This Saturday night (March 15, 2014) Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) welterweights Jake Shields and Hector Lombard will face off on the main card of UFC 171, airing live on pay-per-view (PPV) from American Airlines Arena in Dallas, Texas.
The event promises to sort out the UFC welterweight title picture after longtime champion Georges St. Pierre left the sport behind in late 2013. Shields and Lombard can get tantalizingly close to a future title shot with a win, making this bout perhaps the biggest-ever in each fighter's respective mixed martial arts (MMA) career.
That's saying a lot, because both have already reached championship status in other promotions. Former Strikeforce middleweight and EliteXC welterweight champ Shields was last seen grinding out a five round split decision win over touted grappling ace Demian Maia at UFC Fight Night 29. Since his late 2011 technical knockout loss to Jake Ellenberger, Shields has won four straight decisions (although his win over Ed Herman was changed to a "No Contest" after Shields failed the drug screen).
Former Bellator middleweight champ Lombard was met with some resistance upon his UFC debut back in 2012, dropping two split decisions to Yushin Okami and Tim Boetsch. The snide prompted him to try his hand at welterweight, and his initial result was a success. Lombard blasted Nate Marquardt into oblivion at UFC 166, showing that his already massive knockout power may be even greater at his new home of 170 pounds.
But, with Lombard's excellent grappling and punishing strength, he may have no other choice.
Let's take a look at the keys to victory for Shields vs. Lombard:
Record: 29-6-1(1) overall, 4-2(1) UFC
Key Wins: Demian Maia (UFC Fight Night 29), Dan Henderson (Strikeforce: Nashville), Tyron Woodley (UFC 161), Martin Kampmann (UFC 121), Carlos Condit (Rumble on the Rock 9)
Key Losses: Georges St. Pierre (UFC 129), Jake Ellenberger (UFC Fight Night 25)
Keys to Victory: At this point in the game, it's no secret how the No. 6-ranked Shields wins inside the Octagon. He's a smothering grappler with a solid submission background, having finished 3rd in the 2005 ADCC Submission Wrestling World Championships.
However, despite his reputation as a mat technician, Shields hasn't submitted an opponent since 2009, when he tapped out current UFC welterweight title challenger Robbie Lawler. Lately, Shields has preferred to drag his opponents into deep water and neutralize their strong points. He did just that to Maia, one of the most dangerous Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioners in the game. He also took away Tyron Woodley's thunderous knockout power and NCAA Division 1 All-American wrestling.
It's rarely pretty when Shields enacts his gameplan, but you simply can't argue with his effectiveness. He's going to look for a takedown very early against Lombard, and he won't stop trying until he gets it. If given the chance, he'll wrap up Lombard like a boa constrictor and keep him there until the final bell sounds.
It's obviously his best way to win, because his stand-up game is light years away from Lombard's.
With all four of his losses coming by way of decision, Lombard has never tapped out. That should be just fine with Shields, who's a master at winning closely contested decisions.
Record: 33-4-1(1) overall, 2-2 UFC
Key Wins: Nate Marquardt (UFC 166), Rousimar Palhares (UFC on FX 6), Alexander Shlemenko (Bellator 34)
Key Losses: Yushin Okami (UFC on Fuel TV 8), Tim Boetsch (UFC 149), Gegard Mousasi (Pride Bushido 13)
Keys to Victory: No. 12-ranked Lombard came into UFC with much fanfare in 2012. After two split decision losses in three fights, however, his hype train slowed considerably, leaving UFC wondering if they spent too much on the decorated former champion.
There's a silver lining to his initial losses because they were both split decisions. Citing a broken foot as a hindrance against Boetsch, many felt that Lombard still won the highly lackluster bout. He ended the Okami bout with a surge, and may have been the victim of some unfortunate judging.
Regardless, Lombard is poised to become a force at welterweight, but first he has to get by the stifling Shields.
To do so, Lombard is obviously going to have to keep this fight standing long enough to land some big punches. Shields has only been finished by strikes twice in his lengthy career, so he has a solid chin. But, if Lombard finds an opening for his lethal flurries, it's going to be lights out for pretty much anyone.
Lombard also has a highly decorated judo background, having obtained many accolades in the sport. He also owns a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, proving that he's far from a slouch on the ground.
He's going to need every ounce of those skills to keep Shields from shutting him down; if he can, this could turn into his fight very quickly.
Bottom Line from Dallas: The bottom line for this fight is that we're going to see an under-the-radar title contender emerge in Dallas.
Lombard has been highly touted as the future of the welterweight division, but at 36 years old, time may be running out for him to make a title run. That makes this an absolutely pivotal bout for him. He looked great in his welterweight debut, but a win over Marquardt hardly makes you a world-beater.
Now, he has an opportunity to prove himself against a top opponent.
Shields will never be the most exciting or fan-friendly fighter. He's consistently fought and beat the best throughout his entire career. He also has wins over three of the four fighters in UFC 171's co-main and main events, a testament to his overall effectiveness.
However, he's going to have to keep winning to get a title shot, because he'll probably only get one when he simply can't be denied. He's far from a big PPV draw, and his fights are almost guaranteed to come down to the judges' scorecards.
While that doesn't matter to him, it certainly does in the eyes of the powers that be.
This fight may look like a striker vs. grappler match-up on paper, but Lombard holds the trump card with his quietly dangerous ground skills.
That could give him a slight edge, but this one is going to come down to which fighter implements their gameplan best. With two experienced veterans like these, it could truly go either way.
Jake Shields has been shutting down some of the best welterweights in MMA recently, but not many have seemed to notice. Meanwhile, Hector Lombard looks to have some insane knockout power at 170 pounds. Will "Lightning" be able to bypass Shield's smothering style and continue his climb to the top?