UFC 103 Preview

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UFC 103 Preview
Coming into this weekend’s UFC 103: Franklin vs. Belfort, the most focused on and talked about contest isin’t even a fight on the card. Instead, it’s that old Boxing vs. MMA rivalry being dusted off and brought to the fore once again, as this UFC is directly competing with the Floyd Mayweather vs. Juan Manuel Marquez for Pay-Per-View dominance. With Pretty Boy Floyd and Dana White talking smack into every microphone in earshot, this confrontation has gathered far more heat and interest then any actual fight on either of the cards.

The biggest casualties unfortunately have been the tough, blue collar fighters on either docket – White, who is usually more about speed then accuracy when it comes to media shootouts, called out the always game Marquez for being a “nobody”. And Mayweather, whose stockpile of douchebag is never in short supply, aimed his venom at Rich Franklin in a long rant where he claimed, among other things, that there were eight year olds at his gym who could punch harder then “Ace”.

So, as with grudge matches in most every sport, the byproduct is immature grade school style smack talk. It’s unfortunate, because I think the whole boxing vs. MMA debate is not only irrelevant, it’s unessassary. Here’s a question: why can’t someone be equally a fan of both? I happen to prefer MMA above all other combat sports, but also enjoy watching boxing, K-1, grappling competitons, Olympic Judo, even TKD championships – if there is one-on-one human combat occurring, whatever the forum, chances are I’m watching (even chess-boxing – look it up, it’s real).

The conventional wisdom is that MMA and Boxing (and to some extent, WWE) are all fighting for a limited share of the PPV money pie. MMA is the established leader in PPV right now, firmly on top of the mountain. WWE has fallen somewhat over the years but will always maintain that “core” audience and as far as I know is in no danger of slipping off PPV. Boxing is in the most trouble, but still commands the largest audiences for it’s biggest stars – Oscar De La Hoya easily commands over 2 million buys every time he laces up the gloves, far more then MMA has ever done.

The problem is that Oscar De La Hoya is gone, and with him Boxing’s last mega-superstar. Floyd Mayweather calls himself the “king of pay-per-view” but has only commanded big numbers when facing – you guessed it – Oscar De La Hoya. Still, he believes he is the heir to boxing’s superstar throne (I personally believe it’s Manny Pacquiao, but time will tell), which makes this PPV event very important to him. If he is to prove his status on top of the PPV realm, he needs to have a solid display against an MMA PPV – especially one that lacks a title fight or a truly blockbuster name to draw fans.

So where does that leave us? Despite everything I said above calling for a truce in the Boxing/MMA war, I’m really hoping UFC pulls off the surprise and edges boxing’s numbers. Not because I hate boxing, but because I hate Floyd Mayweather. Egotistical in the extreme, talking endless reams of trash to everyone who will listen, running down the sport I love while neglecting to mention that his biggest money fight in the last year was against the Big Show. I hope UFC beats him out at the box office just to force the brash pugilist to eat some serious crow – but it probably won’t happen. Like I said, the UFC lacks big time star power, and with two UFC events last month, the market may be a little oversaturated for MMA right now. So, instead I’ll just hope that the scrappy Marquez pulls off the upset and instead of crow, Floyd eats shit in his big return match – but again, probably won’t happen.

Check out this article on Sherdog.com – it frames the whole boxing/MMA “feud” pretty much perfectly: http://www.sherdog.com/news/articles/1/note-to-mayweather-amp-boxing-the-battle-is-over-and-you-lost-19810

Where was I? Oh yeah…previewing this month’s UFC. Sorry for the rant folks, and onto our first fight…

Tyson Griffin vs. Hermes France

Tyson Griffin has two distinctive qualities as a fighter. One, he appears to be primarily a pair of tree trunk thighs, with a torso and head kind of stuck on top. Second, he is never in a boring fight. One of those qualities landed him the curtain jerking duties opposite Hermes Franca, a man whose inconsistency in hair style is matched only by his inconsistency in the Octagon. Griffin saw his run at the title stopped by Sean Sherk, while Franca, a former #1 contender, has rebounded off two back to back losses and looks to continue rebuilding his resume at 155.

As with every Griffin fight, expect a fast paced scrap that could go everywhere, and probably will. What makes this interesting is that it’s hard to determine who has the advantage in every individual area. You have to give the cardio and heart to Tyson, but everything else is in the air – his boxing is effective, but his height and reach often cause him problems. When you get outreached by Sean “T-Rex Arms” Sherk it should send a message (especially when Sherk himself was dismantled by Frankie Edgar the fight following), and Griffin needs to find a way to get in close, stay in the pocket, and make his boxing effective.

On the ground, France brings an elite BJJ game – he owns submission victories over Mike Thomas Brown, Jamie Varner, and Nate Diaz, pretty impressive notches on any black belt. This is even more important when you consider that Griffin’s all forward offense leaves him open to submissions – he was almost caught with a pulled out of your ass calf-cutter against Dos Anjos in his last bout.

However, Griffin is a stocky, strong, and powerful wrestler who can control anybody on his weight class in top position. I think this fight will come down to who can impose their will on the ground – Franca with his subs, or Griffin with his wrestling – and who then will be able to dictate the tempo on the feet. I see Griffin using his usual endless gas tank to wear Franca out and win a Unanimous Decision.

Josh Koscheck vs. Frank Trigg

Whoa. Frank Trigg is back? Don’t think I’m not glad to see him, but I have to wonder what in the last few years of Trigg’s career there was to convince Dana White and co. to bring back “Twinkletoes” for another go round. His most memorable UFC appearances were the two highlight reel losses to Matt Hughes and the crushing he received from Georges St. Pierre – all via Rear Naked Choke. Since then he has enjoyed some sucsess at smaller leagues, and apparently all it took was one pleading phone call to Joe Silva for the UFC to give him another shot, and a chance to finish out his career in the big leagues.

That sounds good, but then the UFC put him across the Octagon from Josh Koscheck, which in my mind is setting him up for exactly the same kind of losses that plagues him in his previous run. Trigg showed vulnerability to dominant wrestlers with serviceable stand up skills and tight submission games, a description that fits Koscheck to a tee. At the risk of destroying any journalistic integrity I may have accrued, I don’t think much more needs to be said about this match.

The only time Koscheck has been stopped at the grappling game was against Georges St. Pierre, who completely outwrestled the NCAA Champion in their match. Other then that, Koscheck’s setbacks have come when he became too confident in his standup skills, leaving himself open to being picked apart (Thiago Alves) or flash KO’ed (Paulo Thiago). That being said, Kos still has very strong standup skill, and I don’t think Trigg will bring anything to frustrate him in that department other then a punchers chance at a KO. On the mat, Kos will bring the same wrestling/submission combo that so frustrated Trigg in his last Octagon run. Unless he has signifigantly improved his guard skills and his overall poise off his back, expect Kos to ground Trigg and pound out a TKO in the later rounds.

Martin Kampmann vs. Paul Daley

The fact of this fight just goes to show what a mess the 170 lb. title picture is right now. Originally, this match was slated to be Kampmann vs. Mike Swick with the winner being the new #1 contender, an already flimsy proposition. Then the injury prone Swick suffered a concussion in training, was scratched from the fight, and replaced by debuting British striker Paul “Semtex” Daley. Is this match still a #1 contender’s match, if only for Kampmann? And if so, will a win here – over a debuting fighter – be anything close to enough to sell him as a legit opponent for GSP?

Needless to say, Joe Silva has a bit of a headache on his hands, but the result for the fans in Dallas should be an intriguing fight, even if fan interest in the fighters themselves will be somewhat less then enthusiastic. Paul Daley is that rare kind of fighter that relies exclusively on his skillset in one area – namely, his kickboxing, which is both technical and powerful. On the ground though, he is somewhat less then proficient – all Jake Sheilds had to do what buttscoot for a round to eventually catch him in a submission.

Kampmann, on the other hand, brings a very diverse skillset. He has tight ground skills, good cardio, and a wrestling game honed and tightened at Xtreme Couture. The best strategy for him in this fight would be to follow Jake Shield’s gameplan and look to take the fight down as quickly as possible – minus the undignified refusal to rise off his ass. The problem is that for all Kampmann’s diversity, his base style is still kickboxing, meaning he always looks to keep the fight standing first and foremost. Another (potential) problem is Kampmann’s chin – which some believe is less then granite – that could get him in trouble in long exchanges with the dangerous Brit.

So for me, this fight all comes down to what Kampmann brings to the cage. If he is smart, operating under a tight Randy Couture gameplan, then he should look to use his striking to set up a takedown or a trip. Once he has Daley on the ground, he should look to hold him there, tire him out, and hit a submission from top position, which he could concieveably do within a round. If he gets drawn into a slugfest, however, his chances drop signifigantly. He’s not outclassed on the feet, but he has no reason to fight in Daley’s realm, and should get the quick win to solidify his claim to a 170 title shot. Kampmann via submission.

Mirko Cro Cop vs. Junior Dos Santos

One of my greatest MMA Nostradamus moments (and there have been so few) was my “calling” of Junior Dos Santos. It was UFC 90, his opponent was top 10 ranked Fabricio Werdum, and everyone but me was calling for a win for Werdum over the Octagon debuant. One devastating, Mortal Kombat style uppercut later, and my outside pick had been vindicated. That more people weren’t calling for his victory was a surprise – a student of the Nogueria brothers and a member of the same camp as Anderson Silva and Lyoto Machida, the Brazillian kickboxing champion had all the tools in the gym to make a big name for himself.

Following that and another devastating knockout, he is on the verge of making that name for himself now. He faces his biggest test yet in Pride Openweight Grandprix winner, K-1 kickboxer, SWAT team member and representative of Croatian parliament, Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic. If you couldn’t tell from that long list of accolades, Cro Cop is one of the biggest MMA stars internationally, and there was a time where his left high kick was the most feared weapon in all the MMA world.

Time has not been kind to the Croatian, however. His much heralded UFC debut ended in disappointment following back to back losses to Gabriel Gonzaga and Cheick Kongo. His time fighting outside the Octagon since then has yielded mixed results – questionable wins (Hong Man Choi) and exploded testicles (Alastair Overeem) have not exactly set the world on fire. His latest UFC run is truly his final chance to restore his feared reputation and add that one piece of hardware that has eluded him his whole career – the UFC heavyweight championship.

It’s truly the old guard vs. the new guard in this one, where a win launches one man towards a title shot and a loss sends the other into career limbo. Cro Cop is determined, hungry, and according to himself, back in his old form. I really hope that is all true – he’s going to need it against Dos Santos, who has been an absolute animal in his two UFC bouts so far. I’m going to go out on a limb here and call Dos Santos via devastating, highlight reel knockout in the first or second round. Cro Cop has always been vulnerable to opponents who pushed the pace and walked him down, the strategy Fedor, Gonzaga, and Kongo all used to great effect in their matches with the Croatian. Even in his last win over Mustapha Al-Turk, Cro Cop showed he all too easily gave up the center of the Octagon to his opponent, and I see Junior walking Cro Cop down, pressuring him with his boxing before putting him to sleep with a devastating combination.

Rich Frankin vs. Vitor Belfort

I imagine Dana White has a red phone in his office, Batman style. Anytime he can’t fill a main event, something comes up, or someone is making their debut and an opponent is needed, he picks it up, and is connected with Rich Franklin. The dude is the unsung hero of the UFC right now, the blue collar fighter entering his third UFC bout this year, and his third time stuck in a match that doesn’t benefit him at all, save for it’s a main event that he is in. Need someone to main event in Ireland? Get Rich Franklin! How about Germany? Franklin, baby. Need a big name for an imaginary weight class? You know the drill.

I’ve gone on at length about Franklin’s weight class limbo, and once again he finds himself as the 195 lb. doormat for a fighter looking to continue down to 185. In this case, that fighter is Vitor Belfort, returning once again to the UFC following a career of ups and downs and a successful “restart” as a middleweight. Throwing aside all outside considerations, however, this is a very intriguing fight that has all the makings of a classic brawl.

In every area, the fighters are almost perfectly matched. Vitor’s boxing is incredibly fast and powerful, and he’s coming off highlight reel KO’s of Terry Martin and Matt Lindland which prove he lost none of his power dropping to 185. Franklin’s striking game is not as fast or as powerful, but it’s more diverse and disciplined, and it gives him more weapons, such as a devastating left kick to the body that can end a fight (just ask Matt Hamill). Both guys are southpaw, meaning it’ll be hard to predict how the striking exchanges will unfold. On the ground, they are even more closely matched. Vitor brings a black belt in BJJ into the cage as well as solid wrestling skills, but Franklin is one of the most underrated grapplers in the UFC today, and it’s a toss up to predict who will have the advantage once this fight hits the floor – if it even does.

The X factor hanging over this fight is Vitor’s mental strength, which at times as been somewhat less then solid. For about the millionth time, were being told that this is the return of the “old” Vitor, but only time will tell if that’s just Lucy setting up the football again. Franklin, on the other hand is solid as a rock mentally, and a master of sticking to his strategy no matter how intense the firefight he is in. The key for him will be to establish the left kick and the jab early, weather the early storm from Vitor and look to pick him apart in the later rounds. If Vitor can’t crack Franklin in the opening minutes, he will be forced into a mental battle that Franklin excels at, and Franklin should pick apart his way to a TKO in the later rounds.

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