By George Shunick
If it wasn’t for the utter disintegration of UFC 149, UFC 147 might be the most disappointing card of the year. Originally supposed to feature the rematch between Anderson Silva and Chael Sonnen in Brazil, then Vitor Belfort and Wanderlei Silva, we are now stuck with Rich Franklin squaring off against the latter Silva. Of course, it’s cards like this that always end up surprising all the naysayers with copious amounts of glorious violence, so maybe there’s hope after all! OK, so while you’re not going to go out of your way to buy this card any time soon, at least the main event still might be worth pirating online. (Sorry Dana, you’re the one who’s trying to charge $50 for this.)
Now I may be in the minority on this one, but I’m actually more excited for Franklin-Silva than I was for Belfort-Silva. Why? Because it’s not a glorified squash match. Look, I’m a big fan of Wanderlei. I can’t think of something more enjoyable than watching that bloodthirsty sociopath do more damage and evoke more terror in Japan in eight years than Godzilla did in over half a century. But between his once-granite chin being reduced to rubble, his age compromising his speed and cardio — all while retaining the punching technique of a wind turbine — Silva is no longer the force he once was. Against a heavy-handed striker, he’s in trouble. Against a striker of Belfort’s caliber, he’s toast.
Fortunately for Silva, Rich Franklin isn’t quite as dangerous. Despite a permanent role on UFC highlight reels with his knockouts of Nate Quarry and Chuck Liddell, Franklin can no longer be considered one of the top strikers in the middleweight division. Like Silva, he’s alternated wins and losses since their last meeting. Both have suffered a brutal knockout loss since then as well; Franklin to Belfort and Silva to Chris Leben. In fact, Franklin and Silva match up fairly well with each other; both have solid stand-up and sound – if unspectacular – ground games. Much like their previous meeting, this has the potential be a close, dramatic fight.
At UFC 99, Franklin won in large part because he controlled the action. Silva has never been light of foot, and Franklin was able to dictate the distance their exchanges took place in. Franklin was able to slip in and out, landing jabs and crosses and evading Silva’s looping counter-punches. Not only did this allow Franklin to score points, it also helped fatigue Silva. Until the final minute of the second round, Silva’s sole offensive output on the feet had consisted of kicks, largely because he was unable to close the distance that Franklin has established.
When Silva was able to tag Franklin, it was when he moved forward. Silva finally landed two clean counter-hooks on Franklin with roughly 1:10 remaining the second round, and sensing blood, he charged. He landed a few solid right hands, but because he insisted on only throwing hooks, Franklin was able to avoid many of them and stay in the fight and on his feet. In the final round, Wanderlei was able to grab a Thai clinch – a position that both fighters are very familiar with, albeit for completely disparate reasons – but was too exhausted to maintain it. Wanderlei, much like in the previous round, found some success moving forward at the end, but it was too little too late. Franklin’s takedown in the final minute sealed the win for him.
In all likelihood, this upcoming fight is going to have many similarities to their past one, but with some key differences. Most notably, their last fight (held at a 195-pound catchweight) marked Silva’s first attempt at cutting below 205, and he reportedly had to lose 12 pounds the day before. It clearly affected his conditioning in that bout, and should not prove to be a problem this time around. But it wasn’t the only reason Silva grew tired; Franklin’s strategy of keeping Silva on the outside, swinging and missing with his powerful punches and throwing kicks, was also responsible for wearing Silva down. I doubt Franklin will change his strategy for this fight, and if he executes it, he’s going to win again.
Wanderlei needs to press forward, throw bombs, and hope to either connect with one or secure a Muay Thai plum-clinch. Either way, victory for him comes down to whether or not he will be able to close the distance. The problem for Silva is that this path is fraught with peril; Franklin may not have hands of stone, but he’s shown he has more than enough power to take out a fading star who’s chin isn’t what it once was. (Just ask Liddell.) When Silva wades in with those looping hooks, he invariably gets beaten to the punch. That didn’t matter when he was younger, but it does now.
For this reason, I’m giving the slight edge to Franklin. He doesn’t need to risk as much to put himself in a position to win the fight as Wanderlei does. Silva definitely has the capability to knock Franklin out, but I don’t see him taking a decision over five rounds and I certainly don’t see him submitting Franklin. Franklin has proven he can stay on the outside and pick his shots; he risks getting tagged, but as long as Silva refuses to punch straight, it’s not as big a risk as it should be. He can win a decision, or possibly knock Silva out if he wades in with his hands low. I suspect Silva will have his moments, but will tire trying to catch Franklin over the course of five rounds as “Ace” wins a clear cut decision in a headlining fight that has virtually no implications for the middleweight title picture and lacks a remotely compelling narrative or rivalry.
Actually, I take it back; you shouldn’t even pirate this. (You’re welcome, Dana.)