Lombard (34-5-1 MMA, 3-3 UFC) does, after all, carry a Bellator world title on his resume. He was an Olympic-level judoka who won national titles in Cuba. Not to mention that, as Smith (27-12 MMA, 3-2 UFC) points out, Lombard is probably the one name on his record that the casual fans will be able to recognize.
That, Smith says, is exciting.
But does it mean that Lombard’s undeniable accolades make Saturday’s UFC Fight Night 116 meeting a bigger one for Smith?
“The right answer would be yes,” Smith told MMAjunkie. “The truthful answer that I would give you is Hector Lombard is not who I wanted to fight. And it’s not for any other reason other than, I don’t look at Hector how everyone else sees Hector.
“His reputation is far greater than he is right now. I don’t see the savage killer that everybody else sees. I see a guy that’s at the tail-end of his career, that’s on a three-fight losing streak, that leads me to a no-win situation. If I beat Hector, I’m supposed to.”
Smith has a point when it comes to Lombard’s recent history. At 39, the middleweight comes into Saturday’s FS1-televised main card bout off consecutive losses to Neil Magny, Dan Henderson and Johny Hendricks. His last win before that, against Josh Burkman at UFC 182, was overturned due to a failed drug test.
Smith, in turn, has kind of been a roll. Since his return to the UFC, after a failed outing in 2013, Smith has won three of his four bouts. His most recent results were back-to-back knockout wins over Elvis Mutapcic and Andrew Sanchez.
With that in mind, Smith has no doubt as to who carries the burden of winning at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh.
“I’m a young up-and-comer who’s streaking right now and coming into his prime,” Smith said. “Fighting a guy that’s 40 years old, that hasn’t won a fight since he tested positive for PEDs, it’s a no-win situation for me. If I lose, then I lose to a guy that’s coming off three losses.
“Anything less than a dominant performance is a loss for me. So, Hector wasn’t my first choice, but he was the one who wanted to fight. At this point, the way the middleweight division is, you’ve got to fight people who want to fight.”
While his extensive 27-12 record might not necessarily mirror it at first, self-admitted late bloomer Smith believes he’s just now reaching his peak at 29. One of the reasons why it may have taken him longer than some of his peers, he explains, is that he sat outside the “Mecca” of great MMA gyms. The other, though, is just plain maturity. Which is why, while he doesn’t really like looking at the amount of losses on his record, he doesn’t give himself too hard of a time, either.
“I think people look at my record and they see how many fights I have, and they still forget I just turned 29,” Smith said. “I do have a lot of fights, but I think a lot of them were early on. I think it was a lot of fights I wasn’t ready for. I don’t think I grasped the concept of how tough some of these fights were.
“And if you look at my record, there’s a lot of guys that at the time were relative unknowns. And now you look at them, and they’re still kicking ass. I think just as I get older, I think I’m just coming into my prime a little bit later than a lot of people.”
At this point of his career, Smith needs to show what he’s made of if he wants to be taken seriously as a contender. The way he sees it, that rides on putting a decisive end to Saturday’s encounter.
“I want to be a world champion, and that’s what I’ve been pushing for this whole time,” Smith said. “If I go in there, and I struggle with someone like Hector, it’s not enough for me. A win isn’t good enough for me. If I want to be up there with your (ex-champ) Luke Rockholds, who’s on the same card, your (ex-champ) Chris Weidmans, whoever – (interim champ Robert) Whittaker, (current champ Michael) Bisping and (former champ and current title challenger) GSP, whomever the hell is at the top, you’ve got to be able to go in and you’ve got finish people like Hector.
“That doesn’t take anything away from Hector and what he’s capable of, but I’ve got to prove that I’m just on a different level.”
To hear more from Smith, check out the video above.