into the UFC as a reigning champion for another promotion. In Lombard's case, it was Bellator, and in Condit's case, it was WEC.
At the time, Condit was riding an eight-fight win streak, and on the outer fringes of the welterweight division's top 10. Among the sport's observers, there was a division about just how good he was, and whether he could challenge among the UFC's best or would wilt under the bigger spotlight. And just like Lombard, Condit lost his octagon debut in a split-decision.
Except for their ages, the parallels between Condit and Lombard at the times of their arrivals are eerily similar. And as we know now, things turned out pretty well for Condit.
After the Kampmann loss, he beat Jake Ellenberger. And then Rory MacDonald, and Dan Hardy, and Dong Hyun-Kim and Nick Diaz, on the way to the UFC interim welterweight title.
Fans have short memories. For a time, Condit was considered one of the most exciting fighters in the sport, a real finisher. But a tactical game plan against Diaz, which admittedly may have gone too far, turned many against him. And against him, they have stayed, even though prior to that, he'd knocked out Kim and Hardy and even today's wunderkind, MacDonald.
I can predict that if Condit knocks out Georges St-Pierre when they fight, hopefully later this year, Condit will be back in the fans' good graces as a crowd-pleaser. One fight seems to swing perception that much, and Condit's seen every side of the tug of war.
Lombard has the chance to turn it around, too. The difference between the two is that Lombard is short on time. He's already 34 years old, and even though he hasn't yet been robbed of his hand speed, those days are coming faster than he would hope. So if his UFC 149 performance was an aberration, if it was simply the nerves of the moment getting to him, he should have a chance to win over the critics he lost.
If there's one thing we've learned from watching Lombard's career, it's that he'll soon get his chance. The Cuban likes to stay active. He fought five times apiece in 2009 and 2010, and four times in 2011. Lombard won't want to stay out of the cage for too long.
When he does return, he'll come back with a nearly clean slate. Carrying a 25-fight unbeaten stretch with you also means accompanying expectation. Lombard was supposed to win big. But now he's just a guy trying to get into the win column, so shedding the streak might be liberating.
Condit was able to turn things around, and Lombard is capable of doing the same. It's not like he got embarrassed by Tim Boetsch; according to FightMetric, Boetsch out-landed him by only 10 strikes in the fight.
Lombard only has to do what he's done all these years: let his hands go. While some will be ready to write him off now, let's not go digging his career grave just yet. His first fight might have been a bust, but that doesn't mean his UFC career will be, too.
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