Belfort looks to return to the top

Vitor Belfort works his ground-and-pound against Tito Ortiz at UFC 51. He faces former middleweight...

Vitor Belfort works his ground-and-pound against Tito Ortiz at UFC 51. He faces former middleweight champion Rich Franklin on Sept. 19. (UFC photo)

NEIL SPRINGER -- SLAM! Sports

, Last Updated: 12:33 PM ET

There are few fighters in mixed martial arts who have experienced as many highs and lows as Vitor (The Phenom) Belfort.

The Brazilian striker's octagon debut saw him capture the UFC 12 tournament by knocking out both Tra Telligman and Scott Ferrozzo on the same night. His flurry of punches that put away a young Wanderlei (The Axe Murderer) Silva remains one of the most stunning finishes in MMA history. And, at UFC 46 Belfort (18-8) captured the light-heavyweight title from Randy (The Natural) Couture.

However, for each of those victories, there's been a crushing defeat in his life.

Just prior to his title win, Belfort's sister, Priscilla, was kidnapped and murdered in a ransom plot gone bad. Following his loss to Dan Henderson at PRIDE 32, Belfort tested positive for steroids and received a nine-month suspension. And for years, he's heard critics say that he'll never return to the top of the sport.

For better or worse, Belfort has put these events behind him and is squarely focused on his UFC 103 bout with former middleweight champion Rich (Ace) Franklin.

"You know, everything that happened in my life, good or bad...I learned from everything and now I'm just really happy," Belfort said on the UFC 103 media conference call.

"I'm really happy and really excited to get a chance and go back to fight in the UFC, where I started. Rich Franklin is a great champion and I'm really honoured to be fighting him."

The fight is set to be contested at a catchweight of 195 pounds -- the second such match this year for Franklin (25-4), who defeated Wanderlei Silva back in June. He would have preferred the bout to take place at light-heavyweight, but Belfort is more naturally fitted for middleweight contests.

Franklin said he's happy as long as the fans get what they want.

"Fighting at 195 pounds for this fight wasn't my idea, it was something Vitor requested," Franklin said on the call. "At this point in time, I'm not in the title hunt at 205 pounds -- perhaps I will be at some point, as long as I keep winning fights.

"Until then, if the UFC has exciting fights for me at 195 pounds, and they're fights that the fans want to see, I'm willing to drop (in weight) and do what I need to do."

Originally, Franklin was set to face Dan Henderson in a rematch of their UFC 93 bout, which saw Henderson earn a close split decision. Franklin maintains that he won the fight and was disappointed to hear the match was cancelled.

"Yeah I feel (there's unfinished business with Henderson), but I've said this before: primarily my mission is to put on fights the fans want to see if I'm not fighting for the title," Franklin said. "When Dana announced that it would be myself and Dan on the 103 card in Dallas, the fans were less than excited. Even though I would like to fight that fight again, if people don't want to see it, then I'm not going to push for it."

If ever there was an opponent to test Belfort upon his return to the octagon, it's Franklin, a smart competitor whose sole losses are to top fighters like Henderson, Anderson Silva and Lyoto Machida.

"Rich is a very tough opponent," Belfort said. "I think he's pretty much good at everything -- good on the top, good on the bottom.

"You have to keep your game plan. You can't (get trapped) in the game of your opponent or you will get in trouble. I respect Rich in every situation. I have to make sure I don't play his game. So basically, you have to go and impose what you look to do -- fight your fight. It's going to be pretty interesting."

For Franklin, Belfort poses many problems he will have to overcome in the cage. Three of his four losses have come at the hands of accurate, left-handed strikers -- Silva and Machida. Not only is Belfort a southpaw, but he possesses some of the fastest hands in MMA.

"I think Vitor still poses a threat the same way he did several years ago, with his speed and the explosiveness of his hands," Franklin said. "That's obviously something we're looking out for. Recently he's become a much more well-rounded MMA fighter. That's obviously going to pose much more of a challenging fight because if I find myself in a bit of trouble on my feet, it won't be as easy as just taking him down. He could give me problems there, as well.

"Really, what it boils down to on the 19th is I have to worry that I execute my game plan. If I do what I know I'm capable of doing, then I'll be fine. But if I let Vitor unfold his game plan the way he wants to and impose his will in the fight, that's when I'm going to find myself in trouble. So really, on the 19th, I'm my own opponent."


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