Hector Lombard (file photo) isn't one to take criticism lightly. | Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- All Hector Lombard has done is win. His last loss came back in 2006. But after his latest win – his 23rd in a row -- over Falaniko Vitale at Bellator 44, the Bellator champ was less-than-thrilled when questioned about his performance, a tepid one that spilled into the third round.
“Whatever, man," Lombard said with disdain when asked about his early sluggishness. “People are going to talk. If you don't finish the fight in the first round, people talk. If you finish the fight in the second round, people talk. If you finish in the third round, people talk. So, whatever.”
Lombard wasn't crazy about the criticism, but others had nothing but praise for Bellator's 185-pound king.
“Falaniko Vitale is a very, very talented middleweight,” Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney said at the post-fight press conference. “He's beaten some top competitors, including Yushin Okami. Hector just showed again power, hand speed, technique and ability; a very dangerous
“You've got to respect a guy like Hector,” Vitale said following the loss. “He's a bad ass. He's the champion. Hopefully I get a rematch in the future.”
Another man with a shot at a rematch is Alexander Shlemenko.
The Russian’s win over Brett Cooper tonight earns him a spot in the Season 5 middleweight tournament. Rebney confirmed that Shlemenko will join Bryan Baker, Jared Hess and Vitor Vianna in the tournament. Shlemenko won the Season 2 middleweight tournament, besting the aforementioned Baker in the final last June.
Lombard, who took out Shlemenko in his first title defense last October, was quick to defend his five-round decision win from their first bout.
“Last time when I fought Shlemenko I was sick,” said a worked-up Lombard. “I was really sick. Fever. Vomiting. I was really sick. And I pulled out the fight.”
The debate over Hector Lombard surrounds not only his performances but also where he ranks among other middleweights. With Zuffa nearly having a monopoly on top MMA talent, many question Lombard's spot on any top 10 list because of the perceived lesser competition he has faced. It's a problem Rebney is looking to remedy.
“We're working on it at a frenetic pace. The same questions were asked nine months ago about our 155-pound division. ‘Yeah, we may agree with you that Eddie Alvarez is the best 155-pounder in the world but who do you have that can fight him?’ Now between Patricky [Freire] and [Michael] Chandler we have a very legitimate 155-pound title fight. It's my job and my team's job to do that same thing with
Future aside, there's no question where Lombard stands in the eyes of his promoter.
“People ask me if he's top 10. It's inconceivable to me that people would look at him and think he's not top 10 in the world. To not put him in the top 10 is ridiculous,” said Rebney.
“What was reminiscent for me because I'm old enough is I used to watch [Mike] Tyson. When Tyson would fight, he would come out and knock guys out in the first 12 to 20 seconds. People would go, 'Oh, Mike knocked him out. There was no fight. I didn't get to watch anything.' Then he'd bring a guy into the second or third, and they'd be bent out of shape because he wasn't knocking them out earlier,” explained Rebney. “Not every Hector Lombard fight is going to end in the first 6 to 25 seconds.”
Rebney also floated the name of Chechen-born, Polish-based Mamed Khalidov as a potential opponent for Lombard, expressing him as a desired target for the Season 5 middleweight tournament and a potentially interesting match for Lombard. However, Rebney cast doubt on the handlers of Khalidov, who is scheduled to meet Matt Lindland under the KSW banner on May 21 in Gdansk, Poland.
“[Khalidov] has a deal with a Polish promoter who puts 8 to 12 thousand people in the seats to watch him fight,” said Rebney. “They've had a lack of willingness to bring him over to fight in the United States. It's a matter of pushing and recruiting and getting on long flights with these people and explain to them what the opportunity is.
“We just got to keep working night and day and bring more guys in at 85. People ask me if he's top 10. It's inconceivable to me that people would look at [Lombard] and think he's not top 10 in the world. To not put him in the top 10 is ridiculous.”