Three summers ago, when Wanderlei Silva and Rich Franklin met in the main event of UFC 99, the fight was promoted under the title "Comeback."
That's because it pitted two fighters who had seen better days. Silva had lost four of five, dating back to his time in the Pride Fighting Championships, where he once was middleweight champion. Three of the defeats had come by knockout, the other in a rugged slugfest with Chuck Liddell that somehow went the distance. Franklin, a former UFC middleweight champ, was in not quite so dire straits. After failing to regain the belt from Anderson Silva, he'd won two in a row, then had dropped a tight split decision to Dan Henderson. Neither guy was in the mix at the top of the 185-pound division. This was their shot at redemption.
Franklin came away with a unanimous-decision win that June night in Cologne, Germany. But where did it propel him? Nowhere but into the face of a whirlwind of assault by Vitor Belfort, who three months later trumped any "Ace" momentum with a first-round KO. As for "The Axe Murderer," ever since the loss to Franklin it's been up and down for him, the most emphatic downer being his 27-second KO at the explosive hands of Chris Leben last summer. Suffice to say that neither Rich nor Wanderlei is even a baby step farther along the "Comeback" trail than he was in 2009.
And yet here we are, with Franklin and Silva meeting in the main event of UFC 147 on Saturday night in Belo Horizonte, Brazil (PPV, 10 p.m. ET).
Not feeling the buzz of anticipation that usually surrounds UFC main events? You're not alone.
Franklin and Silva are both former middleweight champions, and their first meeting did earn them Fight of the Night bonuses. There's little doubt that both fighters, who know no other way in the cage than to mix it up with abandon, will once again bring it. But what do they have left in them to bring?
Franklin (28-6-1) is 37 years old and, coming off right shoulder surgery, and hasn't fought in 16 months. Silva (34-11-1, one no contest), who in two weeks will celebrate his 36th birthday, has been so susceptible to the KO that even after he came back to stop Cung Le last November, UFC president Dana White made an impassioned case for Wanderlei to retire in order to avoid further damage. But here he is, back for more.
And for what? The bout is being contested at a catchweight of 190 pounds, further evidence that neither man is a contender in either the middleweight or light heavyweight division. Silva might be out to avenge a loss, but that's coincidental to the matchmaking since Franklin is a late replacement for Wanderlei's original opponent, Belfort. The two Brazilians were coaches on this spring's first season of their country's version of
It wasn't the first UFC 147 main event to do so. A higher-profile rematch with bigger stakes was originally scheduled to headline the event, which was to be held in a soccer stadium in Rio de Janeiro. But with a United Nations sustainability conference scheduled for this weekend, officials in Brazil's second-largest city came to believe Rio was unable to host a stadium-sized MMA event. So the UFC changed plans. The mega-main event, Anderson Silva vs. Chael Sonnen II, was moved to July 7 in Las Vegas, UFC 147 itself was moved to a more moderately sized arena 200 miles north in Belo Horizonte, and Silva vs. Belfort II was moved up from its co-main event slot. Until the UFC's injury epidemic struck once again.
What a brutal sport MMA can be. Not just for the fighters, but also for the promoters, who now are left with a top-billed fight with nothing more than undercard appeal. How is the UFC supposed to sell a $55 pay-per-view headed by fading stars past their sell-by date, especially with a more relevant fight (lightweight Gray Maynard vs. fellow contender Clay Guida) available on basic cable the night before (Friday's UFC on FX in Atlantic City)? If the sport's most successful promotion can pull this one off, then watch out, Eskimos. You soon can expect to see Dana White pulling up outside the igloo with a truck load of ice cubes.