Ben Fowlkes
Thursday June 11th, 2009

It's a tough time to be a legend of MMA. The hungry crop of next-generation fighters is always nipping at your heels, the threat of a Dana White-imposed retirement might be only one or two losses away, and all while the money is just starting to get good. Wanderlei Silva -- a legend who was doing this back when bare fists were the order of the day -- summed up the difficulties perfectly when I spoke to him about what might be at stake in his clash with Rich Franklin at UFC 99 in Germany this weekend.

"A few years ago I was at the end of the line [of fighters to retire]," he said with a wry laugh. "Now I am at the front of the line."

Such is the life of a fighter, particularly one whose style is built upon a foundation of power and aggression. Once they slow down and other fighters begin to catch up, the decline comes sharply.

But the 32-year-old insists he still has a few more good battles left in him. His catchweight bout with Franklin gives him an opponent a little closer to his own size as he migrates from 205 down to 185 pounds, and it gives him a chance to prove that there might really be another life for him in a different division.

"If [White] comes to me and says to stop, I will respect this," he said. "But after my next fight, you'll see, he will say, 'Please don't stop.'"

The problem is that, stylistically, Franklin might be the worst type of fighter for Silva to stage his renaissance against. He's an experienced, technical striker who doesn't take needless risks and isn't easily rattled. The only people who've managed to out-strike him in his illustrious career are current UFC champs Anderson Silva (twice) and Lyoto Machida. Dan Henderson simply outwrestled him, and was just barely successful at that.

A smart fighter -- which Franklin has always been -- would look to keep his distance from Silva, picking him apart from the outside and frustrating him into charging in recklessly for the kill.

In years past Silva wouldn't have waited until he was frustrated to come sailing into his opponents with a blur of hooks and elbows; he would have barely waited for the opening bell. Then again, in years past it would have worked. Those days are gone now. If Silva wants to stick around, he needs to figure out a new approach and a new way to win. He also needs to figure it out by Saturday, because time is running out.

On paper, Cheick Kongo looks like he should walk right through Cain Velasquez. He has the edge on size -- a considerable edge when it comes to experience -- but the one glaring hole in his game, so far, is the one thing Velasquez does best: wrestling.

As good as he is on the feet, and even when he's working out of someone else's guard, Kongo isn't the best at avoiding takedowns or at working off his back. He got outwrestled by both Heath Herring and Carmelo Marrero, and while there's always a chance he's fixed those problems in training, Velasquez is a much better wrestler than either of those guys.

If Velasquez sticks to his strengths and doesn't try to prove that he can kickbox with the best of them, he should take this one. It won't be as easy as simply shooting for a couple of double-legs and waiting for the round to end, so if he's anything less than completely committed to his game plan, Kongo could make him pay. Chances are, Velasquez's trainers at American Kickboxing Academy have mentioned this to him a time or two already, so expect this one to hit the mat early and often.

While Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic's first stay in the UFC was disappointing at best, he returns to the Octagon this Saturday night and says he's determined to give fans the Cro Cop they were expecting in the first go-round. Does that mean we should expect to see nothing but head-kick knockouts from now on? Not necessarily. Cro Cop just isn't the same guy he was in Japan, and that has to be expected to some extent.

On the other hand, the UFC is giving him every opportunity to shine by matching him up against Mostapha Al-Turk. Al-Turk's got just 10 pro fights and isn't much of a threat to take this to ground, where Cro Cop might be more out of his element. I'm not saying it will be an easy fight for Filipovic, but it's definitely some generous matchmaking from the UFC, which would undoubtedly like to see him thrive for the purposes of their European expansion.

As you've probably heard by now, Marcus Davis and Dan Hardy don't care for one another. The animosity seems genuinely personal and completely real (all stemming from Hardy's remarks about Davis being a "fake" Irishman and then spinning out of control from there), but it's also the oldest and easiest way to hype a fight. If for some reason you didn't get enough of the grudge-match angle with Matt Serra vs. Matt Hughes, this one is for you.

As for the fight itself, it has potential to show the fighters' true skills. Hardy has striking to rival Davis', and he answered any questions about his power with a first-round knockout of Rory Markham at UFC 95. Davis will be the favorite based, primarily, on experience in the Octagon and his overall complete game. But chances are he doesn't need to ask his opponent for a gentleman's agreement to keep this one on the feet. These boys are both coming to bang it out.

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