At this Saturday's UFC 103, former UFC Middleweight champion Rich "Ace" Franklin will welcome the returning former UFC Light Heavyweight champion and UFC 12 Heavyweight tournament winner "The Phenom" Vitor Belfort back to the Octagon. Even though this will be contested at a catch-weight, this bout should have huge implications on how each fighter fits into their respective weight's title pictures.
Franklin, coming off a victory over Wanderlei Silva, had recently been attempting to work his way up the ladder at 205 lbs until agreeing to his last two fights at 195.
Belfort, who has not fought in the UFC since losing a split decision to Tito Ortiz in February 2005, has been tear since dropping to 185 and looks to be on the fast track for a title shot versus Anderson Silva.
Styles make fights, so here is how I see these two stacking up against each other in several aspects of the matchup.
Rich Franklin was known for having some of the best stand up in the middleweight division, until his two losses to Anderson Silva. Of his last 12 victories, wight have been by knockout or technical knockout. Although he doesn't seem to have one-punch knockout power, his striking accuracy and the way he uses his punched to control the fight is what has made him one of the best fighters in the world.
Vitor Belfort may have the fastest hands in the division. His striking always seems to come with bad intentions. Even though it has been over eight years, Belfort had the power to overwhelm heavyweights with ease.
Although he may have lost some power over the years due to the dropping in weight classes, he still has plenty of dynamite inside those five-ounce gloves.
Franklin seems to have trouble with faster opponents, but does well to keep shorter fighters at bay with his reach. Belfort doesn't care what size you are, but working your stand-up in the octagon is different than the ring. I give a razor thin edge to Franklin.
Franklin only has one submission win in his last 12 fights, although he does have good ground and pound. Belfort also only has one submission victory's ground and pound is as good as Franklin's, but The Phenom is a Gracie Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt and was an amateur BJJ champion. So although the GnP is a push, the BJJ gives the nod to Belfort.
Big Fight Experience
Belfort has fought some of the biggest names in MMA. His previous opponents include Chuck Liddell, Alistair Overeem, Tito Ortiz, and Randy Couture to name a few. Unfortunately, most of those fights took place prior to 2006.
Franklin has had almost nothing but big fights since his victory over Ken Shamrock in April 2005. That is what happens when you become the Middleweight Kingpin in the UFC.
The only common opponent they have in the last five years is Dan Henderson. Belfort lost by unanimous decision while Franklin dropped a split decision that really could have gone either way.
No disrespect meant to Terry Martin and Matt Lindland, but Belfort has not had to fight Anderson Silva twice, Wanderlei Silva, Travis Lutter, and Yushin Okami all in the UFC. Edge goes to Franklin.
This may be one of the closest contested non-title main events in quite some time. Both have a lot to shoot for, and could lose ground in the pecking order with a bad performance.
Franklin typically is the bigger, stronger fighter when fighting at middleweight. He seemed to have that advantage over Wanderlei, but that was Wandy's first time cutting that low. Belfort has fought has high as heavyweight in the past, and his last two fights were at 185, so the cut won't affect his power and cardio.
When Belfort in mentally right going into a fight, he usually has the goods to out think his prey. However, hunting the former 185 champion is a whole different animal since Franklin knows how to game plan as well as anyone having to do so for multiple title fights.
Rich Franklin has the championship pedigree, the octagon experience, and the skills to beat almost anyone at either 185 or 205. However he seems to struggle some with fighters that push the pace and that he can't out muscle. Not only will Belfort push the pace, but his power may be more than Franklin is bargaining for.
I do think that both guys possess what it takes to win, but I will go with Vitor Belfort by second round TKO.