When we last saw Anderson Silva, he was putting a beating on Chris Leben the likes of which had never been seen. The Brazilian stepped inside the Octagon for the first time and put "The Crippler" down in less than a minute, landing a barrage of punches and absorbing only one in the process.
Months later, he was back inside the cage but this time, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Middleweight crown was on the line. Brian Hemminger took a look at the fight and the events which led up to it but in the end, only one thing needs to be known: Rich Franklin took an absolute thrashing that night in Las Vegas.
It took "The Spider" less than three minutes to completely rearrange the former champion's face and earn himself UFC gold.
He still owns the belt over five years later and not a single man has come close to beating him for it. No one except Chael Sonnen, that is. At UFC 117, Sonnen dominated the champion for the better part of four rounds before getting stuck inside a triangle choke in the closing minutes of the fifth and final round. Two years later, the men will find themselves in the Octagon again.
This Saturday (July 7), they headline UFC 148 and Silva looks to shut Sonnen up for good while the challenger hopes to bring the middleweight championship back to America for the first time since 2006.
Throughout the first half of 2007 following his title victory, Silva fought twice but defended the belt only once. His bout at UFC 67 ended up not being for the title as challenger Travis Lutter failed to make weight. Silva submitted him anyway. The Brazilian's first proper defense came against Nate Marquardt at UFC 73 and as he had against Leben and Franklin, "The Spider" finished his opponent off in the first round.
That's when "Ace" came back around, angling to get the title back he lost. He and Silva met up for their rematch in Franklin's hometown of Cincinnati, OH. It didn't matter where the fight was for Silva.
There was no way he would lose the belt that night.
Upon rewatching the UFC 77 main event, it's obvious Franklin did better than he had during their initial bout. Going into his first fight against Silva, the Brazilian was very much a wild card.
Sure, there was footage of him from PRIDE Fighting Championship and England's Cage Rage promotion but how a fighter reacts and adapts to the Octagon sometimes renders tape studying useless. Look at Mirko Filipovic, a once feared striker who rained havoc on fighters across the Pacific only to unravel once he came to the UFC.
For Silva, however, he flourished. He was no longer the fighter who got tapped out by the likes of Daiju Takase in Japan, he was a middleweight wrecking machine. He crushed Leben before destroying Franklin for the belt. Then he easily took out Lutter and Marquardt defending his place at the company's best 185-pounder.
If "Ace" was hoping to get the belt back, he was going to have to pull off a minor miracle.
But miracles exist only in fairy tales and once Silva trapped Franklin in a Muay Thai clinch -- the same position which spelled the American's doom the first time around -- the end was all but assured.
Franklin survived into the second round but was dropped to the canvas by the a flurry of strikes punctuated by a vicious hook to the jaw just as the horn sounded. Still wobbly, he had to be helped by his cornermen to his stool which was only a few feet away.
He wasn't long for this fight.
A little over a minute into the second round, Silva's barrage become too much for the former champion and he slumped onto the canvas after eating two deadly knees with only the referee to save him.
This vicious beating -- coupled with the first -- made Franklin a middleweight pariah. He fought once more at 185-pounds before moving back up to light heavyweight, where he had started his career.
He was no match for "The Spider."
But was he the best middleweight in the world?
Tomorrow: Dan Henderson puts his PRIDE title on the belt for a good ol' fashioned unification bout