Josh Gross
Saturday June 13th, 2009

SI.com MMA writer Josh Gross will once again provide his unique insight and analysis for UFC 99: The Comeback main event, featuring Wanderlei Silva and Rich Franklin from Laxness Arena in Cologne, Germany.

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4:57 p.m. -- Don't tell Dana White and a growing collection of UFC executives that time travel is theoretical. When White's baby debuted today in Cologne, Germany, the calendar read June 13, 2009; but, as it happens, each time the top promoter in mixed martial arts attempts to kick down barriers impeding the sport, it felt a whole lot more like 1997.

MMA, particularly the kind marketed under the UFC banner, suffers from a wide information gap, making it an easy target for media and politicians. German press and authorities included.

"I think the thing that was probably most surprising was the lack or research, as it were, that some of the media and politicians were willing to do before they came out with opinions on this," Marshal Zelaznik, an executive at iNDEMAND whom White and Co. tabbed to lead the UFC's overseas expansion operations in August 2006, said in the run-up to today's card. "It seems that they took the first story that was the old story from 1997 about no rules, et cetera, and everyone ran with that without doing any research. So we're basically having to backfill now and get everyone educated."

Let's not forget that MMA, as far as I can tell, is the only sport with the illustrious distinction of being regularly covered by Sports Illustrated while still illegal in parts of the U.S. Though it's a global sport, MMA remains behind boxing in most regions when it comes to public acceptance and awareness. But when UFC comes to town that distance is considerably closed.

4:59 -- Two and a half years ago, not much was different when UFC made a serious play at marketing its brand in the UK. Millions of dollars were spent making "UFC" synonymous with "MMA" and Zelaznik believes the expansion, measured largely through the proliferation of UFC content on TV and attention it receives on the Internet, is beginning to payoff.

It may not be until sometime in 2011 when the same can be said of UFC's efforts on the Continent, but the expectation is for Germany to act as a hub from which UFC-branded MMA will continue to gain exposure and introduce audiences to the sport. Next up, France. Then who knows. The moon or Mars, probably.

In the evening's main event, despite the ignorant outcry signaling the end of civilization, UFC put together a showcase featuring one of the sport's most vicious competitors, Wanderlei "The Axe Murderer" Silva, and one of its best spokesmen, Rich Franklin.

Stateside pay-per-view commercials for UFC 99 told us this rare 195-pound catchweight main event is a "true fight fan's dream match." I'm not sure I buy that -- and don't feel as if you're failing to live up to your fight fan oath by residing in the same camp.

Silva (32-9-1) and Franklin (24-4) dominated their respective divisions several years ago, and even then I don't recall many people talking up a fight between the pair.

Still, with Silva, 32, making a move from light heavyweight to middleweight, and Franklin doing the reverse, a fight splitting the divisions seems entirely appropriate.

5:01 -- This is about momentum. A win for Silva, the former long reigning Pride 205-pound champion, would breathe life into a competitor who's dropped four of five bouts, three by clean knockouts. Franklin, meanwhile, has managed to beat everyone but the best. Most recently, the 34-year-old former UFC middleweight champion went the distance at light heavyweight against Dan Henderson, who snatched Silva's belt in 2007. Franklin must win if he desires relevancy, and you can bet he knows that.

As the veterans head into yet another battle, Franklin seems to have more left than his Brazilian counterpart. Silva has yet again talked about revamping his training, and he'll be as light as he was during the days of no-rule, bare-knuckle wars in Brazil. A drop in weight so late in a pro's career comes generally as a last-ditch effort to find success again. Silva, a brute who's largely ignored the ravages his style inflicts on him and his opponents, would certainly qualify for that group, though every great fighter has one great fight left in them, and this could be the one.

5:02 -- Silva will come out winging haymakers. If one lands, he could most definitely win. If not, Franklin, a competent southpaw striker, could capitalize on Silva's faulty footwork and weak defense. I'm leaning towards the latter. Franklin should find his jab, mix it in with left-hand leads and right hooks, and change things up with kicks to Silva's body. This will be a kickboxing bout, and Franklin on points sounds about right.

5:29 -- Some quick thoughts on the evening's televised undercard:

Cain Velasquez has some ground to cover before he's any kind of lock to compete for a heavyweight championship. The highly touted prospect took some heavy punches and was forced to rely on his wrestling to defeat Cheick Kongo. Against a better grappler he might not be so fortunate.

Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic finished Mustapha al Turk with punches at 3:06 of the opening round. An accidental finger in the eye forced al Turk to turn his back as the Croatian star moved in to finish the fight.

Mike Swick signaled that he deserved big fights in the welterweight division by dominating the previously undefeated Ben Saunders. Punches on the feet put Saunders down before the fight was called at 3:47 of Round 2.

Spencer Fisher and Caol Uno made for a slow, tough to score fight. In the end, each judge saw fit to score it in favor of the American. I had it 29-28 Uno, but don't have much of a problem with the decision.

Dan Hardy and Marcus Davis entertained for three rounds. Hardy, who engaged in a war of words with the hard-punching Davis, landed stiffer shots and bloodied Davis' face en route to a split-decision win.

Round 1 -- Both Franlkin and Silva look good at 195 pounds. In fact, this would be the ideal weight for both men. Silva was always too small at light heavyweight. Franklin too big at middle. First punch of the fight comes more than a minute in as Franklin lands a lead left.

Franklin just misses on a left counter to a low kick. He's looking to catch Silva with a counter.

First kick to the body by Franklin. Standing southpaw really opens up the body on right-handed fighters.

A solid exchange ends with Franklin going to the body with his leg again. This time, Silva is ready, catches the limb, and throws the former high school math teacher to the canvas.

Franklin's always had a tricky guard. He loves the armbar, and can even work a triangle here. Silva's keeping active, though, moving his hips as he tries to land a heavy shot. A quick scramble from "Ace" lets him reverse position when Silva made the odd choice of pulling guard for a guillotine. Franklin's on top now, landing shots to a now bleeding Brazilian. They stand and the last 10 seconds of the round sees Silva wade in with his head down as Franklin lands lefts. Franklin wins 10-9.

Round 2 -- At some point Silva will dive in with strikes. He hasn't shown much aggression yet, mainly because Franklin is countering so well.

A lunging overhand right from Silva nearly clips Franklin on the chin. He's fine enough to exchange in the center and end the sequence with another body kick.

Two minutes remain in the second round and Franklin seems to be picking up the pace as Silva appears to be leaking hydraulic fluid. His movements are labored and choppy. You expect everything to come with power, but it's telegraphed power. As I type this Silva lands a heavy combination. "The Axe Murderer" is coming forward now. Unadulterated aggression. Silva put it to Franklin against the cage, but he's still in the fight.

The last two minutes of this round was a brawl. Each fighter was hurt. Each survived. Each broke the aggression of the other. I have 10-9 Silva for doing more damage, but it could go either way.

Round 3 -- A touch of the hands starts the final round. High kick from Silva misses. Lead left from Franklin. A flicking jab. Silva low kick. The pace is nice. Kick to the body and a left hook from Franklin. From the outside, Franklin has done exceedingly well. But when he gets too close, Silva has been dangerous.

Left hook catches Franklin on the jaw. A knee to the head in the clinch from Silva. He's regained momentum and is pressuring with power shots. Movement saved Franklin so far, and the immediate danger appears to have passed.

A tight third round, one that could easily be decided by the final 90 seconds.

Silva has turned into an animal. He drives forward winging wild hooks and uppercuts. Franklin survives, again. As seconds count down, they pair is locked in the clinch, Silva's back to Franklin's. The Brazilian winds backward with elbows as Franklin paws Silva's face with left hands. Fun fight. 10-9 Silva.

Judges: Unanimous decision (no scores read by Bruce Buffer) in favor of Rich Franklin.

5:55 p.m. -- That's five losses in six fights for Silva (32-10-1), though it's difficult to gauge what's left and where he can go. The Axe Murderer will forever fight an entertaining style. Yet it's that style that has led him to lose fights. In his younger days, Silva possessed the speed and aggression to get away with technical weaknesses. More than a decade's worth of wars have change that. He'll try middleweight and he'll probably have problem with the speed. And then what?

6:01 -- Franklin faces the opposite problem. Light heavyweight is full of powerful strikers and wrestlers. No such thing as an easy road these days.

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