Can Belfort Return To Form In A UFC Comeback?

Ten years after his blitzkrieg attack on Tank Abbott, Jon Hess, and the limits of anabolic steroids, fight fans and promoters are still looking for “the old” Vitor Belfort. The one who removed the unpopular Hess from the sport forever with a a lightning quick knockout. The one who earned Abbott’s respect with his fast and powerful hands. The one who sent Wanderlei Silva scurrying across the cage, landing dozens of pinpoint punches in seconds along the way.

That Vitor Belfort has never returned. There have been rare glimpses, like his recent knockout win over top middleweight Matt Lindland. For the most part though, Belfort has had a series of disappointing fights. No matter how bad, how boring, or how disinterested he seems, it never seems to diminish hope. Even Dana White hold out hope, bringing Belfort back into the UFC fold and immediately putting him into a main event, against the UFC’s posterboy ambassador and all round swell guy, Rich Franklin.

“I’m really excited and really happy to get a chance to go back and fight in the UFC where I started a long time ago,” Belfort said. “And I’m fighting a legend. Rich Franklin is a great champion. And I’m really honored to be fighting him.”

Belfort was the first strike in what will likely be a fierce battle for talent between the UFC and Strikeforce, which recently announced a network television deal with CBS. The UFC has outlasted all of its other competitors in an increasingly empty national MMA market. The strategy seems to be to remove all of the best and most marketable talent, not just to help the UFC’s own cards, but to hurt the potential of their opposition’s. And Belfort was one of the most marketable talents out there when White swooped him up out of Strikeforce’s arms. After all, the UFC can ill afford a return of the “old Vitor” if he’s fighting for Strikeforce.

Will this be the fight we see the return of the magical and elusive “old Vitor?” Many are skeptical, but Belfort is sure he’ll at least put on a good show.

“Rich is a very tough opponent,” Belfort said. “I think he’s pretty much good in everything, good on the top, good on the bottom. So I am very focused to not let up his hands and reach me and touch me inthe point because there’s two champions fighting in the same night, in the same day, so you haveto keep your game plan. You cannot play the game ofyour opponent because you can get in trouble.And I respect Rich in every situation on the top, on the bottom. I have to make sure I don’t play hisgames. So basically I’m going to have to go there and just impose what you have to do but a fight is a fight, you know. It’s going to be pretty interesting.”

UFC 103 airs Saturday night at 10 PM EST, only on PPV.