Though the fight lasted the better part of its scheduled three rounds, it took only one well-placed punch for Bellator Middleweight Champion “Shango” Hector Lombard (27-2) to add “Niko” Falaniko Vitale (27-9) to his long list of knockout victims.
Vitale used his reach and jab to keep his distance from the powerful hands of “Shango” but the Judo and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt Lombard still got the edge on the judges’ score cards in rounds one and two by keeping on the pressure and landing solid strikes against the Hawaiian born “Niko”. After ten minutes of a slow paced fight, Vitale came forward with an uppercut to the body but unwisely hung his left arm low. Lombard came forward and slammed a right hook into the jaw of the former Superbrawl champ. Just under a minute into the final stanza, Lombard connected with that fight-ending right hook that left his opponent on the canvas and left fans singing a mixed tune, as the earlier frames were met with boos from the crowd.
Hector Lombard showed several things in this Bellator 44 main event bout, one of the most notable being that the heavy handed Cuban’s striking is just as dangerous in the later rounds as when he’s fresh out of the gate. Lombard, typically a man of few words, when asked abut his performance at the post-fight press conference, defended it with a philosopher’s tongue:
“People are going to talk. If you don’t finish the fight in the first round, people talk. If you finish the fight in the second round, people talk. If you finish in the third round, people talk. So, whatever.”
- Hector Lombard
Bellator CEO and Chairman Bjorn Rebney hinted at a possible talks with Polish promotion Konfrontacja Sztuk Walki (KSW) fighter, Chechen-Polish middleweight and current KSW Light Heavyweight Champion “Cannibal” Mamed Khalidov (15-3). Khalidov is the only man to defeat and knock out current UFC contender and former Sengoku Middleweight Champion Jorge Santiago (22-8) since 2006. Khalidov also holds notable wins over “The Sandman” James Irvin (15-8) and UFC light heavyweight Igor Pokrajac (16-7). Khalidov would make a solid test for Lombard’s hands and Judo. Many fans hoped to see this superfight sooner rather than later, but those hopes were dashed when Khalidov announced this week that he would be unable to participate in the Bellator Season 5 Middleweight Tournament that goes underway in September. While previous reports speculated that Mamed’s management was to blame for failing to reach a deal with Bellator, Khalidov reveals that it is his personal priorities that for now are keeping him out of the Bellator cage. The Shooto veteran is a devout Muslim who, as part of his faith, observes the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. During this period, which in 2011 begins August 1 and ends August 29, Muslims are prohibited from eating or drinking from sunrise to sunset – an obvious detriment to his professional training. After fasting and not training for the entire month beforehand, competing in the tournament to potentially face Lombard in the end just isn’t feasible.
The question is now, where does “Shango” go from here? Lombard is in his prime years as a professional mixed martial artist and it must be brought into question whether or not his home at Bellator is truly capable of presenting him the challenges needed to elevate his career. Always a game competitor, Lombard has stated time and time again that he wants to fight the best so that he can be the best. Taking the next step to face the upper echelon of the world’s middleweight fighters may eventually find him in the UFC’s Octagon where he may truly be challenged and forced to rise to the occasion or fall at its feet.