Breaking down the UFC 103 main card
As if Floyd Mayweather Jr. didn't hate the UFC enough as it is, he can expect Saturday's UFC 103 event to take a big chunk out of his pay-per-view bonus for fighting Juan Manuel Marquez in Las Vegas on the same night the UFC sets up shop in Dallas.
Mayweather's financial fears come with good reason, too. The UFC lineup marks the return of fan favorite Vitor Belfort against former middleweight champion Rich Franklin in a 195-pound catchweight bout that may be an unconventional main event but, in any case, should make for top-shelf violence.
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Backing up the headliner is the return of Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic, who will take on top heavyweight prospect Junior dos Santos; and the UFC debut of standout British welterweight Paul Daley, who has to tangle with premier contender Martin Kampmann. Rounding out the main card is a welterweight scrap between returning UFC veteran Frank Trigg and the uber-talented Josh Koscheck, plus a critical lightweight tilt pitting Tyson Griffin's massive legs against Hermes Franca's cinder-block right hand.
I know what I'll be watching Saturday night: the best of "MADtv"! I've just been informed I'm not allowed to say that, so watch the fights and keep the hate mail coming. I'm building myself a hammock made entirely of hate -- a hate-mock if you will -- and I need only a little more invective to finish it.
The breakdown: The weight-class limbo continues for Franklin, who will try to spoil Belfort's return to the UFC in a 195-pound catchweight contest. What makes this bout interesting is that for the umpteenth time, Belfort looks like a rejuvenated fighter (this time thanks to knockout wins over Terry Martin and Matt Lindland). More importantly, Belfort has the edge in speed and footwork over Franklin, who has developed a somewhat predictable style that overemphasizes his powerful left body kick and equally dangerous straight left.
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Although those are Franklin's best weapons, he leaves himself wide-open for counters to both. Wanderlei Silva eventually found those openings in their bout at UFC 99, and Belfort is a far more fundamentally sound boxer than Silva. His stiff southpaw jab could create problems for Franklin, who doesn't do a good job of controlling range with his own jab. This fight certainly doesn't favor Franklin on the feet, but Belfort has struggled against ground-and-pound-minded opponents in the past, and Franklin has shown nasty striking on the mat.
The ground part of that strategy may prove difficult for Franklin, however. Belfort is hardly a free takedown, and Franklin himself is typically hesitant to hit the mat. If Franklin can't disrupt Belfort's rhythm on the feet with takedowns or clinch work, his chin eventually will catch up to him; Belfort has long been one of the best finishers in the game.
The X factor: Matching up left-handers against each other always yields interesting results, and both fighters could find it difficult to employ their favored tactics effectively. The other variable looming over this fight is Belfort's brain, which is about as stable as an Iranian election. It doesn't take much to throw him off his game, and Franklin is as focused and committed a fighter as you'll find. "Ace" needs to make this an uncomfortable fight for Belfort. If he allows the Brazilian to sit back, create angles and measure punches, this fight will be a painfully one-sided proposition for Cincinnati's favorite son.
The bottom line: Trying to predict what Belfort will do is as pointless as watching a Rob Schneider movie in search of a laugh. That said, Belfort has finally started doing all the things fans have been begging him to do for years: stay patient, work the jab and use all his skills. Franklin won't have an answer for Belfort's superior boxing and massive hand-speed advantage, and by the time he does go for a takedown, he'll find it far easier said than done. This one will end with Franklin starched on the canvas and Belfort instantaneously christened as a premier contender in the middleweight class.
The breakdown: The new guard of the UFC heavyweight division gets another chance to announce his presence when dos Santos attempts to add a high-profile scalp to his collection against faded superstar Filipovic. Once upon a time in Pride, Filipovic's K-1-bred kickboxing made him a terror. Time, however, has robbed him of the balance, reflexes and footwork that made him such a uniquely dangerous fighter. The old Cro Cop makes for a stark contrast to today's Filipovic, who now relies heavily on boxing that won't match up with dos Santos' superior hand speed and accuracy.
Although dos Santos does have a habit of walking straight in and keeping his right hand too low, Filipovic was getting walked down by Mostapha Al Turk at UFC 99. (I could solve world hunger in the time it took Filipovic to find the huge openings in Al Turk's defense.) When commentators Joe Rogan and Mike Goldberg find the holes in your opponent's defense before you do, you've got problems. Because of dos Santos' aggressive style, Filipovic won't have the time he needs to find a home for his strikes. He doesn't do well when he's forced out of his methodical style, and dos Santos will step right inside his range with powerful, accurate punches. Whether Filipovic still has the balance and speed to do anything about it is what will decide his future fistic fate.
The X factor: Injuries are the universal reality in sports, and figuring out just how much they influence a fighter's performance is like trying to get through an episode of "TMZ": absolutely pointless in multiple ways. Filipovic has struggled with injuries in the past. Now he claims a clean bill of health, but after watching his supposed comeback against Al Turk, it appears he has more than injuries to worry about. The tools are there: Filipovic's left high kick and southpaw jab are tailor-made to pick dos Santos apart. The ability to use them may be a thing of the past, though.
The bottom line: At this point in his career, Filipovic's legendary left high kick is a weapon he can no longer wield, and that inability to keep opponents at bay with the threat of kicks has thrown off his whole striking game. This reality will become apparent when dos Santos gets right in his grille and starts winging combinations that Filipovic doesn't have the means to evade or counter. It won't take long for dos Santos to discover that his favored left-hook-feint-to-right-uppercut combo has a home inside Filipovic's defense. That same right uppercut that caved in Fabricio Werdum's jaw will add another low point to Cro Cop's UFC career.
Tomas Rios is a contributor to Sherdog.com.