For a fighter, inactivity is an enemy. The absence of action can hurt in many ways—causing a body to grow soft and a mind to grow doubt. In preparing for his first bout since November 2009, UFC light heavyweight Forrest Griffin is dealing with the anxiety of returning to the Octagon after a long layoff to face mixed martial arts veteran Rich Franklin in UFC 126 on Feb. 5 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center.
Griffin, a former UFC light heavyweight champion, was scheduled to fight in UFC 114 on May 29 at the MGM Grand Garden but had to withdraw because of a shoulder injury. Now healthy again following surgery, the Las Vegas resident is ready to return to action with his nontitle bout against Franklin.
“Being off for a year, it’s a weird feeling,” Griffin says. “I’m a little more nervous than usual. The big thing will be that first minute and making that adjustment and getting back in there. This is the longest break I’ve had from fighting since 2000.”
Franklin will be making a return from injury of his own. The former UFC middleweight champion will be fighting for the first time since June 12, when he broke his left forearm blocking a kick before knocking out Chuck Liddell in the first round at UFC 115.
Franklin (28-5) has lost two of his last four bouts, but he dismissed the notion of having extra incentive to defeat Griffin (17-6).
“If winning a fight is not enough motivation for you to continue competing, then you really shouldn’t be fighting in the first place,” Franklin says. “I’m motivated to win no matter who I’m contracted to fight at that given time. And so a win over a specific person doesn’t necessarily motivate me to continue going.”
With two fighters determined to get back on track, their bout has the potential to be the best of the 11-fight card, which has been sold out since Jan. 25.
“If you look at the way Rich fights and you look at the way I fight, the ingredients for a great fight are there,” Griffin says. “You just hope that it comes together and it is the fight that you think it can be.”
The card’s main event pits UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva against challenger Vitor Belfort in a matchup of Brazilian countrymen. Silva (27-4) has won 13 straight MMA matches, including all 12 of his UFC bouts, and is the longest reigning champion in UFC history, having held his title since October 2006, defending it seven times.
Belfort, who beat Randy Couture in January 2004 to win the UFC light heavyweight title but lost the crown later that year in a rematch, will be making his UFC debut as a middleweight (185 pounds). He fought twice at 185 on Affliction cards in 2008 and 2009, but has regularly fought at a heavier weight since competing in UFC 12 at the age of 19 in February 1997.
Like Griffin and Franklin, Belfort (19-8) is also returning to competition following shoulder surgery in early 2010, and hasn’t fought since a first-round knockout of Franklin at UFC 103 in September 2009, competing at a catch weight of 195 pounds.
Despite his lack of experience at 185 pounds, Belfort doesn’t anticipate having any problems because of weight or his layoff. Instead, he’s more concerned with the skills possessed by his opponent.
“If I said I’ve faced someone like Anderson before I’d be lying,” Belfort says. “He’s one of the unique guys in the sport the way he fights. He has all the tools—ground, striking. … I’m very honored to be fighting the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world.”