Josh Burkman is returning to the UFC, and the promotion is giving the veteran all he can handle in his first fight back in the big show. UFC president Dana White announced over the weekend that Burkman — who was signed to the World Series of Fighting — has been released from WSOF to sign a new contract with the UFC, and in his return bout he is set to take on top-ranked Hector Lombard at UFC 182. The event takes place January 3 at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, and Burkman vs. Lombard is expected to be part of the pay-per-view undercard to the main event title fight between UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones and title challenger Daniel Cormier. On first glance, it may seem strange the UFC is giving Burkman, who isn’t ranked, a fight against Lombard, who is clearly one of the top-10 welterweights in the world and a bonafide title contender, but after closer inspection the fight does make some sense. After all, it’s well known that the UFC was having problems finding a suitable opponent for Lombard, who not many welterweights are itching to fight. After all, Lombard is a physical specimen and at 170lbs has looked out of this world. We all know that Tyron Woodley, the UFC’s top choice to fight Lombard, refused to fight his ATT stablemate, and with Woodley out of the equation the UFC had to think of plan B. Matt Brown was available, but he’s coming off a loss so the UFC will probably save him for someone else. Rick Story just won at UFC Fight Night 53, but he’ll need some time off to recover after a five-round fight against Gunnar Nelson. “Young Gun” Jordan Mein is available, but the UFC probably doesn’t want to throw him to the sharks this quick. And finally, as far as welterweights coming off of wins, Rory MacDonald is the guy who makes the most sense, but it seems pretty clear he’ll get the next title shot. So with those options exhausted, the UFC had to go out and find someone to find Lombard, and Burkman turned out to be that guy. Burkman has looked sensational as of late, winning four of five fights under the WSOF banner, six of his last seven, and nine of his last 11, with his only losses in that stretch coming to Steve Carl and the aforementioned Mein. Burkman finished Tyler Stinson, an underrated fighter, in his last fight with a brutal knockout and that win, combined with impressive stoppage wins over Aaron Simpson and Jon Fitch, and he earned his spot back on the UFC’s roster, although to be honest I expected Burkman to fight someone ranked around No. 15 like Mike Pyle, not a top guy like Lombard. But when the UFC had no other options for Lombard, they felt that Burkman made sense, and hey, how can I argue with UFC matchmaker Joe Silva? Plus, it’s an intriguing matchup — Burkman is a tough guy with finishing ability and he’s never been knocked out before. Even though many people were scratching their heads at this fight announcement, truth me told I kind of like it. As far as a betting line goes, look for Lombard to be a heavy favorite here, perhaps in the -400 range. The public is high on Lombard after he smashed Nate Marquardt and Jake Shields in his first two welterweight fights and Burkman is a guy who is always undervalued. So look for Lombard to be a huge favorite here and, if he wins as expected, to get a UFC welterweight title shot. And if Burkman pulls off the upset, look for him to jump into the top 10.