Vitor Belfort was one of the Ultimate Fighting Championship's early stars, earning the nickname "The Phenom" not long after his debut as a hard-hitting heavyweight in 1997. But at UFC 103, Belfort was returning to the promotion and looking to establish himself as a contender at middleweight.
He accepted a catchweight bout at 195 pounds against former middleweight champion Rich Franklin after there was an outcry among hardcore fans against the UFC's original plan for the main event. The UFC had initially announced that Franklin would meet Dan Henderson in a rematch of a close fight from UFC 93, which Henderson won by split decision.
When the public made its feelings known, UFC president Dana White replaced Henderson with Belfort for the card at the American Airlines Arena in Dallas. But he made it at 195 as an accommodation to Franklin, who had moved to 205 pounds and didn't feel he was able to make 185 any more. Still, it took Belfort several tries to make weight.
But Belfort had no problem with Franklin in the fight. After a slow beginning, Belfort hit Franklin with an overhand left that dropped Franklin. Belfort followed him to the mat and finished Franklin with several hard shots, forcing referee Yves Lavigne to stop it at 3:02 of the first.
After the fight, White conceded that Belfort was in the title mix at middleweight, but was reticent to make any definitive statements about his future. But after his first UFC win in more than five years, Belfort was relieved and said he just wanted to remain active.
The middleweight division had a number of top contenders vying for a shot at champion Anderson Silva, including Henderson and Nathan Marquardt, but Belfort punched his way into consideration with the win over Franklin.
Combating a major boxing pay-per-view featuring Floyd Mayweather Jr.'s return from retirement on the same night, the UFC teamed with Spike TV to come up with a new promotional idea. It aired two fights from the preliminary card live on Spike in the hour before the pay-per-view began. The UFC continued with the strategy for most of its major shows in the rest of 2009 and through 2010.
Junior dos Santos established himself as a star by outboxing Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic and forcing Filipovic to tap from strikes in the third round. A punch by dos Santos landed on the eye and Filipovic complained he could not see, forcing referee "Big" Dan Miragliotta to stop it. The win put the Brazilian into the heavyweight title picture.
The bout at American Airlines Arena also helped to cool a feud between UFC president Dana White and Mark Cuban, the Dallas Mavericks' owner who has been sticking his foot into MMA, largely through programming on his HDNet cable channel.
Quoteworthy: " My new weapon is karate. I want to use it. As soon as I saw something and attacked, I wanted to take his zip code, area code and Social Security number." – Belfort, on his strategy.
Rafael dos Anjos def. Robert Emerson, unanimous decision
Vladimir Matyushenko def. Igor Pokrajac, unanimous decision
Eliot Marshall def. Jason Brilz, split decision
Rick Story def. Brian Foster, submission (arm triangle choke), 1:09 R2
Nik Lentz def. Rafaello Oliveira, unanimous decision
Jim Miller def. Steve Lopez, TKO (shoulder injury), 0:48 R2
Tomasz Drwal def. Drew McFedries, submission (rear naked choke) 1:03 R2
Efrain Escudero def. Cole Miller, TKO, 3:36 R1
Tyson Griffin def. Hermes Franca, TKO, 3:26 R2
Josh Koscheck def. Frank Trigg, TKO, 1:25 R1
Paul Daley def. Martin Kampmann, TKO, 2:31 R1
Junior dos Santos def. Mirko Filipovic, submission (strikes) 2:00 R3
Vitor Belfort def. Rich Franklin, TKO 3:02 R1