“Each of the Five Points is a finger,” said Bill “The Butcher” Cutting in the film Gangs of New York. “When I close my hand it becomes a fist. And, if I wish, I can turn it against you.”
Twenty-two of the Ultimate Fighting Championships’ mixed martial artists will enter the American Airlines Arena in Dallas, Texas on September 19 for UFC 103, make fists, and turn them against each other. Here are five points to watch for on Saturday night.
Between Home and Hell
(Franklin does the man dance with Yushin Okami during his middleweight days.)
Rich Franklin isn’t a middleweight and he’s not yet a light heavyweight. He’s trying, but catch-weight 195-pound main event duties call. Physically, the weight class suits him and earning a decision over Wanderlei Silva in June at UFC 99 helps the cause, however, it doesn’t advance his career in terms of championship gold. Vitor Belfort brings even less credibility to Franklin’s 205-future, so a bout against the dangerous Brazilian feels may feel more like hell than home.
Belfort was a heavyweight sensation and a light heavyweight champion before going stale and reviving his career at middleweight, He’s leaving the only division to treat him like a gentleman to meet Franklin in his first UFC bout since losing to Tito Ortiz in February 2005. Fighting a former middleweight title-holder, Belfort’s ledger lines him up for a chance at Anderson Silva’s crown with a win.
Franklin must keep distance and strike with combinations against the lightning fast, heavy-hitting professional boxer. The keys for “Ace” are kicks and takedowns—Belfort is susceptible off his back considering his straight-forward guard and inability to get up or scramble immediately. Franklin is a white-collar strategist with blue-collar ability, so Belfort is best served employing his explosive speed and power to defeat Franklin.
Both will go through hell before they get back home to their respective divisions.
Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic is still in the UFC, and yes, he’s still dangerous.
Junior dos Santos is just arriving, but its apparent he’s a threat too. The Brazilian is an Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira protégé with lead hands. Crocop is a K-1 level striker and was once considered the second best heavyweight in the world. If he remembers to set up his kicks with punches, he’s unstoppable. Dos Santos needs to make it a fast, ugly, in-your-face fight because striking with Crocop is a lethal injection.
Given Crocop’s notoriety, a win likely puts him in a title bout. A win for dos Santos couldn’t hurt his title shot chances, either.
Welterweight Mountain Climbers
Paul Daley fills in for Mike Swick against Martin Kampmann. The heavy-handed sprawl-and-brawl Brit is another Affliction transfer, although he has the best luck, immediately finding himself in a contender bout. Swick-Kampmann was widely considered the fight to determine champion Georges St. Pierre’s next opponent. The bad news for Daley is Kampmann just had a Fight of the Year candidate against Carlos Condit, besting the former WEC champion and remaining undefeated at his new weight. If Kampmann can press the fight on the ground, the Cage Rage champion’s chances at a strong debut diminish.
(Josh Koscheck does work against a guy who is definitely not Jon Fitch.)
Frank Trigg had two shots at the UFC title before becoming an exile. Josh Koscheck has all the potential to challenge and capture the title, however, he continues to fail in his number one contender tests against St. Pierre, Alves and a hiccup of a KO loss against then-unknown Paulo Thiago. Koscheck’s athleticism and stand-up favors him, especially since Trigg hasn’t seen the Octagon since October 2005. However, Trigg is resourceful and constantly improving in addition to having a size advantage after dropping from middleweight.
Sean Sherk ruined Hermes Franca and Tyson Griffin’s title aspirations. He controlled Franca on the mat at UFC 73 in July 2007 when defending his title. A fallen champion, Sherk bested Griffin standing according to judges at UFC 90 last October. Franca and Griffin have only had one win since (although Franca had two attempts), but given their stature in the sport, are always just a few rungs from a chance at gold.
Griffin has trouble with jiu-jitsu fighters and Franca is a great one. However, he has the wrestling to dictate where the fight takes place and more technical striking. The Brazilian has power to challenge Griffin standing. If Griffin can push the pace while avoiding danger, he should edge out Franca.
In preliminary action, Robert Emerson’s striking challenges tough Brazilian Rafael Dos Anjos.
Efrain Escudero, “The Ultimate Fighter” season eight winner makes his non-TUF debut against fellow TUF veteran Cole “Magrino” Miller. Escudero must fight ring rust after nine months off due in part to cracked rib and torn cartilage in addition to Miller’s chain submissions. The American Top Team product may stay standing with Escudero, though, as he hasn’t displayed a serious threat off the mat.
Steve Lopez has the meanest “Welcome to the UFC” party available against Jim Miller, a well-rounded fighter that offers up a full menu of pain.
Finding New Life
Debuting UFC fighters Igor Pokrajac and Nik Lentz look to spoil the ride over from defunct Affliction to the Octagon for Vladimir Matyushenko and Rafaello Oliveira respectively. Pokrajac—a “Cro Cop” understudy—draws a tough card in the UFC veteran and former IFL champion Matysuhenko in light heavyweight action, while Lentz brings his Minnesota Martial Arts pedigree against jiu-jitsu fighter Rafaello Oliveira in lightweight action. Oliveira, however, doesn’t have the benefit of being a UFC veteran like Matysuhenko coming over from Affliction.
Hit Squad member Brian Foster graduates from regional shows to the UFC and expects to start his run as the next Matt Hughes at welterweight against Rick “The Horror” Story, who dropped his UFC debut to John Hathaway at UFC 99 in June.
Tomasz Drwal brings his two-fight win streak down to middleweight from light heavyweight against Drew McFedries. It’s the style matchup Drwal prefers, but McFedries’ striking didn’t earn him the name “Massacre” for nothing.
Eliot Marshall attempts to erase his “The Ultimate Fighter” showing against Tim “The Barbarian” Boestch conqueror Jason Brilz to round out the card.