Once again, Brazil was presented with something that got its hopes up, but in the end was a disappointment.
UFC 147 originally was to be headlined by the fight of all fights, at least if you're a Brazilian fan of mixed martial arts. Fittingly, the event was scheduled to be held in a soccer stadium, the only venue vast enough to suit the rematch of its biggest star among so many fighting stars, indomitable middleweight champion Anderson Silva, and the ultimate Ugly American, Chael Sonnen. Then that bout and Chael's xenophobic mockery of Brazilian culture had to be moved to Las Vegas, far from where it could rile up a crowd's nationalistic pride.
The Brazilian fight card still had a bout scheduled between two homegrown heroes, though, and as replacement main events go, Vitor Belfort vs. Wanderlei Silva was a pretty appealing one. Then Belfort broke his hand, and the UFC called on Rich Franklin for a rematch of his 2009 win over Silva. So if you're keeping score: The Battle of Brazil was off, and the fans' consolation prize was the gentlemanly Franklin, not exactly a villainous type you get jacked up to root against.
None of that really mattered, however, to the crowd rocking Estádio Jornalista Felipe Drumond in Belo Horizonte on Saturday night when, with 44 seconds left in the second round of the third-fiddle main event, Silva connected with a looping right hand that floored Franklin. Wanderlei had done little to this point, being patiently picked apart while the building stood quiet. That changed the instant Silva pounced on his fallen foe, swinging a succession of right hands, then a flurry of lefts, with Franklin unsuccessfully trying to squirm out of harm's way and referee Mario Yamasaki hovering nearby. The crowd was going wild. All of the disappointment that the lead-up to UFC 147 had heaped upon Brazil would be forgiven and forgotten as soon as Wanderlei finished off this brutally trademark knockout.
Except he couldn't get that finish. Franklin weathered the storm until the horn sounded, and when the fighters emerged from their corners a minute later, Rich was recovered but Wanderlei wasn't. Having sapped himself of energy trying to get the KO, he had little with which to threaten "Ace" the rest of the way, and Franklin was awarded a unanimous decision.
More disappointment for the Brazilians.
"I think I pushed it a bit too much," Silva (34-12-1, one no contest) said afterward, reflecting on what was lost when he went for it with wild abandon, with three rounds still ahead of him. "But I really wanted to knock him out."
He almost did. When Franklin (29-6, one no contest) was asked about his recovery from nearly being KO'd, he said, "You know what? Honestly? You want me to be real honest? I remember between the second round, and the next thing I know it's the fifth round."
Franklin did recall his cornermen telling him "not to get greedy and pick my punches and move around." And that's exactly what he did for the three remaining rounds. Actually, he did it for all five, other than when he got clipped. He picked apart Silva with body kicks and jabs, moved out of the way of most of what Wanderlei launched his way. "I thought I was doing a good job of that in the fifth round," he said. "But I was operating on automatic pilot for a while."
He piloted through those final five minutes smartly, avoiding most of Silva's desperate haymakers, landing jabs to further bruise Wanderlei's face and dictate the distance at which the standup fight would be contested. Then, with 10 seconds left, he gave the Brazilian fans what they came for. The 37-year-old former UFC middleweight champ stood his ground and went toe-to-toe with the former Pride champion, who turns 36 next week. The crowd roared as they windmilled heavy shots at each other, and Franklin floored Silva just as the horn sounded.
Then, with the fans still roaring approval, the two embraced at the center of the octagon, and Franklin lifted Silva high in the air so the Brazilian could soak in the accolades of his countrymen. Both men knew the decision would not be going Wanderlei's way, so it was characteristically classy of Franklin to give his esteemed opponent his moment.
Maybe this was not such a disappointing night for Brazil's fans after all. They got to see heavyweight jiu-jitsu master Fabricio Werdum show off his evolving standup skills in an undercard win. They got to see the first two winners crowned on their country's version of The Ultimate Fighter: middleweight Cezar Ferreira and featherweight Rony Jason. And in the end they got to see the fury of Wanderlei Silva unleashed, even if it was not a finishing fury. That's not all bad.
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