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Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship - Lombard vs. Mundell
Hector Lombard
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Hector Lombard vs Jared Hess: Bellator MMA’s Cuban sensation before UFC’s Yoel Romero

These days, Hector Lombard is better known as a bare knuckle brawler, a sport that’s more suited to the 42-year-old’s punishing fight style. That’s unsurprising given he left UFC after an embarrassing string of six straight losses. His profile was so diminished by his tenure under Dana White that many people have forgotten that the native of Matanzas, Cuba, was a combat sports sensation at 185 pounds long before fellow Cuban fighter “Soldier of God” Yoel Romero.

While Romero’s career in mixed martial arts (MMA) began after defecting to Germany in 2007, he wouldn’t have his first recorded professional fight until Dec. 2009. By that time, Lombard had already amassed 26 fights total fights, sporting a very impressive 22-2-1 (1 NC) win loss record with multiple title belts having gone around his waist. It may be even more telling that his two losses were PRIDE FC decisions against Akihiro Gono and Gegard Mousasi. In all that time, Lombard had not been knocked out nor submitted ... not once.

To put that record of dominance in the 2000’s into perspective, one has only to look back to the earliest days of Bellator MMA. Having already amassed a substantial body of work coming into the promotion, it wasn’t hard to pick Lombard as a favorite coming into its Season One Middleweight tournament, and he wasted no time proving why at Bellator 3 on April 17, 2009. He needed only 70 seconds to knock out Virgil Lozano with one punch.

Quick victories were more important in the early days of Bellator MMA thanks to the “seasonal” tournament format, which could see a fighter competing again in as little as a month’s time thanks to shows airing week after week. It’s unsurprising, then, that Lombard was back in action at Bellator 9 on May 29, 2009, at Monroe Civic Center in Monroe, Louisiana. The two tournament semi-finals that night both ended via technical knockout. Indeed, Jared Hess needed almost three full rounds before knocking off Yosmany Cabezas at 4:26, while the speedy Lombard once again finished in the first round, taking out Damien Stelly at 2:56 and punching his ticket to the finals. The United States Army veteran had paid his dues to get there, but was no match for Lombard’s power.

So how would Hess stack up against Lombard to crown the promotion’s first-ever Middleweight champion? He was not unsubstantial 8-0-1 coming into Bellator 12 and had recorded five submissions and three technical knockout victories in his young career, meaning he had never lost a fight and had finished all of his wins. Even though Lombard had a sizable fight IQ advantage at 20-2-1 (1 NC) going in, he gave up a significant size advantage at 5’9” to the 6’ Hess. Would the former gold medalist in judoka from Cuba have to rely on his throws to tip the scales in his favor, or would he be able to reach Hess with his hands?

Lombard’s power was up to par at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, Fla., on June 19, 2009. In the first round, his right hands were tagging Hess’ face repeatedly, causing him to not only be unsteady in the exchanges, but causing major swelling around his left eye the corner would need to ice heavily if he had any hope of continuing forward in the bout.

He’d need a new strategy for round two either way.

An inadvertent eye poke stalled the action and gave Hess more time to recover, but it couldn’t stop his eye from swelling almost completely shut. He wisely pulled guard to keep Lombard on top of him instead of standing and trading, knowing that he already had almost half a dozen submissions in his back pocket, but a lack of action made referee Troy Waugh stand them back up. Lombard stuffed a takedown attempt to close the round.

Things got gruesome quickly in round three as Lombard tripped Hess to the ground and began to mash his face into pulp. The commentators briefly believed that Lombard had split open that swollen eye, but it turned out he had opened a deep gash in Hess’ forehead instead. The action was stopped to tend to the cut, but had to be stopped again as it continued to pour out copious amounts of bodily fluid. It’s a minor miracle the fight wasn’t stopped in this frame, though not for lack of trying on Lombard’s part.

The valiant efforts of Hess’ corner to stem the crimson tide were quickly for naught when Lombard drilled him again in round four and took him to the canvas. As the blood started flowing and the action stopped going, the ringside physician stepped in once again and was clearly in no mood to have another restart that made a mess of Hess and everyone involved. Because of a medical technical knockout at 1:41, Lombard became the promotion’s first 185-pound champion.

Lombard would reel off 10 straight wins after his world title victory, which is rather astounding when compared with the six straight losses that swept him out of UFC. It goes to show how much fortunes can change over the years, but before Father Time caught up to him, Lombard was one of the best Middleweights in the world.

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