Kyte on UFC: Land of the rising payroll

February 26, 2013, 6:17 PM

If Jon Fitch was deemed “too expensive” to keep on the UFC roster with his recent struggles, Hector Lombard has to be a little concerned heading into his bout with Yushin Okami this weekend in Japan.

Before there was Eddie Alvarez, there was Lombard.

The former Olympic judoka was the first potential Bellator defector to garner what is speculated to be a large contract offer from the UFC, with his former boss, Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney, suggesting the UFC put a $400,000 signing bonus and $300,000 per fight salary on the table. Even if the actual value of Lombard’s deal is only a quarter of what has been speculated, that puts him higher up on the pay scale than Fitch.

With the UFC talking about trimming the roster and the payroll — and considering the criteria UFC president Dana White laid out in explaining the decision to release the former welterweight title challenger — you would have to think that Lombard is a potential candidate to get handed a pink slip should he lose to Yushin Okami Saturday night inside the Saitama Super Arena.

Lombard looked mediocre in his first UFC appearance, coming out on the wrong side of a split decision loss to Tim Boetsch at UFC 149 last summer in Calgary. Having entered the organization on a 25-fight unbeaten streak that included a handful of highlight-reel knockouts, the tepid performance Lombard put forward in his first trip into the Octagon had some calling him a bust after just one appearance.

He rebounded with a first-round knockout win over Rousimar Palhares in Australia back in December, putting forth a more Lombard-esque type effort to carry him into this weekend’s pairing with Okami.

If Fitch can be let go for struggling against former two-division champion BJ Penn and top contenders Johny Hendricks and Demian Maia despite his stellar track record in the UFC, a 1-2 start that eliminates Lombard from title contention for the foreseeable future when you’re making the type of bank he’s rumoured to be making can’t be a good thing.

Most people — myself included — considered Boetsch to be the best competition that Lombard had faced in a number of years. As dominant as he was in Bellator, laying waste to the likes of Jay Silva, Herbert Goodman, and Falaniko Vitale didn’t mean the former Bellator champion was going to come in and do the same thing against the elite of the UFC middleweight division… and he didn’t.

Now it’s one thing to come up short against better competition; it happens all the time with fighters crossing over from the regional circuit, and even guys like Joe Lauzon or Donald Cerrone who are great fighters who can’t get over that final hurdle to become legitimate title challengers. It’s another thing when you’re being paid copious amounts of money and are rumoured to be collecting pay-per-view points and you hit that glass ceiling.

That’s what makes this fight with Okami such an intriguing contest this weekend.

The Japanese veteran is the perfect opponent for Lombard at this point in his UFC career. He’s a former title challenger and a perennial top-five contender, but lost to Anderson Silva recently enough that he’s not going to be getting a second kick at the championship can any time soon. Okami is a massive middleweight with surprisingly crisp boxing skills and very strong grappling predicated on positional control and “big brother versus little brother, I’m not going to let you do that” physicality.

We saw that on full display when he derailed Alan Belcher’s title aspirations back in December, and there is the possibility that we see it again Saturday night against Lombard.

If we do, you have to wonder what the future holds for the former Bellator champion?

In the days BFGC (“Before Fitch Got Cut”) losing a couple fights to a pair of top 10-ranked competitors wouldn’t have been an issue; Lombard could simply go back into the middle of the middleweight pack, put together a couple solid wins, and try his luck again later. But the reality of life on the UFC roster changed last week when White announced that there was more blood going to be spilled in the coming weeks and months as the organization looks to purge itself of the surplus fighters it has under contract.

Lombard is certainly talented enough to compete with fighters on the fringes of contention within the middleweight division — the Jake Shields, Alan Belchers, and Rousimar Palhares of the world — but he wasn’t brought in to a be a highly paid, middle-of-the-fight-card performer. He was meant to be a main event option; a potential challenger to Anderson Silva, and thus far, he’s been more sizzle than steak.

Defeating Okami on Saturday night in Japan could render this entire discussion moot — which highlights what a strange time it is in the UFC right now — but a loss makes these questions about Lombard’s future with the company very real.

I know the late Al Davis was a football man, but his signature catchphrase is now applicable to UFC fighters looking to keep their place on the roster too, Lombard included.

“Just win, baby!”

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