Josh Gross
Thursday September 17th, 2009

For the first time in a while, the Ultimate Fighting Championship has recaptured a bit of that underdog feel it once wore so well.

Going head to head Saturday against boxing money man Floyd Mayweather Jr., who fights rugged Juan Manuel Marquez in Las Vegas (HBO PPV), UFC 103 doesn't feature a championship or No. 1 contender bout. Instead, the Dana White & Co. is left promoting a card that highlights the many differences between how boxing and MMA are packaged and sold.

Star power and personalities have long been enough to push boxing's pay-per-view success. Though Saturday's card actually attempts to deliver depth with an interesting undercard, it differs from mixed martial arts, which has a tradition of stacking events from the bottom up.

Aware of the shared date, promoters and fighters on both sides have attempted to lay down the gauntlet. Fans with sworn allegiances, willing only to accept one sport over the other, are missing out. For true fight fans, however, Sept. 19 should be a memorable evening, one worthy of embracing differences.

Lacking that top-of-the-bill presence it too can provide, UFC 103 (PPV 10 p.m. ET, Spike TV 9 p.m. ET) has shown its strength and overall depth after a number of significant changes, not the least of which was the loss of a welterweight title eliminator between Martin Kampmann and an injured Mike Swick. Fans on hand at the American Airlines Center get 13 fights, and you can bet Zuffa will throw as many fights as it can on the TV broadcast (including two live on Spike TV) to entice people to stay away from its fistic cousin.

But before the fists start flying Saturday, here are four questions worth pondering:

The card's main attraction takes place at a catch-weight of 195 pounds between southpaw veterans Rich Franklin and Vitor Belfort. The weight appears to be perfect for both men, but without a title in sight or an established pecking order, wins here are pretty empty.

Belfort (18-8) returns to the UFC for the first time since losing a split decision in 2005 to Tito Ortiz, after which Belfort toured with Japanese, British and American fight promotions. When Affliction closed its doors in July, Belfort, who was scheduled to fight Jorge Santiago at 185 pounds, eagerly embraced a return to the Octagon. He has looked good in two fights at middleweight, and clearly that's where the 32-year-old Brazilian belongs. With his camp touting this fight as a legacy-building exercise, it's important Belfort doesn't look past Franklin (25-4).

Reigning UFC middleweight champion before Anderson Silva showed up, Franklin has turned into a bit of a workhorse. He's fought twice this year, and, if he really wanted to push it, could probably make a fourth appearance, though his management said that won't happen -- he won't train or fight near the holidays.

A tight split decision loss to Dan Henderson in January followed by a points win against Wanderlei Silva (also at 195) in June both showed Franklin, 34, still has plenty to offer. He doesn't make many mistakes, and the only time he tends to find trouble is against more athletic opposition.

Belfort should have advantages in speed, grappling and athleticism, which all point to victory and an upcoming debut in the middleweight division of the UFC with wind at his back.

Few fighters create as much drama without the noise as Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic (25-6-2).

As hard as it is to imagine, we're now three years removed from Cro Cop's triumph in Pride's open-weight grand prix. With that victory it seemed as if the heavyweight kickboxer possessed enough will to make another run to the top of the division. But after entering the UFC in 2007, his results in the cage have fallen short of expectations.

Against rising Brazilian slugger Junior Dos Santos (8-1), Filipovic faces a now-or-never situation, and he may not be able to rediscover the magic that once made him a special fighter. Dos Santos will provide a real test of Filipovic's desire to compete, and it may not turn out well for the veteran.

Josh Koscheck (14-4) has long been considered one of MMA's more talented prospects. An athletic wrestler with improved striking, he has been a difficult matchup for anyone. However, a 4-3 record since 2007 exposed flaws in his game and has raised questions on how far he can go at 170 pounds.

Veteran Frank Trigg (19-6), primarily at middleweight since 2006, is good enough to test Koscheck. He's a stout wrestler, and has refined his striking enough so that Koscheck won't get away with basic combinations and head kicks. If the weight cut doesn't kill Trigg, expect a competitive fight that goes the distance.

With Mike Swick out of the picture, Martin Kampmann is left to fight Paul Daley (21-8-2), a dangerous kickboxer and not-so dangerous grappler.

Should he manage an impressive victory over the British fighter, Kampmann (15-2) would be deserving of a title shot against Georges St. Pierre, especially when other options for the welterweight champ revolve around rematches most fans don't want to see. Unless a date is announced for an official No. 1 contender fight, Kampmann deserves the next crack. That is, if Daley doesn't get in the way.

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