Belfort, Franklin set to meet at UFC 103

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By Chad Wuttke

Now that we’ve all recovered from the comedy-turned-bloodbath debut of The Ultimate Fighter 10, we can focus on UFC 103. While this main event fight doesn’t jump off the screen, it is an intriguing bout that could provide a defining moment in the careers of two legendary fighters, Rich Franklin and Vitor Belfort.

Rich Franklin enters this catch-weight bout as a man without a weight division. Following his decision victory over Wanderlei Silva, Franklin still remains a main event fighter with title aspirations. The question is, what weight class?

Having lost twice to middleweight champion Anderson Silva and subsequently moving up to the light heavyweight division with mixed results, Franklin now fights his second fight in a row at a catch-weight of 195 pounds. There is no 195 pound division, so unless one is created, Franklin will have to face the daunting task of moving up to the stacked light heavyweight division where he will surely face both strength and size disadvantages. efrain

Until his hand is forced, Franklin will continue to be fed top 10 ranked opponents and his next opponent is as dangerous as they come.

Vitor “The Phenom” Belfort returns to the UFC after two spectacular knockout victories over Matt Lindland and Terry Martin in the now defunct Affliction promotion. Riding that momentum, Belfort now seeks to reestablish himself as a contender in the UFC’s middleweight division.

With his career once again rejuvenated, “The Phenom” is looking to capture the magic he once had when he debuted at UFC 12 over a decade ago. Then only 19, Belfort brought skills to the UFC that fans had never seen before. A black belt in jiu-jitsu with hand speed comparable to Roy Jones Jr., Belfort seemed to be on a path to super-stardom.

Inconsistency inside and outside of the ring have derailed the Belfort train over the years. Performances like the 44 second destruction of Wanderlei Silva and the one-sided loss to Kazushi Sakuraba have left fans asking; “What Vitor will show up?” Now training at Xtreme Couture, Belfort seems to have overcome many of those questions. Still, Belfort has a history of coming up short against top competition and Franklin is definitely a top tier fighter.

In the night’s co-main event, former Pride headhunter Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic takes on the UFC’s latest blue chip prospect, Junior dos Santos. Cro Cop returns to the UFC with a new three fight contract after a controversial victory over Mostapha Al-Turk at UFC ’99 in Germany. In the fight, Cro Cop used an accidental double eye poke to eventually overwhelm Al-Turk for a TKO victory. Cro Cop needs a better performance if he wants to get back in the fan’s good graces. His devastating knockouts in the Pride organization seem like a distant memory.

Junior dos Santos enters the cage riding a wave of momentum. His colossal uppercut knockout of Fabricio Werdum put Dos Santos on the map and after another win at UFC 95 over Steven Struve, dos Santos now looks to move from prospect to contender. A win over a legend like Cro Cop would do just that.

Originally slated as a number one contender match, Martin Kampmann now faces British striker Paul Daley in just a “contender” match after Mike Swick was forced to drop out due to injury. Kampmann holds a robust 15-2 record with a good mixture of knockouts and submissions to his credit while Daley is making his first appearance in the UFC following numerous contests in promotions such as Cage Rage, Strikeforce, and Elite-XC.

Also featured on the main card is a bout between standout wrestlers, Frank Trigg and Josh Koscheck. The 37 year old Trigg, who owns the worst nickname in MMA, Twinkle Toes, makes his return to the UFC after a 4 year hiatus.

Josh Koscheck will be looking to bounce back after being upset by Paulo Thiago at UFC 95. The four-time NCAA Division I All-American wrestler has attempted to become more of a standup fighter recently with mixed results.

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In what sets up to be the fight of the night, Tyson Griffin takes on Hermes Franca in an entertaining lightweight tussle. The Xtreme Couture trained Griffin has won five “fight of the night” awards in his last 7 fights.

Also known as an entertaining fighter, Franca brings both exciting Jiu-Jitsu and an awkwardly efficient overhand right to the cage. Following a win over Marcus Aurelio at UFC 90, Franca tore his ACL and had to pull out of a fight with Joe Lauzon. A fight with Griffin will be a solid test for Franca and his rehabilitated knee and will also be a telling sign of where these two fighters stand in a talent rich lightweight division.

UFC 102: Nogueria, Couture put on a show

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By Chad Wuttke

Heavy leather and broken records were on tap at UFC 102 in Portland, Oregon.  Now that the Rose Garden roof is repaired, after being blown off by Saturday night’s main event, we can take a deep breath and look at what it means for some of these fighters.

In the main event, a highly motivated Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira put his UFC 92 performance against Frank Mir behind him to beat fan favorite, Randy “The Natural” Couture, in convincing fashion.

Nogueira’s granite chin was on display as he took numerous stiff shots from Couture without even a flinch.  The 46 year old Couture looked great physically, but perhaps his chin is aging faster than his frame as Nogueira floored him in both the first and third rounds.

Nogueira’s legendary submission skills were also on display as we saw Couture forced to defend a rarely seen brabo choke, as well as an arm triangle.  The fight looked to be over about 6 or 7 different times, but to Couture’s credit, the wily veteran was able to survive.

Surviving wasn’t enough though for Couture.  Nogueira won what could be the fight of the year by unanimous decision and now has the Heavyweight Champion Brock Lesnar in his crosshairs.  Couture, who signed a new six-fight contract just before the fight, may be heading to the light heavyweight division, unless a bout with former Pride standout, Mirco Cro Cop intrigues him enough.

The night’s co-main event featured two fighters coming off losses to two standouts in the light heavyweight division.  Keith Jardine lost to top contender Rampage Jackson in the main event of UFC 96, while Thiago Silva was looking to rebound from a devastating knock out at the hands of current champion Lyoto Machida.

Silva would prove to be the better man on this night.  After withstanding a few early punching combinations, Silva caught Jardine with a left hook counter and finished him soon after on the ground.

It’s clear Thiago Sliva belongs near the top of the division and a possible fight with former champion Forrest Griffin could be on the horizon.   The inconsistent Jardine has now lost four of his last six fights and any dreams of a title shot seem almost unreachable at this point in a stacked division.mma_nogueira_300

In what was possibly the most compelling matchup of the night, Nate “The Great” Marquardt faced Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu ace Damian Maia.  Both fighters had title aspirations coming into the fight but only one would leave as a true contender.

In Maia’s previous five UFC fights, he rolled up five submission victories.  He wouldn’t get his sixth as Marquardt took all of Maia’s hype and planted it into the ground with one punch.  Maia’s chin hadn’t been tested and the well-rounded Marquardt showed you can’t be one-dimensional if you’re going to tread the waters of the middleweight division.

Marquardt now looks to be in line for a title show against Anderson Silva but Dan Henderson may have something to say about that.  A fight to determine Silva may be in their future.

Maia now must reinvent himself.  It’s clear his boxing and kickboxing skills must improve before he sees himself in title contention again.

In a very entertaining fight, 4-time wrestling All-American Jake Rosholt and heavy hitting Chris Leben waged war for… almost the entire three rounds.

Showing good patience and new standup skills Rosholt waited for the right moment and sunk in a fight-ending arm triangle choke midway through he third round.

Although he could still use some more seasoning, Rosholt proves he belongs in the UFC and may look to avenge his prior loss to Dan Miller.  Leben, who’s fought alcoholism for much of his life, may have some soul searching to do after reportedly falling off the wagon a few times leading up to the fight.

In the night’s opening bout, Brandon Vera provided us with another lackluster decision victory that continues his career, but doesn’t sit well in the eyes of most fans.

The talented fighter who once talked about winning titles in multiple weight classes looked to have his opponent Krzysztof Soszynski in trouble numerous times, but instead of moving in for the kill, stayed on the outside and grinded out a decision.  couture_mma_oly

UFC matchmaker Joe Silva may need to put Vera into matches with someone who will get in his face and push the action.  Someone like Stephon Bonner or even Thiago Silva may fit the bill.

The undercard was filled with plenty of fights that proved notable.   Todd Duffee set a new UFC record with a seven second knockout of Tim Hague.  Aaron Simpson looked to be on his way to defeating his opponent Ed Herman before Herman blew out his knee.  Gabriel Gonzaga took a step towards his return to title contention by defeating Chris Tuchscherer in convincing fashion, albeit after a low blow that clearly had an effect on Tuchscherer’s performance.

Great performances had by all, but the night belonged to two legends, Randy Couture and “Minotauro” Nogueira.  If you could ever look good in losing, Couture’s performance did just that. Nogueira proved his bout with staph infection is behind him. He now looks to figure out the man-beast that is Brock Lesnar, in what could be the superfight of the year!