Wednesday, 23 September 2009

UFC 103: Franklin vs Belfort on ESPN - TV Review

It’s dream match-up time in the Ultimate Fighting Championship. Following Couture v Nogueira, Rich Franklin takes on the returning Vitor Belfort, headlining a strong show at UFC 103: Franklin versus Belfort, shown live in the early hours of this past Saturday morning on ESPN in Britain, with Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan handling commentary duties.

The broadcast actually began with a first, with four preliminary fights that were being shown for free on Spike across the pond (although we Brits still had to pay for them!). They began with a middleweight fight between Drew McFedries and Tomasz Drwal. This certainly proved to be an interesting fight. While Drwal looked great, at the opposite end of the scale, McFedries looked very disappointing, almost straining to unleash any blow, so it really came as no surprise when Drwal got the win in the second round, rocking McFedries early on before taking him down, quickly taking his back and synching in a rear naked choke, with McFedries tapping soon afterwards. A good performance by Drwal here.

Then it was down to welterweight for Rick Story against Brian Foster. This proved to be a great contest, with some good action from both men in the first round which continued into the second. When the fight went to the ground, Story went for an arm triangle choke from within the guard, something which hasn’t really been seen before. The referee checked if Foster was okay, but it wasn’t long before he tapped out. This was a very good fight, with Story winning the submission of the night award for his efforts.

Efrain Escudero against Cole Miller at lightweight was up next. This one started slowly, with Escudero scoring with a take down and letting Miller back up, before knocking him back down to the ground with a hard right, following up with the ground and pound before the referee stepped in, giving Escudero the TKO win. Nice stuff.

The final fight of the prelim show saw more lightweight action, this time between Jim Miller and Steve Lopez. Miller was clearly on top in the first round, with a couple of blows that sent Lopez down. Lopez looked a bit lethargic, although he was able to escape from Miller’s guillotine attempt. He looked a bit better in the second round, but unfortunately he injured his shoulder while throwing a left, and immediately pulled out of the fight, giving Miller the TKO win. With the way that he was starting to come back you couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed for Miller here. Maybe these two will hook up once again when Lopez is fit and ready to go.

Then it was on to the main show, beginning with Tyson Griffin against Hermes Franca. Franca came into this one with a crazy blue rinse hairstyle, but his main problem here was that he didn’t actually make the lightweight limit. Whether this played on his mind, I don’t know, because he certainly put in a disappointing performance, looking very sluggish throughout the first round. The second saw Griffin knock Franca down with a big right, before knocking him out with the ground and pound. A top performance from Griffin here, but I’m left to wonder what was wrong with Franca her.

Then we saw the first big return of the night, with Frank Trigg taking on Josh Koscheck in the welterweight division. This one took a while to get going, but when it did it was explosive, with Koscheck connecting with a big right that sent Trigg down to the ground. Koscheck went for the ground and pound, and the referee quickly stepped in and called a halt to proceedings. Trigg complained about an early stoppage, but replays showed that he’d made the right call. A very good performance from Koscheck here over the former champions.

More welterweight action followed, with Martin Kampmann facing my fellow Brit Paul Daley, so I think you can guess who I was rooting for here. A tremendous performance from Daley in his UFC debut saw him rock the Dane with a relentless torrent of blows, with the referee stepping in when he saw that Kampmann was out on his feet. Daley looked great here, and hopefully he’ll go on to big things in the UFC.

Filler material was next, with Robert Emerson facing Rafael Dos Anjos at lightweight. This was a very enjoyable three round encounter, with Dos Anjos putting in a very good performance. The way he was centring his attack on Emerson’s right leg was brutal at times. I hadn’t seen that much bruising since a wrestler punched me in the right arm and I had bruising from my shoulder to my elbow! In all though it was great stuff from Dos Anjos, who controlled Emerson in almost every aspect here, earning himself the unanimous decision.

The co-main event was up next, with Mirko Cro Cop taking on Junior Dos Santos in the heavyweight division. I was expecting big things from the Croatian here. Needless to say that I was a little disappointed. Although Cro Cop looked good in the first round, Dos Santos took over from the second, showing much better striking as the fight went on. All Cro Cop seemed able to do at times was push the Brazilian off him. The end came in the third round. After Dos Santos had scored with a series of knees to the head and body, he connected with a big right to Cro Cop’s left eye. Cro Cop immediately complained that he couldn’t see, and verbally submitted, giving Dos Santos the biggest win of his short career, and leaving many to wonder if there’s anything left for Cro Cop to give.

The main event saw Rich Franklin going up against the returning Vitor Belfort in a catch weight contest, made at 195 pounds. This one started very slowly, with a long feeling out process, before Belfort suddenly sprang into action, knocking Franklin off his feet with a left, and then knocking him out with a series of lefts on the ground, getting the KO win. Well, this was slow to start, but at least we all got to see the Belfort who had impressed everyone all those years ago.

With plenty of time to spare, two more preliminary fights were shown. The show ended with a second showing of the Rick Story/Brian Foster fight, but before that we got a three round battle between Nik Lentz and Rafaello Oliveira at lightweight. This was a very enjoyable contest. Oliveira looked good in the first round, as did Lentz, whose favourite submission hold seemed to be the guillotine choke. I actually lost count of the number of times he went for that hold in the first round. As the fight went on Oliveira began to visibly tire, while Lentz just got better, taking more control over the fight, and getting the judge’s unanimous decision.

In conclusion - once again the UFC impressed. Once again there were no bad fights here, and the addition of the preliminary fights before the main show was a nice touch, reminding this old wrestling fan of the Free For All shows that WWE used to put on before their pay-per-views. Let’s hope they continue with this.

As for the performances, I agree with Rick Story getting submission of the night, and Belfort getting knockout of the night. Our esteemed commentators began to wonder if Belfort could now challenge Anderson Silva for the middleweight crown. That would certainly be a mouth watering prospect.

As for Cro Cop, I’ve been a big fan of the guy ever since I saw him KO Bob Sapp in a K-1 fight years ago, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who has been disappointed by his tenure in the UFC. Has he lost it? Should he retire? If he doesn’t call it a day, then maybe Dana White and his band of merry men should give us the fight that Gabriel Gonzaga took away from us a couple of years ago - Mirko Cro Cop versus Randy Couture.

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