Even though there is no title belt on the line, the main event of UFC 103 packs a whole lot of interest into the maximum 15 minutes these two warriors will go toe-to-toe.
On one side of the cage you have Rich Franklin, the former middleweight champion and consummate professional, headlining his third event of the year.
Across from him is the returning Vitor Belfort, a former champion in his own right who steamrolled the competition he faced on the two Affliction cards and looks to instantly establish himself as a title threat in whatever division he decides upon.
Simply put, this one is going to be explosive.
Rich “Ace” Franklin (27-4-0, 1 NC) versus Vitor “The Phenom” Belfort (18-8-0)
Starting where we always do, the former light heavyweight champion Belfort gets an edge for being a member of Xtreme Couture.
Not to take anything away from Franklin and the training he does with Jorge Gurgel and company in Cincinnati, but a training camp spent working with the loaded roster at Xtreme Couture gets the edge.
On the flip side, Franklin holds an advantage when it comes to experience and the consistent level of competition he faces.
While Belfort has been fought some legends in his own right, Matt Lindland serves as the only true test “The Phenom” has faced in the last two years. Defeating Ivan Serati, James Zikic and Terry Martin doesn’t come close to the relentless list of challengers Franklin has fought over that same period of time.
Wanderlei Silva and Dan Henderson are still world class fighters, while Matt Hamill and Travis Lutter are at least on par with the competition Belfort has faced.
Additionally, while Belfort has been earning praise for his performances with Affliction, neither was near the top of the marquee; the Terry Martin fight was a preliminary card bout, while he and Lindland batted in the three hole.
Meanwhile, Rich Franklin routinely headlines events, standing in the center of the ring under the brightest lights of them all and never fails to deliver a quality fight.
The opponents these two fighters share results in a wash; both suffered defeats at the hands of Dan Henderson and came away victorious when faced with Wanderlei Silva.
That being said, Henderson scored a unanimous decision over Belfort who then tested positive for a banned substance after the fight (in Japan, no less, where far less substances are banned). Conversely, Franklin dropped a tough split decision to the Team Quest founder at UFC 93.
Of course, Belfort needed just 44 seconds to finish “The Axe Murderer” at UFC Brazil back in 1998, a far cry from the decision Franklin earned at UFC 99 in June.
Stylistically, these two fit each other quite well and will surely make for an entertaining fight for the fans.
Belfort has ferocious one-punch knockout power, as Matt Lindland learned back in January. He likes to charge forward, a whirlwind of punches looking to end the fight early, and possesses some of the fastest hands in the fight game today.
Though Franklin too is more striker than anything else, the former math teacher is more methodical in his approach, picking his spots, changing levels and mixing in powerful kicks to compliment his stiff left hand.
Not only does this fight mark Belfort’s return to the UFC, but also a marked step up in competition. No disrespect to Matt Lindland, but dropping a 37-year-old who was equally focused on winning an election is not the same as standing across the cage from Rich Franklin.
The winner will instantly earn title consideration, with Franklin in particular becoming a potential light heavyweight challenger for whoever emerges from the UFC 104 main event.
Who will that winner be?
We’ll find out Saturday night in Dallas.