By Elias Cepeda
(At UFC 147 Rich Franklin proved that he could survive even the most brutal of hair cuts and go on to win in impressive fashion)
Sometimes, while covering an event, the perfect story book ending intersects with what a writer personally wants to see happen. But most of the time, it doesn’t. At UFC 147, it nearly did, sort of.
It is time I stop hiding it because you’d undoubtedly see through me at some point, potato nation – I am a huge Wanderlei Silva fan. If he’s not my all-time emotional favorite, he’s no worse than at the 3 spot. As such, I enjoyed seeing him tear fighters apart as Pride contender and champion and, for the past six years, have watched him fight with more and more trepidation each time out, worried that the brain damage he’s sure to have accrued over two decades of professional fighting was growing with each knock out loss or even hard punch landed to his tattooed dome.
But even when a slugger’s reflexes have slowed and their chin has softened, their power stays with them. So, since Wanderlei insisted on continuing to fight, and he took on Rich Franklin in the main event of last night’s UFC 147, I secretly hoped that Wand could stay safe on the feet long enough to land a bomb of his own and put Franklin out.
What a note that would be to go out on for Silva – returning to his home country to fight for the first time in twelve years, as a legend and champion, and avenging a loss in dramatic fashion in front of the largest indoor stadium crowd in Brazil. Perhaps then Wand could be convinced to retire and move on to an ambassador role for the surging sport and UFC organization in Brazil and across the globe.
I didn’t think any part of that scenario was likely, the playing it strategic and safe, the winning, the retiring, but I hoped. However, the Wanderlei Silva we saw Saturday night was much better than any we’d seen in some time and he nearly toppled Franklin before ultimately losing a unanimous decision.
It was immediately clear that Wanderlei would bide his time and look for openings as he covered up, moved his head and countered Franklin well in the first round. Hell, Silva even threw and landed the occasional straight punch, jab and moved laterally.
Franklin was getting some shots in, but they weren’t huge ones. Silva, on the other hand, was hitting Franklin on the jaw flush and often, and countering with nice head kicks. Franklin walked through it all, showing ridiculous strength. And then it came – Silva landed a huge punch that stunned Franklin, then knees, then more punches that dropped the former middleweight champ.
Silva showed great top control pressure, and stayed on Franklin as “Ace” covered up and attempted to roll out of danger. Wanderlei, however, landed punch after punch for nearly thirty seconds and Franklin couldn’t get out of the way or get up. With seconds left in the second round it appeared as though Wanderlei was about to win dramatically.
But referee Mario Yamasaki let the fight continue. Even when Franklin couldn’t mount an intelligent defense. Even when Franklin’s hips were flattened out for a few moments and he ate punches while on his belly, face-down on the mat. Yamasaki let the fight continue, and the second round closing horn sounded.
Yamasaki thought that Franklin could continue fighting. It turns out that he was right.
Wanderlei had spent his energy trying to finish the hurt Franklin in the second round and in the third and fourth he just plodded around the cage, trying to breath, while Franklin got his legs back underneath him and scored with crisp punches and one nice body lock to trip takedown. Franklin once again demonstrated the unbelievable toughness, conditioning and precision under duress that he’s become known for over the years, and turned the tide of the fight in his direction.
Still, as Silva rallied in the fifth round it still seemed possible that he’d win. The first round was close, and if the judges scored for him, it seemed likely that should he be able to steal the fifth round, he’d win. After all, any judge would have scored the second 10-8 in favor of Silva, and so a 47-47 draw seemed likely even if Franklin won the 2nd-5th rounds, 10-9.
Silva looked to close the fight hard and bum-rushed Franklin with wide punches. Many of them connected and Franklin backed up while getting tagged over and over. Still, Franklin fired back and in the last second of the round he landed a left that dropped Silva to the mat. Wand popped back up but the damage was done. He was a little too aggressive, perhaps, too reckless.
Turns out it didn’t matter. The judges did not give Wand the first round (totally understandable) but they also only scored the second round 10-9 for him (not understandable). There would be no 47-47 draw. Franklin won a unanimous decision with all three judges having it 49-46 in his favor.
The fight was closer than I thought it would be, and Silva came closer to finishing the fight than his opponent. Each man earned a $65,000 bonus check from UFC President Dana White for Fight of The Night honors.
Wanderlei looked smarter and more durable than he has in a long time against Franklin. That can’t reverse the damage he’s taken as a warrior all these years in training and in fights, often against much larger opponents, however, or change the fact that he should seriously consider retiring for his health.
A draw probably would not have made Silva feel any better and it is just as well that Franklin earned the win after his incredible, gutty performance. Victory and excitement are Wand’s priorities each time out. The former is becoming more and more rare for him but the latter certainly isn’t.
As usual, Silva disappointed no one. He’s always done right by fans. Here’s hoping that he now figures out the next, right move for himself.