On the fateful night of Oct 14, 2006, fans witnessed two of the greatest tragedies in UFC history. First, we saw fan-favorite Rich Franklin’s nose relocated to the side of his head, (where it clearly did not belong) and we haven’t seen his stunning wife Beth at ringside since. And far worse than this, we saw one of MMA’s most noble and gentlemanly champions replaced by the biggest fraud ever to wear gold in the UFC. Bold words? Perhaps, but lets look at the facts.
When Anderson Silva came to the UFC, very few of us had any clue who he was. He was coming off a 1-fight win streak in Cage Rage (that’s right, folks, just one). His debutante ball would be against TUF season1 problem-child, Chris Leben. Silva dispatched Leben with ease, (just as Josh Koscheck and Kenny Florian had done in the TUF house.) This single victory earned Anderson a shot at the world title. Much to the dismay of fans at the time, Silva took champion Rich Franklin apart in brutal fashion, and later did it again in their rematch, leaving no doubt that he was the more gifted fighter. But is he a better Champion? Lets take a closer look at their careers.
Since coming to the UFC, Silva has fought 14 fights and won them all, the longest unbeaten record in UFC history. Under any circumstances that is an impressive feat to be sure. Clearly he’s an exceptionally talented man. Anyone would be crazy to argue otherwise. But lets look at who he’s fought and how he’s behaved, to get a better sense of his Championship spirit. First, lets consider that Anderson Silva is a very large man. At 6’2” and walking around between 220 & 230 lbs (by his own admission and the testimony of many other fighters), he dwarfs most middleweights and has a freakishly long reach. In fact, he normally weighs more than and has a height and reach advantage over half of the UFC’s Lightheavyweights. Yet he has spent almost his whole career fighting in the UFC’s weakest division, and with the exception of the hand-picked Griffin fight, has refused to fight other elite fighters unless they can match his ridiculous weight cutting ability and meet him down at 185, which so far, only Belfort and Hendo have managed to do. Silva has fought four other Championship caliber fighters in his career, Forrest, Hendo, Franklin, and Belfort. Other than Franklin (whom Silva still calls his toughest test), Silva has attempted to avoid these and any other opponents who might pose a threat to his win streak. When Belfort was promised a title shot, Silva and his manager Ed Soares, launched a full-blown publicity campaign claiming that Belfort had not earned the right to fight for the UFC title with only 1 victory since returning the UFC (seemingly forgetting that Anderson had gotten as shot after only 1 win over Leben and coming off only a 1-win streak before that, while Belfort had earned his shot by KOing Rich, the previous MW champion, was on a 5-fight win streak, and was already a former 2-division UFC Champ.) Oddly, Silva seemed to think his own win over Rich made him worthy of a title, but Vitor's didn’t even make him worthy of a shot. Instead he fought Demian Maia who was on a 1-fight win streak after being knocked unconscious in just 21 seconds. Silva made no protests whatever about Maia’s worthiness to get a title shot (though he had protested Marquardt’s claim after said 21sec KO over Maia.) Against Maia, Silva danced around like a buffoon for 3 rounds and then played Kalib Starnes for the last 2, outraging Dana & the fans, making a mockery of the sport and his title, and insulting not only his opponent, but UFC’s new share-holders, the Abu-Dhabi royal family. Silva never expressed any complaints about the worthiness of opponents like Travis Lutter, Thales Leites, or Patrick Cote, but when his toughest test up to that point, Dan Henderson, was promised a rematch after decapitating Michael Bisping (whom Silva was and is calling out as a “worthy challenger”), along with wins over Franklin and Palhares, Silva said Hendo didn’t deserve another shot and should have to fight Marquardt first while the champ took some time off, maybe dabbled in boxing, and put the belt on the shelf. When the UFC was persistent in pursuing the Hendo fight, Silva claimed he had an elbow injury that would require surgery. But a few weeks later when Hendo left the UFC, Silva suddenly announced he was ready to fight had no memory of his alleged injury, “Who could have hurt me?”, and called for a fight against HW Frank Mir, who was coming off back-to-back losses and had just beefed up to 265 lbs, knowing full well that no commission would ever sanction that fight.
Silva is still playing the same old games, claiming that the man who completely dominated him for 4 ½ rounds does not deserve a rematch and should first have to fight Brian Stann (the only MW bigger than Silva) and Mark Munoz (another dangerous grappler Silva wants no part of). Now Sonnen is scheduled to fight Michael Bisping, the guy Silva has been calling out for years to divert attention from real contenders. I wonder what new tactic Silva will come up with to avoid Sonnen after Bisping is dismantled? Calling out a Welterweight again, perhaps? Dana "100% guarantees" that if Sonnen beats Bisping he'll get the next shot at Anderson, but we all know that's not gonna happen. He made the same promise before Sonnen beat Stann, before Belfort beat Franklin, before Marquardt beat Maia, before Hendo beat Bisping. But in our hearts, we know Sonnen is right, that Anderson won't take that fight, that he'll retire before he'll take that fight, or invent more convenient on/off injuries till an easier opponent comes up.
Now in contrast, lets look at Rich Franklin. Obviously Rich’s W/L stats are nowhere near Silva’s. But lets take a look at his championship attitude and fighting spirit. While Silva has been doing his ever-loving best to avoid top MW contenders, Rich has been fighting a Who’s Who of legendary champions in 2 divisions (and everywhere in between). Since coming to the UFC, Franklin has fought ELEVEN matches against Hall of Famers. And while he’s had mixed success, his championship heart cannot be denied. Although smaller than Silva and smaller than most of his opponents, without hesitation Rich has fought guys that Silva flat refused to fight (Machida, Wanderlei) or tried his best to wiggle out of (Hendo, Belfort). And his resume reads like a roll call of legendary champions: Shamrock, Tanner, Machida, Silva, Liddell, Wanderlei, Griffin, Hendo, & Belfort. That’s eleven fights against nine champions with a combined 11 world titles to their names, almost all of them bigger than Rich.
That’s what I call “challenging yourself”, that’s what I call the heart of a true Champion.