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UFC 103 Preview: Rich Franklin vs. Vitor Belfort

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Rich Franklin is a guy that loves his job. Want him to fight who? No problem. You name the weight. Having bounced back and forth recently between middleweight and light heavyweight, Rich once again finds himself in a catch weight fight at 195 pounds. And once again, this 34-year-old fighter finds himself staring across the cage at a very dangerous opponent. Coming off a competitive decision victory over Wanderlei Silva in June, the former middleweight champion has now set his sights on Vitor Belfort. Rich is a fairly strategic fighter so it will be interesting to see what kind of approach he takes on Saturday night to counter Vitor's hand speed. Rich can't afford to let him connect too often. "Ace" needs to keep his hands up when Vitor is in range while remembering to constantly keep circling off, showing his opponent lots of movement. Rich has only lost to three fighters so far in his career: Lyoto Machida, twice to Anderson Silva and a close decision loss to Dan Henderson. But if he truly wants to make some noise at light heavyweight (which many observers believe is perhaps the most talent rich division in the sport), he'll need to overcome this challenge on Saturday. Franklin has a professional record of 25-4 with thirteen wins coming by way of knockout and nine wins coming by way of submission. The combined career winning percentage of the opponents that he has faced so far in his career is 67.1%.

It's amazing to me that Vitor Belfort is only 32-years-old. "The Phenom" seems to have been a part of this sport since almost the beginning. Having started his professional career at 19-years-old back in 1997, fans have seen Vitor compete in high profile events for thirteen years now. Belfort has always had a ton of potential but many have questioned his mental toughness over the years. Now that he's older, wiser and a family man, Belfort seems to sense that he's only got a little time left to compete at a high level. With a newfound sense of urgency, Belfort began competing in a new weight class last year. From what I've been able to tell, middleweight looks to be where he should have been all along. This would appear to be his natural fighting weight. He supposedly doesn't have any trouble making 185 lbs. and he looks as quick and sharp as ever, only he won't be fighting naturally bigger guys. Everyone knows about Belfort's impressive hand speed and power but he also is no slouch on the ground. He's struggled some against talented wrestlers but now that he's facing them at a more natural weight class I'll be interested to see if he performs better. Belfort has a professional record of 18-8 with twelve wins coming by way of knockout and two wins coming by way of submission. The combined career winning percentage of the opponents that he has faced so far in his career is 64.5%.

I know that Vitor wants to exclusively fight at 185 pounds but I applaud both he and Rich for meeting at this catch weight. It will be interesting to see how these two southpaws engage each other. Both fighters have a little momentum: Vitor with his impressively quick knockout of Matt Lindland earlier this year and Franklin coming off of his victory over Silva in Germany this summer. My guess is that Rich is likely to come out strong early. I don't expect Franklin to stand in the pocket and exchange with Belfort very much. I'm thinking that it will be the final round where Vitor finally catches his opponent and puts him away. Rich has proven to be a survivor, however, and a decision in his favor wouldn't surprise me too much either. My prediction: Vitor Belfort by TKO in the 3rd. What say you?

UFC 103: Franklin vs. Belfort coverage