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Franklin-Belfort tops UFC 103 preview

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Saturday's UFC 103 lacks a real drawing card. The show has hard-core fans all over the world salivating, but it's not a show that will capture the hearts and minds of the casual fanbase, and that's the demographic that drives 90 percent of the UFC's current business. Zuffa is still making an attempt to bring in the casual audience; it did a very strong UFC 103 Countdown show, painting Vitor Belfort as one of the baddest men on the planet and a man who may very well kill Rich Franklin in the middle of the cage. There are plenty of fights on the UFC 103 card that have potential for excitement, drama and intrigue.
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Rich Franklin vs. Vitor Belfort

When you look at this bout on the surface, you can't imagine it having much impact on the UFC. The fight is taking place at 195 pounds, a meaningless number between the 205-pound division that Franklin currently calls home and the 185-pound division that Belfort is expected to land in. It's Franklin's second straight fight at the nonexistent weight class; he defeated the popular Wanderlei Silva back at UFC 99 in June. Both fighters are going in the opposite directions; Franklin is biding his time in the hopes that he'll somehow find himself in the light heavyweight title mix at some point in the future, but is content to simply have exciting fights in the meantime. Belfort is virtually guaranteed a future shot at middleweight champion Anderson Silva no matter what happens in this fight, but has made noises about competing at light heavyweight as well. Belfort's UFC return is the major story of the bout, and for good reason. More than a decade ago, he was dubbed "The Phenom", the prototype for the next generation of mixed martial artists. He was a Brazilian jiujitsu master with some of the fastest and nastiest boxing hands on the planet, mixing power and ferocity with unprecedented speed. He had all the potential in the world. Unfortunately, Belfort's career hasn't gone as planned. His last UFC run in 2005 didn't go as planned, but he certainly had a valid excuse — his sister Priscila was kidnapped in 2005 — and a distracted Belfort couldn't seem to get back on track. Since late 2006, however, Belfort is undefeated and has shown brief flashes of what hardcore fans like to call "the old Vitor." Belfort's last victory came in January of this year when he landed a seven-second brutal knockout of the ultra-tough Matt Lindland that left Lindland twitching on the canvas.
Yes, the old Vitor may indeed be back. And if that's the case, Franklin may be in for a rough night. Franklin has precise strikes, but he will not want to get involved in a boxing match with Belfort. It worked against Wanderlei Silva, but Belfort carries far more speed and packs far more power than the aging Silva does. Epect Belfort to come out swinging. Franklin doesn't deal well with persistent strikers who are also accurate, and that's exactly what the revitalized Belfort brings to the table.

Mirko Cro Cop vs. Junior dos Santos

Cro Cop's star has been fading over the past few years, but he's determined to right the ship and make a run for the UFC heavyweight championship. He says he's finally comfortable in the cage and is 100 percent healthy and mentally focused for the first time since his glory years in Pride. Standing in his way, though, is dos Santos. Trained by the Nogueira brothers, the young Brazilian is one of the brightest prospects in the heavyweight division. He made his UFC debut by knocking out top heavyweight Fabricio Werdum, who had never been finished prior to the fight. This fight will not go to the ground, and it has all the right ingredients for fight of the night. Both fighters despise the idea of a ground fight, and thus will simply stand and trade knockout punches for the duration of the fight. If Cro Cop is his Pride version, a fighter comfortable in his own skin and with his surroundings, then he could very well finish Dos Santos. If a tentative Cro Cop steps into the cage, however, it's going to be a short night. Dos Santos has the striking skills and the power to finish just about anyone.

Martin Kampmann vs. Paul Daley

Poor Kampmann. He was scheduled to face Mike Swick in a No. 1-contender bout for the welterweight championship, but Swick suffered a concussion and had to pull out of the bout. Swick was replaced with Daley, but a Kampmann victory no longer means a shot at the belt. Daley is an Affliction refugee. Scheduled to face Jay Hieron at the canceled Affliction show in August, Daley signed with the UFC when Affliction closed and returned to the UFC fold. He was scheduled to fight on the undercard of UFC 103, but was asked to replace Swick on the main card. Daley is an exciting striker, but he's never faced anyone like Kampmann. The Denmark native has faced the best in the world and has come out on top more often than not; the past three years have seen Kampmann score victories over Thales Leites, Jorge Rivera and Carlos Condit. Daley has a puncher's chance, but that's about it. He's out of his league against his opponent in this one.

Josh Koscheck vs. Frank Trigg

These two fighters are almost mirror images of one another, with stellar wrestling pedigrees almost completely tossed aside in favor of rapidly-improving striking games. Both have the kind of wrestling skills that can easily dictate the pace of a fight, but seemingly prefer to stand and strike. Koscheck is a younger, stronger and faster version of Trigg. His time at American Kickboxing Academy has turned him into a well-rounded and powerful striker, which is a far cry from the Josh Koscheck that emerged from the Ultimate Fighter house. Koscheck can dominate just about anyone when relying on wrestling alone, but has learned one of the most important facts about life in the UFC: in order to stick around, in order to make more money, you have to be exciting. Trigg wants to capture the same type of legacy that fighters like Randy Couture and Chuck Liddell enjoy. That's the sole reason for his return to the UFC, and it has to be the truth; why else would Trigg give up a comfortable career as a broadcaster and radio personality and put himself through the rigors of training for a fight at his age?

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Trigg's desire and passion may fuel him through his last UFC run, but it's not going to help him against Koscheck. Kos is too strong and too athletic, and he'll be able to negate almost anything Trigg throws at him. If Trigg somehow puts Kos in a situation he doesn't like, expect Koscheck to take him down and turn it into a wrestling match. That's a place where Koscheck should enjoy a healthy advantage.

Tyson Griffin vs. Hermes Franca

Griffin has the ability to put on exciting fights when matched with the right opponent, but he also has the ability to turn into a human wet blanket in grinding out boring decisions. Griffin's last seven fights have gone to a decision. Franca is still trying to recover from his positive drug test back at UFC 73. He was suspended for a year and then lost to Frankie Edgar upon his return. His last outing was nearly a year ago at UFC 90, where he beat Marcus Aurelio in a thrilling bout that won Fight of the Night honors. You're probably going to see an exciting fight. In fact, that seems to be the entire reason for matching these two fighters up. Neither man is close to the top half of the lightweight division, and neither man will be in contention with a victory here. This bout can go either way.

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