DALLAS – While Rich Franklin will likely never say it, he didn't want a fight in September, let alone one against Vitor Belfort. Franklin would have preferred some time off, but the need for a headliner for UFC 103 pushed him into making the decision to participate.
Franklin may be a company man, but that loyalty – along with Belfort's considerable skills – cost Franklin, as Belfort returned to the UFC with a shocking first-round TKO over the ex-UFC middleweight champion in front of 17,428 at the American Airlines Center.
The win capped off a 13-fight, six-hour, two-network MMA marathon event.
"In life we go through battles and phases," Belfort said after his first octagon win since October 2004. "The bible says that glory from the second house is bigger than the first. I'm ready to get it. If God gives it to me, I'm ready to receive it."
Belfort started slow, measuring Franklin for the first two minutes of the fight and keeping his big left hand holstered. The end came quickly. Belfort clipped Franklin with a left behind the ear, knocking him off balance. Franklin fell forward and Belfort smothered him from the side. A hammerfist hurt Franklin and Belfort followed up with a pair of left hands that ended Franklin's night.
"He's Brazilian and he's southpaw. I tend to struggle with those guys for some reason," Franklin said to a laugh from the media. (The ex-UFC champ also lost twice to Anderson Silva, another lefty from Brazil).
Belfort improved to 19-8 while Franklin fell to 26-5 with one no contest. Afterward, UFC President Dana White hinted that Belfort could leapfrog other contenders and move to the front of the line against 185-pound kingpin Anderson Silva.
"I think Vitor might be ready right now," White said. White has talked about a potential Silva-Belfort fight even before Belfort was officially signed into the UFC. After trouncing the highly respected Franklin, it seems a good probability Belfort moves to the front of the line.
Belfort wasn't the only Brazilian who cast himself in a starring role on the night. Junior Dos Santos continued his upward climb towards the top of the UFC heavyweight division, adding the name of an MMA legend to his win ledger by defeating Mirko Cro Cop.
Though some of the luster was taken off his win when Cro Cop verbally submitted in the third round after saying he could not see, Dos Santos was in total control of the fight from start to finish, punishing the Croatian with his hand speed and movement. Cro Cop, returning for the first time since his bizarre will-he-or-won't-he-leave-the-UFC moment at UFC 99, Cro Cop looked slow and unsure, spending most of the fight on his heels.
"I felt that I was much faster than him," Dos Santos said through interpreter Ed Soares. "I felt my wrestling was good, as I trained wrestling with Mark Munoz, and I trained on the ground with Rodrigo and Rogerio [Nogueira] and also with Anderson Silva. I was prepared to keep the fight standing up, and I used my wrestling to do that."
Dos Santos beat him to the punch repeatedly, and pressed all of the action. Coupled with his previous wins over Fabricio Werdum and Stefan Struve, Dos Santos becomes a true player in UFC's rapidly improving heavyweight division.
Just a few weeks ago, Martin Kampmann was one win away from fighting for the UFC welterweight title. Now, he'll have to restart from scratch after getting knocked out by newcomer Paul Daley.
Kampmann had originally been scheduled to fight Mike Swick in a bout that would determine the next contender to face champ Georges St. Pierre. But Swick suffered a concussion during a recent practice and had to drop out. Instead of postponing the bout, the UFC replaced Swick with Daley, a hard-hitting Brit who is murder on his feet but has had trouble with top-level grapplers.
Kampmann was unable to get the fight to the ground, where he would likely have a large advantage. Daley hurt Kampmann with a left. The Danish fighter retreated, but Daley pushed ahead and smothered him against the cage with a ferocious assault. Kampmann ate punch after punch and remained upright, but after a few of them, it was clear the cage was holding him up and he never fired back. Kampmann's inability to defend himself caused ref Yves Lavigne to call a halt to the action at 2:31.
"I wanted to make a statement on my UFC debut," Daley said. "Obviously getting the chance to fight Martin Kampmann was big. My team was confident I would do business, and I did."
For much of his career, Tyson Griffin has had the reputation as a decision machine. No longer. Griffin finished a guy who had only been KO'd one other time in the previous 26 fights that comprised his career: Hermes Franca.
After a slow first round, Griffin (14-2) overwhelmed Franca with a vastly superior arsenal, dropping him for the first time with a right hand and continuing the assault on the ground until referee Dan Miragliotta had no choice but to save Franca.
After suffering the first knockout loss of his career, Josh Koscheck rebounded with a stoppage of his own, stopping Frank Trigg in Trigg's UFC return bout. The bout took just 85 seconds.
Koscheck dropped Trigg with a right on the jaw and was relentless in following up on the ground, landing a barrage of ground strikes that forced ref Leon Roberts to stop the bout. Trigg quickly protested and pushed Roberts away before realizing the stoppage was legitimate.
For the first time in UFC history, undercard fights were nationally broadcast as the company attempted to maximize potential pay-per-view buyers with whet-the-appetite fights. The move was a response to the major boxing pay-per-view featuring Floyd Mayweather and Juan Manuel Marquez.
While the effect remains to be seen, the experiment produced two exciting fights.
In the first, Tomasz Drwal survived Drew McFedries opening flourish and earned a second-round rear naked choke submission. Drwal began turning the tide late in the first, and nearly put McFedries away before the closing horn, but time ran out. In the second, he decided to take the fight down immediately, and overwhelmed his opponent en route to the finish.
In the second, the returning Efrain Escudero earned his first career knockout, separating Cole Miller from consciousness in a first-round win.
Escudero, who hadn't fought in nine months due to a rib injury, first hurt Miller with a straight right hand. Miller stumbled backwards and Escudero aggressively followed up with a flurry that put Miller on the mat. Escudero connected with two more punches and Miller went limp as ref Yves Lavigne quickly stepped in to stop it. With the win, Escudero improved his unbeaten record to 12-0.
In undercard fights, Rafael dos Anjos earned his first UFC victory with a unanimous decision over Robert Emerson. Meanwhile, light-heavyweight Vladimir Matyushenko returned to the octagon with a win, battering Igor Pokrajac en route to a three-round decision. Matyushenko hadn't fought in the UFC since 2003, and had his last octagon victory at UFC 41. In a light-heavyweight fight, Eliot Marshall outlasted Jason Brilz in a split-decision.
Meanwhile, newcomer Rick Story overcame a rough first round and submitted Brian Foster with an arm triangle choke, and Nik Lentz won a decision over Rafaello Oliveira. Story was one of the night's big winners, taking home the evening's "Fight of the Night" and "Submission of the Night" awards, worth $65,000 apiece.
In the evening's other bout, UFC newcomer Steve Lopez suffered a freak injury in his fight with Jim Miller that led to a loss. During a punch, Lopez dislocated his shoulder and immediately surrendered. His shoulder was popped back into place later and he didn't require a hospital trip.