Two of the most reliable and experienced fighters on the UFC roster will hold a rematch tomorrow night (June 23, 2012) as former Pride 205 pound champion Wanderlei Silva battles former UFC middleweight champion Rich Franklin in the main event of UFC 147 in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.
Silva is one of the biggest legends of the sport. He staved off retirement pressure with a thrilling second round knockout of Cung Le at UFC 137 last year. He recently coached against Vitor Belfort in the inaugural season of The Ultimate Fighter Brazil but after "The Phenom" broke his hand in training, he'll instead look to avenge a 2009 loss to Franklin.
Franklin has been dealing with a plethora of injury issues which have kept him out of the Octagon for nearly 17 months. He last fought Forrest Griffin at 205 pounds, getting manhandled by the larger fighter. He was planning to take on Cung Le at UFC 148 but instead accepted a return bout against Silva on shorter notice.
Will "The Axe Murder" earn his revenge against Franklin? Can "Ace" pull out a victory in severe hostile territory? What's the key to victory for both men tomorrow night?
Let's find out:Wanderlei Silva
Record: 33-11-1 (1 No Contest) overall, 3-6 in the UFC
How he got here: We don't have room for a novel so we'll have the condensed version. Wanderlei Silva got his big break in Pride Fighting Championships. He'd gone 1-2 in the UFC including losing a title shot to Tito Ortiz at UFC 25 but he flourished in Japan.
Once in Japan, Silva went on a legendary four year unbeaten streak which included 12 knockouts and becoming the promotion's defending 205 pound champion. Silva was considered the best fighter on the planet and his victory in the Pride 2003 Middleweight Grand Prix only cemented that fact.
Silva's fall from glory began with a vicious head kick from Mirko Filipovic and a knockout from the hands of Dan Henderson at Pride 33 where he would lose his precious title. He finally signed with the UFC again when Pride was purchased by them. At UFC 79, Silva would finally fight Chuck Liddell in a match that was over five years in the making. No one cared that both men were coming off of two losses, it was still a big deal. The Brazilian would lose a unanimous decision but the fight was the stuff of legends with both men throwing bombs from start to finish.
Silva got back on track with a first round knockout of Keith Jardine but a devastating counter punch from Quinton Jackson in a trilogy fight would send him down to middleweight. "The Axe Murderer" defeated current contender Michael Bisping in his middleweight debut but was then sidelined for over a year with injuries. His return fight against Chris Leben did not go as planned and he was put to sleep in less than 30 seconds earlier this summer.
He staved off retirement talk by stepping up in place of an injured Vitor Belfort to accept a co-main event slot against Cung Le in San Jose.
How he gets it done: It's tough to teach an old dog new tricks, but Wanderlei doesn't have the chin he once had and he can't keep wading through punches just to get off strikes of his own. It seems like no matter what he works on in training, when the cage doors close, he just starts pushing forward and winging hooks. It's what he was built to do.
He'll need to be a little more patient against Franklin and it would be incredibly wise to get inside. He does not want to stay on the outside near the end of "Ace's" punching range. The further inside he can get, the better. It will neutralize Franklin's biggest weapons and Silva is still very lethal from up close.
If he gets inside and forces a clinch whether it's a regular body lock or an aggressive Muay Thai plum, he'll take away his opponent's biggest weapon. Franklin has had issues defending in the clinch (ex. Anderson Silva), there's possibility that we could see some old school Wanderlei knee attacks in this fight.
Record: 28-6 (1 no contest overall), 13-5 in the UFC
Key Wins: Chuck Liddell (UFC 115), Wanderlei Silva (UFC 99), Yushin Okami (UFC 72)
Key Losses: Anderson Silva 2x (UFC 77, UFC 64), Forrest Griffin (UFC 126), Vitor Belfort (UFC 103)
How he got here: I'm sure you've heard the story by now, but Rich Franklin was a former math teacher in Ohio before he caught the mixed martial arts bug and he caught it bad. He quickly realized he was pretty damn good at cagefighting and after going unbeaten in his first 12 fights, he made his UFC debut against Evan Tanner in 2003, scoring a TKO victory.
"Ace" returned to the UFC for good in 2005, demolishing former legend Ken Shamrock in the main event of the original Ultimate Fighter finale. This earned him a title shot where he not only beat Evan Tanner again but would go on to defend his championship twice.
Then of course, Anderson Silva came along. "The Spider" destroyed Franklin with brutal knees and hasn't looked back. Since losing a rematch against Silva in his hometown, Franklin has bounced around weight classes, basically fighting whoever the UFC needed him to fight and headlining pay-per-views whenever they needed someone to step in.
Franklin retired Chuck Liddell back in 2010 with a violent first round knockout despite having broken his arm in the fight and has been sidelined for well over a year after a should injury following a loss to Forrest Griffin. He was set for a bout against Cung Le, even training in Singapore, but the UFC beckoned and I'm sure made it worth his while to move his training camp up a few weeks to headline a pay-per-view against Silva.
How he gets it done: Franklin needs to try to avoid brawling and catch Silva when he leaves openings, simple as that. Wanderlei is one of the most aggressive stand-up fighters of all time and no matter how hard he trains, that won't just go away. Sometimes you can't teach an old dog new tricks.
Expect to see Franklin try to utilize footwork in the stand-up and side-step Silva when he wades forward throwing bombs. The second "The Axe Murderer" leaves his hands down for too long, that's when Ace should pounce. Silva doesn't have a great chin anymore and Franklin is more than powerful enough to put him away if he can connect hard to the temple.
Who knows how good Franklin's cardio is right now so if he find an opening in the first two rounds, I suggest he throw caution to the wind and go for the kill. There's no point letting this fight drag out longer than necessary if he can afford it.
Fight X-Factor: The biggest X-Factor for this fight is the host of little things which are going against Franklin. First of all, he's been inactive for nearly 17 months. That's never a good thing. Also, he's coming off a shoulder injury and in my opinion, shoulder injuries are the worst injuries to fully come back from, even worse than an ACL tear. On top of all that, he wasted a ton of time training in Singapore while preparing for Cung Le. Silva is a completely different fighter with almost none of the martial arts kicking background as Le. Don't forget that Franklin had to move his training schedule up a few weeks for this fight as he was prepared to battle at UFC 148 in two weeks. L
Lastly, Franklin is going into major hostile territory. Instead of being a fan-favorite, he'll be flying into Brazil against one of their nation heroes, a legend of the sport. The crowd is not going to be on his side one bit and the Brazilians have fed off their fans, winning almost all their bouts against foreign invaders at UFC 134 and 142. Maybe one of those factors wouldn't be a problem, but all of them combined make Silva a pretty live dog for this bout.
Bottom Line: The first fight was incredible between these guys and nothing has changed in their fighting style which makes me think that the second won't be just as fun. Silva will look to brawl while Franklin tries to be a little more technical. Both men are going to stand and trade and that's always a good thing if you're a big fan of slugfests. It may not be relevant, but it's going to be damn entertaining.
Who will come out on top at UFC 147? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!