x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Returning Belfort faces tough test

Vitor Belfort is a curious case. The Brazilian, who makes his long-awaited return to mainstream mixed martial arts in tonight's 195-pound catchweight bout against Rich Franklin at UFC 103, is a fast, dangerous fighter.

Vitor Belfort is a curious case. The Brazilian, who makes his long-awaited return to mainstream mixed martial arts in tonight's 195-pound catchweight bout against Rich Franklin at UFC 103, is a fast, dangerous fighter. After tearing his way through a youthful UFC when he was just 19, 12 knockouts in the 32-year-old's 18-8 career record evidences prolonged menace. Belfort's no-nonsense combat style is in stark contrast to the patient striking technique employed by compatriots Lyoto Machida and Anderson Silva. However, the aggressive Belfort, who served a nine-month ban for failing a drugs test in 2006, faces a daunting challenge in Franklin - the winner of 25 of his 30 fights.

To add further intrigue to an explosive showdown, Belfort believes his return is blessed. "The Bible said the glory of the second house is bigger than the first one," said the "Phenom" at weigh-in. While not biblical, Belfort's second coming should be brutal. The fight is likely to be played out in the stand-up, though both have a strong ground game, and Franklin - a former high school maths teacher - is widely regarded as the second-best middleweight in the world.

Of his four losses, three have come at the hands of Silva (twice) and Machida. A knockout puncher at heart, Franklin dominated his division before Silva's arrival and is the undoubted favourite in Dallas. But the top-of-the-bill clash could go the distance and Franklin is aware he faces a tough adversary in Belfort. "I don't think that I could be fighting a nicer guy than Vitor," Franklin said. "But I don't think that's going to make him hesitate from throwing punches or hitting me in the face. As a competitor, I just want to win."

emegson@thenational.ae