Falaniko Vitale (above) will make his Bellator debut against champ Hector Lombard. | Mike Fridley/Sherdog.com
Bellator Fighting Championships will visit New Jersey for the first time when Bellator 44 emanates from Caesars Atlantic City Hotel and Casino on May 14.
The promotion announced Wednesday that the MTV2-televised card will include a non-title bout between middleweight champion Hector Lombard and UFC veteran Falaniko Vitale, along with an as-yet-undetermined fourth-season tournament final.
“This is a great partnership for us. Atlantic City is a classic fight town and New Jersey is a hotbed for mixed martial arts, so it was a natural fit,” Bellator Chairman and CEO Bjorn Rebney stated in a release.
Lombard, 33, was a member of the 2000 Olympic judo squad for his home country of Cuba and transitioned to mixed martial arts in 2004 after defecting to Australia. Since that time, the American Top Team fighter has racked up an impressive record of 27-2-1, including 14 wins by way of knockout.
Since claiming Bellator gold with a trio of stoppages in 2009, Lombard has competed and won six times. Most recently, he notched the first defense of his belt with a five-round unanimous decision over second-season tournament winner Alexander Shlemenko on Oct. 28. Before facing Vitale, Lombard is expected to meet Joe Doerksen on the March 25 card from Australian promotion Cage Fighting Championship, whose 185-pound title Lombard also currently holds.
Vitale enters the May bout on a three-fight win streak, having defended his middleweight title with Hawaiian promotion X-1 World Events thrice in the last 12 months. Following Ezekiel choke submissions of Kalib Starnes and Kala Hose, Vitale scored a first-round knockout of X-1 welterweight ace Dylan Clay on March 12 and subsequently gave up the belt in anticipation of joining the Bellator ranks. The Hawaiian’s 29-9 ledger includes notable wins over fellow UFC vets Yushin Okami, Matt Lindland and Dave Menne.