While Rich Franklin versus Wanderlei Silva isn’t a rematch anyone begged for, the sole bout on UFC 147 worth watching is certainly the five round continuation of their 2009 UFC 99 battle. With the rest of the card being lackluster at best, it’s time to roll up the sleeves, put on a pot of coffee, light up some cigars and really look at this rematch piece by piece.
Both men initially met during a transitional period in their careers. Wanderlei Silva looked to escape the UFC’s 205lb division, which was quickly becoming a short trip to retirement for the battered Pride veteran, and the Middleweight division seemed to be a place where he could have a few dominant performances before riding off into the sunset. For Rich Franklin, the movement was in reverse, as two failed attempts against Anderson Silva were enough for the long-time 185lb title holder to look to greener pastures. Having dropped a contested decision to Dan Henderson at 205lbs, Franklin was weighing his options when a battle of legends opened up for him. With both men coming off losses, Franklin and Silva would meet in Germany at a 195lb Catchweight bout.
In Their First Encounter
Wanderlei Silva came into this bout carrying a Light Heavyweight’s frame and appeared to have had issue shedding some needless bulk on his way to being 20lbs lighter. Sweating out a massive 12lbs of water weight for the three round affair, Silva appeared to be on rubbery legs early in the match. Franklin made smart use of his superior pure boxing, cutting angles and bringing his left hand to bare on Silva repeatedly in the opening round, as well as working an opportunistic takedown game on the sometimes fluttered Silva.
The Axe Murderer would prove to be dangerous at all times though, as heavy punches found the mark in the second round and wobbled Franklin, yet Silva couldn’t put together enough offense to ever put Franklin on his back. As the bout progressed, both men had their moments, but Franklin’s smart footwork, head movement, and a superior overall ground game was enough to get the job done en-route to a unanimous decision victory.
Since The First Bout
Both men have had their share of injuries and set-backs since their 195lb fight. Wanderlei Silva took time off to have much-needed surgery on his nose and eyebrows, allowing him to breathe through his nose for the first time in years, as well as increasing his range of vision and reducing scar tissue around his eyes. For Rich Franklin, injuries to his arm and shoulder slowed down his climb towards a 205lb title run, as have losses to some key players within the UFC.
During this time, Silva has truly molded himself into a Middleweight, having lost some of the muscle that swallowed up his endurance during a fight and stepping into the scales with relative ease. Franklin has turned his back on the Middleweight division entirely with his own strength and conditioning program, yet walks close to the 205lb cap without having added too much bulk to his frame.
How the Fighters Have Changed
As fighters age, they experience changes to their functionality within the fight game. These changes and how they affect a fighter can be vastly different depending on the fighter’s style and how they can adapt to these changes later in life. What we see here is a general deterioration in both men’s ability to take a blow, and while it might surprise you, I believe Franklin has actually suffered the most in this regard. While both men have been KO’d since their last meeting, Franklin has been badly hurt in each and every fight he’s had in the last four years and looks to be headed towards a sour end to his career.
On aging athletes, the first thing they lose are the fine edge on their reflexes, which can have disastrous effects to their fight game. This is a change that’s occurred with both men, but has affected Franklin far more than the straight forward Silva. With his ability to slip punches starting to become shaky, Franklin has found himself taking more damage than before and had a dog fight in every match for the last several years. This change has been more subtle for Silva, whose ability to counterpunch has been affected, yet his straight-forward attack shows no sign of slowing down.
How Franklin Could Win
Franklin’s path to victory is a fine line between aggression and avoidance. In the first bout, he had most of his initial success in the first round by working long straight punches to the head and body, or moving in at a sharp right angle with a two-three combination before retreating. This lead to Silva becoming frustrated and Franklin was able to turn his bull rush into takedown opportunities, or simply bob and weave his way out of danger while making Silva burn energy on failed offense. The problem Franklin had been that he wasn’t fast enough on the switch between offense and defense, and often let Silva off the hook when he had him stunned, or ripe for hard counters. Being more mindful of those spots would help Franklin put his hands on Silva’s exposed chin when it mattered and could allow him to skate out of this one with an early win if done correctly.
Franklin could alternately take advantage of his superior grappling game by sucking Silva into what he thinks is an exchange before ducking in for a quick trip or double leg. On the mat, Franklin is a fair bit more mobile than Silva, allowing him to win scrambles and causing the always-tense Silva to burn more energy while on the defense. Even one takedown and some top control could cause Silva to slow down while Franklin is still relatively fresh and set up those aforementioned counter opportunities while scoring on the judge’s card.
How Silva Could Win
In Silva’s quest to reinvent himself as a Middleweight, he’s added a fair bit of technique to his game. While he formerly survived on rapid fire looped punches and savage knee attacks, he’s made an attempt to mix up his striking to a degree. Having added more in the way of kicks, a handful of straight punches to open or close exchanges, as well as hard double leg takedowns, Silva is able to keep fighters guessing.
While Franklin was able to time Silva’s predictable punch attacks early in the fight, if Silva can work more straight punches and possibly uppercuts into his arsenal, he has a chance to completely negate Franklin’s offense as he steps back and resets. Chuck Liddell used this to great success in the early going of his own bout with Franklin and this would be an easy way to steal rounds and potentially catch Franklin during the fight.
A better use of kicks and elbows would serve Wanderlei Silva well here in setting up attacks or finishing the fight. Silva has incredibly hard kicks, yet seldom uses them as he stalks forward and plants his feet for maximum punching power. While low kicks would be too easy to counter due to his shorter legs, mid-kicks would work within his typical punching range and force Franklin to block rather than slip attacks. This has the added benefit of beating up Franklin’s arms, which would pay dividends later in the bout and work towards shrinking Franklin’s punch output.
How It Plays Out
There are several X-factors in this fight, with two of them playing directly into hands of Wanderlei Silva. The first is the deterioration of both fighters over time and how that’ll affect this rematch. While Silva’s fight game has always been about power attacks and aggression, Franklin has been a smooth operator in his days inside the Octagon. Franklin’s timing has noticeably been off in his last two bouts though and it’s this corrosion of his reflexes that give Silva an edge in finishing this fight. With Silva still having some hand speed and certainly having a ton of power behind his shots, I expect Franklin’s formerly stellar head movement to be spotty at times.
This plays into the second X-factor, that being the venue of this fight. While MMA isn’t nearly as horrendous in the judging department as boxing, it’s still possible for judges to give close rounds to Silva considering their in his home country. With Silva landing more frequently and Franklin continuously backpedaling, it’s not unreasonable for Silva to grab the lion’s share of rounds if this fight goes deep.
Wanderlei Silva by 3rd Round KO
While these guys are evenly matched, I have to give Wanderlei Silva a slight nod in his ability to finish this fight with his punching power, or it that doesn’t work, taking a respectable decision win over the former Middleweight Champion.