Hector Lombard entered the UFC with much fanfare but did not live up to the hype. He faltered in the competitive middleweight division. He decided to drop to 170 pounds, and he made a statement in his first appearance at the weight.
At UFC 166, he would face former Strikeforce welterweight champion and UFC middleweight title contender Nate Marquardt. He obliterated Marquardt in one minute and 48 seconds. Entering 2014, Lombard now sits at No. 14 in the official UFC rankings.
Does Lombard have a shot at challenging for the title in 2014? Yes, Lombard is very much a dark-horse candidate.
What makes a challenger? It is not just being a top-ranked fighter. The UFC is in the promotion business, and if a fighter has the fans' eyes, he will rocket past other fighters.
Lombard has that going for him. The fans love his KO ability and sit on the edge of their seats waiting for him to unleash it.
Lombard is more marketable than most, and that gives him the edge. Now, he has to work his way into the top five. He will get a great opportunity to do just that in March.
GSP and Martin Kampmann are taking hiatuses from fighting, and that leaves a hole in the division. The loser of Johny Hendricks vs. Robbie Lawler will not get another title shot in 2014, and the loser of Carlos Condit vs. Tyron Woodley will be eliminated from immediate title contention as well.
There is a distinct possibility that Lombard is sitting in one of the best positions in the division.
Lombard is scheduled to meet Jake Shields in March, and Shields is ranked No. 7 in the division.
If Lombard is able to put away Shields in much the same manner he put away Marquardt, he will have a shot to be ranked in the top five at 170 pounds. Two finishes over the likes of Marquardt and Shields would make Lombard deserving. It is not likely Lombard would earn a title shot from that win, but it would move him into the fray.
If Lombard can get his second straight win in the division, he will be in a big welterweight fight with potential title implications later in 2014. His title hopes are very much alive.
There are only a few title hopefuls in 2014, and Lombard is in a good position to leapfrog them with impressive showings. He is in a great position as 2014’s leading dark horse across all divisions.
The cards may have been dealt just right for the former Bellator champion. However, even with a favorable hand, he will not have an easy road to the gold in what has been one of the UFC’s deepest divisions. The powerful Olympian will earn his shot in the cage.
Lombard is ranked outside the top 10, but his title chances are better than most for 2014. Keep an eye on the former Olympian in 2014.