UFC 171: Jake Shields vs. Hector Lombard Preview

However, despite all the hype for Hendricks-Lawler, there is another matchup on the March 15 card that could eventually have just as much of an impact on the future of the 170-pound division.

When Jake Shields faces Hector Lombard (pictured above) at the American Airlines Center in Dallas on Saturday night, it will be a battle between the No. 6 and No. 12 ranked fighters in the welterweight division, respectively. The winner of the bout will likely move to the forefront of the title picture.

The 35-year old Shields (29-6-1, 1 NC) has taken a circuitous route into contention in the UFC’s welterweight division. Shields has held titles in both Elite XC as a welterweight and in Strikeforce as a middleweight. After taking the Strikeforce 185-pound belt and defending it once (against current UFC light heavyweight contender Dan Henderson, no less), he decided in 2010 to jump to the UFC.

After winning his first fight in the MMA’s top organization (his 15th in a row overall), Shields was granted a fight against then-champion Georges St. Pierre, but he lost that fight in a unanimous decision.

He followed that up with another loss to fellow contender Jake Ellenberger and has been working to get back to the top in the three years since. At 35, time might be running out for him to win the one belt that has eluded him in his long career.

Despite his impressive record, Shields hasn’t gotten much publicity since his consecutive losses in 2011. Few fighters have been as good for as long as Shields has been, however. He’s the San Antonio Spurs of the UFC and the lack of respect doesn’t really faze him.

“I think the fact I’ve lost two fights over a long stretch of time definitely gets lost on people,” Shields told Bleacher Report. “I’m not an easy guy to beat and a tough guy to deal with. I’ve beaten some very tough guys and I plan on going out and doing it again on Saturday night.”

Shields’ opponent, Hector “Lightning” Lombard,” was also a highly-touted fighter when he joined the UFC in 2012. Entering his first fight at the top of the MMA food chain, the Cuban-born Australian had an incredible 25-fight unbeaten streak at the 185-pound level that extended over six years and nearly that many different organizations.

When Lombard (33-4-1, 1 NC) joined the UFC, however, the going became considerably rockier. He lost two of his first three fights and was quickly given an ultimatum by the organization-drop to 170 pounds or have your Ultimate Fighting career end prematurely.

The 36-year old made the switch and, in October of 2013, resurrected his career with a dominant first-round KO of Nate Marquardt. The win restored some of the luster to the once-hyped prospect and seemingly made him an instant contender in his new weight class.

Lombard’s fight with Shields has a little extra spice behind it because the two have made no secret of their dislike for each other. Lombard is not what you could call a fan of Shields’ grappling, grinding fighting style.

“He’s boring,” said Lombard, a former Olympic competitor in judo. “This is a sport where you have to entertain fans. They want to … see you fight. At the end of the day, it’s the entertainment business. It’s not the winning business. Go up there and show your skills and knock people out. [Shields] doesn’t have that.”

Shields fired back, not at Lombard’s fighting style, but at his personality.

“I’ve always thought Hector is a prick,” Shields said. “Everybody kind of knows that. He’s a really good fighter but as a person, everyone who knows him, no one likes him at the gym. He’s the guy who goes after all the new guys, tries to break their ribs, break their arms, knock them out.”

This fight appears to be a classic striker-grappler matchup. Lombard’s last two victories have both come as the result of a first-round knockout and his punching power is off the charts. He’ll try to keep the fight standing, but he’s got some skills on the ground as well, thanks to his background in Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

Shields will certainly try to keep himself out of range of Lombard’s strikes, but the question comes in if and when he is able to get takedowns. He is coming off a victory over Demian Maia, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt like Lombard, so he has experience neutralizing those types of moves. Will Lombard have better luck against Shields’ suffocating efficiency?

Regardless of the outcome of the fight, it seems clear that the winner will emerge as a serious contender for the welterweight title. Hendricks-Lawler may get all the hype, but fight fans sleep on this compelling undercard matchup at their own risk.

Dylan Sinn is a freelance contributor for CraveOnline Sports. You can follow him on Twitter @DylanSinn or “like” CraveOnline Sports on Facebook.