Going into UFC 103, two of the most feared strikers in mixed-martial-arts history found themselves in do-or-die situations.
For Vitor (The Phenom) Belfort, whose career has seen more ups and downs than a roller coaster, it was a matter of showing the world his past difficulties are behind him and that hes returned to form during his five year absence from the octagon.
Meanwhile, Mirko (Cro Cop) Filipovic continued his quest to prove that he belongs in the UFC and was still the same fighter who tore through the 2006 PRIDE grand prix.
When it was all said and done, only Belfort passed the acid test.
In one of his most impressive performances in recent memory, Belfort (19-8) stopped Rich Franklin (25-5) in just over three minutes.
Belforts striking looked sharp against the former middleweight champion. For every punch Franklin threw, Belfort responded immediately with an attack of his own. In short time, Belfort seemed to have his opponents rhythm down, while Franklin was still testing the water with his shots.
After dropping Franklin with a left-straight, Belfort unleashed a flurry of punches on the ground until the ref stopped the bout.
Though the fight was contested at a catchweight of 195 pounds, Belforts win could earn him a title shot against middleweight champion Anderson (The Spider) Silva.
While Dan Henderson and Nate Marquardt are already at the top of the contenders list, they have both lost to Silva in the past. Belfort represents a fresh fight for the UFC to promote.
"To be honest with you, the way the last two fights happened with Marquardt and Henderson against Anderson Silva, I think it would be better to see them fight each other, and the winner of that become the next contender," UFC president Dana White said at the post-fight press conference. "I think Vitor is ready to fight Anderson Silva."
CRO COP CRASHES AND BURNS
On the other side of the spectrum, Filipovic (25-7-2) was mauled by Junior Dos Santos (9-1). As the fight progressed, the once-feared Croatian striker grew timid and seemed lost on how to attack his opponent.
Dos Santos did an excellent job of keeping the pressure on Filipovic, preventing him from getting comfortable in the cage. By the time the fight had reached the third round, Filipovic had taken so much punishment that his only response for Dos Santos offense was to continually push him away.
After receiving a stiff punch to the eye, Filipovic verbally submitted by alerting the ref that he could no longer see properly.
For fans of Filipovic, whose UFC record now stands at 3-3, his performance could only be described as depressing. Given the one-sided nature of the bout, it wouldnt be a surprise if Filipovics time with UFC came to yet another early end.
WHO WILL CHALLENGE GSP?
Things got a little more complicated in the welterweight division at UFC 103.
Martin (The Hitman) Kampmann was originally scheduled to face Mike (Quick) Swick in a match that would determine the number one contender for champion Georges (Rush) St. Pierre. However, two weeks prior to the event, Swick (14-2) suffered a concussion in training and was forced to withdraw from the bout.
Former Strikeforce fighter Paul (Semtex) Daley stepped in on short notice to replace him, and in a stunning upset, stopped Kampmann (15-3) with strikes at the half-way point of the first round.
The win may have earned Daley (22-8-2) a shot at Swick to determine St. Pierres (19-2) next opponent when he returns to action in 2010.