Hector Lombard has finished 25 opponents. | Photo: Taro Irei/Sherdog.com
The Ultimate Fighting Championship will return to Houston for the first time in two years on Saturday, when UFC 166 invades the Toyota Center.
The pay-per-view event is topped by an anticipated heavyweight title rubber match pitting Cain Velasquez against Junior dos Santos and will also see the unbeaten Daniel Cormier do battle with former International Fight League champion Roy Nelson.
Before the pay-to-play festivities begin, however, the UFC 166 undercard airs live on Fox Sports 1 and Facebook. Here are five reasons to tune in a little early and scope those prelims:
Sherdog Fantasy MMA: UFC 166 Free Fan Pick’Em
After spending eight years sporting muscles upon muscles and punching above his weight, Hector Lombard will finally make the cut to 170 pounds for his upcoming duel with Nate Marquardt.
This should come as welcome news for Lombard’s fans and casual observers alike, as the hard-hitting Cuban expat dominated solid but not elite competition for years at middleweight. His punching power and explosiveness took him to Bellator MMA’s 185-pound title, but meetings with monsters like Yushin Okami and Tim Boetsch made it clear that the aggressive southpaw would have difficulty consistently employing such an approach against men of far greater natural size.
Now matched with another onetime middleweight in Marquardt, Lombard will re-enter the Octagon with many questions surrounding him. Will his strength and punching power be amplified at 170 pounds or will the weight cut and quicker opponents throw him once the cage door shuts? Is Lombard poised to make an impressive run at the welterweight title or will he wash out? We get our first indication of what to expect from the judoka in Houston.
Last Chance at Greatness
Marquardt has been through quite a bit in the last two years.
Once a UFC middleweight title contender, “The Great” was banished from the Octagon in 2011 after a failed drug test forced the organization to alter the UFC Live 4 headliner the day before the event took place.
Marquardt, who revealed he was undergoing testosterone replacement therapy after his UFC exit, eventually found a home in Strikeforce and came off his TRT. The former King of Pancrase captured the vacant Strikeforce welterweight title in his first outing for the organization, blasting Tyron Woodley into unconsciousness in one of Sherdog’s “Knockout of the Year” nominees in 2012. Marquardt would lose the title in his first defense, however, as Tarec Saffiedine bludgeoned his lead leg en route to a unanimous decision victory at Strikeforce’s final show. Things would get worse for the 34-year-old in his Octagon homecoming in March, as he was brutally knocked out by Jake Ellenberger at UFC 158.
With Marquardt riding back-to-back losses heading into his showdown with Lombard, I think the veteran could be looking at a pink slip if he begins his UFC welterweight run with a 0-2 start. How will Marquardt respond to his recent adversity?
Tim Boetsch needs to right his ship -- and pronto.
This is obviously nothing that the massive middleweight does not already know, but he is currently staring at a two-fight losing streak in a division that has grown in quality by leaps and bounds in the last year.
Look at Yushin Okami, a former UFC title contender and perennial top-5 talent who just received his walking papers after Ronaldo Souza snapped his three-fight winning streak. Make no mistake, Boetsch is a quality fighter and he always carries buckets of toughness and determination with him into the cage, but that may not be enough to save his job if he suffers a third consecutive loss.
“The Barbarian” needs a victory over C.B. Dollaway, who halted his own two-fight skid last year to defeat Jason Miller and Daniel Sarafian. Can Boetsch stop skidding or will “The Doberman” earn a defining victory at his expense?
There is no other way to put this: Sarah Kaufman has turned into a must-watch fighter.
If you are unfamiliar with the former Strikeforce champion, that is too bad, because these last three years of her career have been a blast to watch. Her brawls with Leslie Smith and Alexis Davis stand up to anything you might have seen on “The Ultimate Fighter 18,” I promise. It seems that something awesomely violent awoke in Kaufman the moment she slammed Roxanne Modafferi in 2010, and it has thus far yielded highly entertaining results.
The Canadian’s boxing is some of the best in the division; just ask Davis, Smith and Liz Carmouche, all of whom possess significant skill in their hands. Even in defeat, Kaufman has gone out on her shield, and those losses came against two of the sport’s finest in Marloes Coenen and Ronda Rousey.
I, for one, am excited to see Kaufman join the growing UFC women’s roster, and I think her upcoming bout with Jessica Eye could end up as the best fight on the preliminary card.
‘Evil’ Eye on the Prize
In Eye, Kaufman faces a dangerous prospect on a roll.
The 27-year-old indeed looked sharp in her time with Bellator, but can the “Evil” one maintain her momentum against a competitor as seasoned as Kaufman, especially since Eye will be moving to 135 pounds from flyweight?
No disrespect to Zoila Frausto Gurgel, but I do not see Eye grabbing Kaufman in a standing arm-triangle and rag-dolling her around the cage like that. The women who compete near the top of the UFC bantamweight division are big, strong athletes. Gurgel had a really difficult time making 115 pounds for her Bellator tournament run, but fighters like Rousey, Sarah McMann and Miesha Tate would need to cut off an arm in order to make strawweight.
Eye has not lost in more than two years and rides a seven-fight winning streak into her UFC debut. She last competed in June, taking a unanimous decision from nine-year pro Carina Damm under the North American Allied Fight Series banner.
This, as they say, is where the rubber meets the road for the prospect. I am seriously curious to see how she fares against a top-5 talent like Kaufman, and you should be, too.