The Rise of Hector Lombard and Yoel Romero

By Graham Jones
yoel romero
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Former Cuban Olympians Hector Lombard and Yoel Romero have both made a move down in weight, and for both the decision is paying dividends.

The former Bellator middleweight champion Lombard has settled in nicely at his new home of 170 pounds. Many fans expected the punishing Olympic Judoka to make in impact on the middleweight scene when he signed with UFC in April of 2012, but he didn’t make the immediate impression upon his entrance into the 185 division that some had expected.

With a lone victory over Rousimar Palhares sandwiched between lackluster decision losses to Tim Boestch and Yushin Okami to his promotional resume, Lombard was prompted to move to welterweight. Since his drop to 170 pounds, he’s been nothing short of terrifying.

In his divisional debut, “Lightning” blitzed veteran Nate Marquardt. This left the former Strikeforce welterweight champ and King of Pancrase dazed upon the canvas at 3:12 into the very first round.

In his next outing at 170 pounds, the hulking Lombard rag dolled former No. 1 contender Jake Shields for three rounds earning a unanimous victory at UFC 171. Though he didn’t claim a finish, the ease at which the former Olympian threw Shields, a notoriously strong grappler, around the Octagon was even more eye opening than his knockout of Marquardt as to his future potential in the division.

From watching Lombard in his two welterweight outings, it’s hard to imagine anyone will be able to match the Judoka’s grappling strength. The sprawl he employed on Jake Shields looked less like an attempt to defend a takedown and more like an offensive weapon of its own, as Lombard continuously drove his wrestling minded opponents face squarely and violently into the mat with his hips on nearly every attempt. Shields might as well have been trying to tackle a fire hydrant.

With a head of steam, Georges St. Pierre sidelined for the foreseeable future and an unfortunate outcome in the Carlos Condit vs. Tyrone Woodley fight, Lombard is in prime position to make a run at Johny Hendricks’ welterweight title.

Joining his countryman in a march to title contention, former Olympic Silver Medalist in freestyle wrestling Yoel Romero has looked outstanding since his entrance into the UFC middleweight division.

A one fight veteran and crossover talent of the now defunct Strikeforce’s light heavyweight division, “The Soldier of God” Yoel Romero has won three fights in a row since dropping to 185. He is now 3-0 inside the UFC.

Compared to Lombard who is a veteran of 40 professional fights, Romero’s career at 7-1 is still relatively young, but he is making a splash in the UFC nonetheless; with all seven of his professional victories coming by way of knockout or technical knockout.

After a brutal first round finish over Clifford Starks in his debut and a third round stoppage of Ronny Markes in his sophomore effort, Romero was paired with fellow wrestler and Strikeforce acquisition Derek Brunson at UFC Fight Night.

After being taken down and controlled for the first two and a half rounds, the former Olympian turned the fight around after he dropped Brunson late in the third round and finished him with elbows on the ground to secure his third UFC win, showcasing the resolve of the powerful wrestler.

The one knock on the UFC’s No. 14 middleweight is that despite being a Silver Medalist at the 2000 Summer Olympics in wrestling, Romero’s use of unorthodox kicks and lunging power shots have made him susceptible to takedowns; as both Markes and Brunson were successful in taking the fight to the ground. Although on his back he hasn’t shown signs of being in danger, and has generally been able to separate and stand back up after being taken down.

On the feet, while still raw, Romero has proven to be exceptionally dangerous. He holds a speed, strength and general athletic advantage over the majority of the fighters in the division and like fellow Olympian Lombard, Romero prefers to use his grappling pedigree in reverse to keep the fight where he can knock you senseless.

In his next outing Romero will face the No. 13 ranked middleweight Brad Tavares at UFC on FOX: Werdum vs. Browne on April 19, who has strung together a five fight win streak in his own right and is looking to continue his climb towards title contention.

Look out for Romero and Lombard; UFC gold could be headed back to Havana in the near future.

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