The return of the old Crocop? Dos Santos to be the next heavyweight star? The return of the old Vitor? Kampmann to be the next title challenger? Koscheck, Griffin to remain relevant in their divisions? Toss in the first-round coinflip of a Drew McFedries bout and you know what story will be told by each match on UFC 103. That’s really a testament to the well-oiled functioning of the Zuffa machine: every bit of this card is just one cog in the greater whole, and that gives some meaning to a card that’s otherwise light on star power (due to scheduling oddities and the reality of going head-to-head with a major boxing card).
While there aren’t any must-see fights on this card, like UFC 102 the bouts are all well-matched, so we could see a surprising runaway success of excitement and titilation, or a complete fizzle as fighters cancel each other out. Either way, every serious fight fan should be watching
Vitor Belfort (+115) vs. Rich Franklin (-130)
This is a difficult fight to handicap, as both fighters are on the downswing of their careers. Granted, Vitor’s career has essentially been one long downswing, with occasional bumps in the road that assure true believers that he’s finally got it all together. This time around the story is that his training with Randy Couture has finally put everything together for him. I’ll believe it when I see it. Rich’s story is a little more clear-cut. After Anderson Silva stomped his face off for the second time, Rich’s purpose in the division and motivation to strive for elite status became muddled. Rich seems to have contented himself by pretending to be the UFC’s 195lb champion, but his last two performances, while both solid (and leaving aside the fact that he was robbed against Henderson), were lackluster.
Against both Henderson and Wanderlei, the footwork and angles that earned Franklin his title strap didn’t seem as effective, with Franklin eating more leather than he’d like in both fights, and his looping strikes seemed to create more opportunities for Franklin to be countered and hit than in the past, when they’ve helped him penetrate his opponent’s guard by coming in from unusual angles. If fighters that telegraph their punches as badly as Henderson and Wanderlei are still landing on you, a crisper striker like Vitor is going to pop you pretty badly.
Vitor’s problems are well-established by now: he’s a flake and a quitter. If things don’t go his way, or he gets hit too hard, or if Rich drags the fight out and makes him work, he could become sad and quit fighting, just letting the decision fall against him. The most surefire way to get Vitor to quit has been to take him down and grind him, as done by Couture, Ortiz, Overeem, and Henderson. All of those men are top-flight wrestlers, and Vitor is a pretty solid wrestler himself, so Franklin will struggle to execute that plan.
In fact, it’s questionable whether Franklin will even try for the takedown; he’s always been a stand-up fighter, occasionally ground-and-pounding an opponent, but lately he’s only gone for takedowns when in absolutely dire straits, exchanging on the feet even with Wanderlei, who has always struggled with his takedown defense and is much less of a threat off his back.
Vitor is a tough guy, only being finished by Couture in his grinding prime and Overeem’s always-lethal guillotine. Franklin isn’t the most lethal striker around, so he’ll have to beat on Vitor for all three rounds. With Vitor’s clean punching technique and handspeed, it’s just too likely that Franklin gets cracked at some point. Rich is a tough guy, but he doesn’t recover well from being hurt, losing his composure and basically having the wheels fall off. If Vitor gets a good shot on him, he will flurry and this will be over. Vitor Belfort by KO round 1.
If your book takes prop bets, I would recommend hedging by taking Vitor by KO and Franklin by decision. Vitor is too much of a flake for me to recommend a straight-up play on him.
How good is Dos Santos, really? What does Crocop have left in the tank? Is he going to be completely dummied again like in the Overeem fight? A fight that has interesting questions that will be answered in the ring will always get your attention.
Dos Santos has been on a tear in his extremely brief UFC career, two one-sided beatdowns that total 135 seconds of experience in the big show. It’s obvious he has good hands, big power, and a lot of potential. Can a big, explosive fighter like that maintain that pace into the second or third round? Are his hands good enough to deal with a legitimate striker and not a guy that throws slap haymakers or a 14 year old on stilts?
Crocop looked crisp, fast, and explosive again against Al-Turk, but Al-Turk didn’t have anything to offer standing up. It really shouldn’t be overlooked that Crocop’s K-1 experience is far, far beyond anything Dos Santos saw on the Brazilian kickboxing circuit. If Mirko really is back in fighting trim, he should be able to defend Dos Santos’ bombs and pick his counter shots through the loose guard of Dos Santos. If Mirko looks old and worn down again, he’s going to get beat to hell.
One thing that often gets underestimated about Crocop is his staying power. In K-1 he was rarely knocked down or out, and in MMA the spectacular times he’s been knocked out overshadow the times he’s shown his durability (notably taking prolonged hammerings from Kongo and Fedor). Dos Santos by decision at being offered at very long odds at some bookmakers, and I was able to grab it at +750, which I’d recommend.
This is a fight where the outcome will be determined by the first minute or two of the fight. If Mirko comes in out for blood, is able to appropriately block when Dos Santos rushes him with punches, and make his opponent pay for dropping his guard, then we’ll see what kind of mental game Dos Santos has. On the other hand, if Mirko is old and fragile, not moving fluidly on creaky knees, and is afraid of Dos Santos’ power, it will be a complete hammerjob for the Brazilian. I think you have to respect Crocop’s skills and give his physical abilities the benefit of the doubt in light of a recommitment to the sport. Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic by TKO round 3.
With the replacement of Mike Swick by Paul Daley, this fight went from a reasonably interesting tilt between two well-rounded fighters to a straight-up style vs. style UFC 1 type endeavor. Make no mistake about it: despite Kampmann’s shiny euro kickboxing titles, if he tries to strike with Daley he’s going to get torn apart. Kampmann punches like his arms are rusted into position, slowly and with his elbow locked at a perfect 90 degree angle. This is effective enough against fighters that can’t strike, but when someone can legitimately throw back, Kampmann always eats it right in the face. The guy has a good chin, but Daley isn’t going to stop with just one punch. If he rocks Kampmann, he’s going to throw until Kampmann is face-up and out cold, which will take a lot, as Kampmann is much tougher than he looks and has a great beard.
Similarly, if Kampmann lands a takedown at any point, he should be able to walk right through Daley’s atrocious guard and arm-triangle him to death in no time flat. Given that Daley’s takedown defense consists primarily of wildly trying to explode out of everything, if Kampmann gets even a half-decent trip going, he’ll cruise to victory. The one area for concern is that Kampmann has tried kickboxing every opponent he’s fought, only going for takedowns when they’re clearly whipping his ass in the striking department. Against a finisher like Daley, Kampmann may not get the chance to learn from his mistakes and change strategies. Martin Kampmann by submission (arm triangle) round 1.
It’s tempting to bet on Daley at such long odds, but it’s hard to believe Kampmann won’t get the takedown.
This fight has had a strange vibe ever since it was announced. It’s difficult to explain or place exactly why, but don’t be surprised by anything that happens when these two step into the cage.
Koscheck has turned himself into an amusing product, both in terms of fighting style and promotional personality, but he is lightyears away from a title shot at this point, so fights like this make sense for him. Trigg is a tough, but surmountable obstacle. Koscheck has been working on improving his striking, but that was his undoing against both Thiago Alves and Paulo Thiago (with some assistance from an overeager Marc Goddard). Trigg has pop in his hands, but he’s someone Koscheck will likely have a striking advantage over if he wants to get more live practice in.
However, the surest path to beat Trigg is to dominate him with wrestling. This invariably gets him out of sorts and leads to him giving up the back and the RNC. If Koscheck plays this smart, he will return to his roots and crush Trigg with the double leg, reminding everyone of the good old days as we share a laugh at the expense of poor Trigg. Of concern is the fact that Koscheck has shown a pavlovian shock-training reaction to any sort of submission exchange lately. If he can overcome that, he should give everyone the choke they’re hoping for. Josh Koscheck by submission round 1.
Franca has mediocre cardio, A+ power, horrible striking technique, a killer top game, and poor takedown defense with a survivable guard. Tyson Griffin is an athletic all-rounder with no outstanding finishing skills. Unless Franca nails him with one of those absurdly concussive windmills, Griffin runs three rounds of takedowns on Franca. Tyson Griffin by decision.
Cole Miller is a popular underdog play, and I don’t understand why. Cole has some legit skills, but this is a guy that was a hair’s breadth away from losing a decision to Jorge Gurgel. This is a well-matched fight. If Escudero has any undiscovered weaknesses, Miller will exploit them, and if Miller has made large improvements in his weak areas (primarily takedown defense, secondarily striking) then this will be a good chance for him to demonstrate that and make another claim of relevance. This should be a tough, competitive fight throughout. Efrain Escudero by decision.
You have to give Drwal credit. His name is easier to spell than Krzysztof Soszynski’s, and he has the best nickname (Gorilla) this side of Mamed “Cannibal” Khalidov. The guy is enormously powerful, in his punches and in functional strength, throwing around big 205lb fighters like toys, but cutting down in weight due to his height (and possibly a weaker division). McFedries is one of the most terrifying strikers in MMA, with a cartoonish amount of KO power and a very relaxed, predatory style. He also has absolutely nothing on the ground and a poor chin, making him a complete boom or bust fighter. If McFedries puts hands on Drwal, this fight is over. Similarly, if Drwal makes contact with McFedries’ chin, his night is over. Like James Irvin vs. Houston Alexander, this fight will go to whoever lands first. McFedries has more fluid striking, but Drwal can dump him to the mat and pound him out any time he gets a body lock, so he must be (slightly) favored. Tomasz Drwal by TKO round 1.
It’s time for Jim Miller to show that he really deserves all the hype. He’s earned a bit of a softball, having fought a very tough schedule, and he’s being given one here. Lopez will have to show far more than he has in his previous fights in order to avoid getting submitted by a very game Miller. Jim Miller by submission round 1.
As shaky as his record is, Oliveira is a much more tested fighter than Lentz. This is an opportunity for either man to show what they’re really made of. Oliveira will most likely prove to be far superior. Rafaello Oliveira by decision.
Brian Foster has some big power, knocking out the very durable Kyle Baker in under a minute. If he can get his hands on Story, he’ll win the day. Brian Foster by KO round 1.
Brilz is the very real deal; a dominant wrestler in a division made up almost entirely of strikers. Marshall has legit ground skills, but hasn’t shown any ability to get out from underneath a heavy wrestler. Lots of control, lots of boos, a win for Brilz. Jason Brilz by decision.
This is one of the few mis-set lines on the card, and good for a play.
Matyushenko looked like garbage in his last fight, and might be wearing down after a long career. Igor is cro-cop’s sparring partner and has no real business being here. We could see a shocking upset with a totally unworthy fighter sticking around the octagon long enough to become a byword for can, or we could see Matyushenko handle someone that doesn’t belong in the UFC. Class usually wins out. Vladimir Matyushenko by decision.
The Lords of South County ride again! Well, probably not. Emerson has shown his skills at this point: he has pretty good hands and enough power to keep opponents honest, but he struggles on the ground. Rafael dos Anjos is still working on developing an acceptable striking game, but his ground skills are lethal, so he should be able to take down Emerson and send him right out of the UFC with a leglock. Rafael dos Anjos by submission, round 1.
1u Jason Brilz (at +110) to win 1.1u