Hector Lombard has spent more than 25 years building a combat sports career on a reputation of intensity and sheer aggression. Yet ahead of his Eagle FC debut, his social media feed features clips of him singing and dancing in the locker rooms of American Top Team alongside his teammate, Junior Dos Santos, who is also in action on Friday's Eagle FC 47 card.
What gives? Well, the 44-year-old Lombard knows the end of his competition days are coming sooner rather than later, and he's trying to enjoy the ride.
"I'm about to finish my career," Lombard told MMA Underground. "If you do this, it is because you like to do it."
Lombard has been doing this for quite a long time.
A fourth degree black belt in judo, Lombard won several Cuban national championship medals in the sport dating back to 1997 before representing his country in the 2000 Olympic Games. In 2004, he turned his attention to professional MMA, where he would later earn the Bellator MMA middleweight title, as well as compete 12 times for the sport's biggest promotion, the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
While judo provided for an impressive grappling base, Lombard also racked up a stunning 19 knockouts in his 34 career MMA wins, making him an imposing power punches who seemingly was hunting for a finish with every strike thrown. For the past two years, Lombard has been a fixture at Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship, where he is still the reigning cruiserweight champion.
But now, as he realizes his time as a professional athlete is waning, Lombard is returning to MMA to compete for Eagle FC, the promotion founded by undefeated UFC Hall of Famer Khabib Nurmagomedov. Ahead of his promotional debut, Lombard said he's pleased with his current status.
"I feel super happy with the treatment, and I feel honored," Lombard said. "Besides I'm happy, I'm also honored to be fighting with a lot of pro fighters that they have big names. They've done a lot of things in the past.
"My aura, when I'm around people, they're like, 'Man, you're just a different character now.' I'm like, 'Oh, you treat me good, I'm good.'"
Of course, this happier, care-free version of Lombard (34-10-1) isn't likely to act the same once the cage door closes on Friday night, when he faces former teammate and UFC veteran Thiago Silva (21-9) in the co-main event of Eagle FC 47, which streams live and free on the FLXcast app (6 p.m. ET) from Miami's FLXcast Arena.
Lombard said he and Silva, another fighter known for his overall intensity both in and out of the cage, had plenty of heated scraps during their time as training partners, so there's no reason to expect anything different when they meet with more on the line.
"I mean, I have respect for Thiago, and as a matter of fact, he was the only guy that back in the day, we used to train each other, and we used to spar super hard in training," Lombard said. "Super hard, so it's going to be a good fight because I know, like, back in the day we used to kill each other, so why not do it now for money?"
Lombard isn't willing to put an exact date on his career end just yet but plans on approaching what's left on a fight-by-fight basis. Right now, he's focused solely on the challenge that Silva presents, but he does admit that the newly redesigned Eagle FC title belts have caught his eye.
"I love that belt," Lombard said. "I was shocked when I saw that belt. I was, like, 'Man, Khabib spent money on that belt.' It's super heavy. I was like, 'Damn it.'"
Eagle FC's light heavyweight title is currently vacant, but an impressive win could certainly lead the promotion to book Lombard into a championship fight. That's an ideal scenario for Lombard.
Retirement looms, and with it, an opportunity for Lombard to chase his passions of both invention and entrepreneurialism. But there's time for that still to come. Right now, it's time to finish an incredibly notable MMA career on a high now, and that starts on Friday night.
"I can take the fight anywhere I want," Lombard said. "If I want to keep it on the feet, I will keep it on the feet. If I want to do grappling, I will do grappling. I'm in control of this fight."
The Eagle FC 47 lineup includes:
- Junior Dos Santos vs. Yorgan De Castro
- Hector Lombard vs. Thiago Silva
- Maki Pitolo vs. Doug Usher
- Gabriel Checco vs. Andrew Sanchez
- Akhmed Aliev vs. Darrell Horcher
- Islam Mamedov vs. Zach Zane
- Ronny Markes vs. Reggie Pena
- Alexandre Almeida vs. Roosevelt Roberts
- Paulo Silva vs. Sean Soriano
- Adi Alic vs. Shawn Bunch
- Dennis Hughes Jr. vs. Dylan Mantello
This story first published at SI.com/MMA.