June 19, 2012

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 The Ultimate Fighter, and there was a revenge factor surrounding their matchup, as Vitor steamrolled Wanderlei in 44 seconds when they met at UFC Brazil in 1998. But when Belfort broke his left hand in training, the main event went poof.

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.

24: Knockouts among his 34 career victories.

4: Fight or Knockout of the Night bonuses in his seven bouts since returning to the UFC in 2007 (Fight: TKO of Cung Le last November, decision loss to Rich Franklin in 2009 and decision loss to Chuck Liddell in 2007; KO: 36-second demolition of Keith Jardine in 2008).

1: Rounds won on a judge's scorecard in his June 13, 2009, meeting with Franklin, who took a unanimous decision by scores of 30-27, 30-27 and 29-28.

504: Days it will have been since his last fight (loss by decision to Forrest Griffin on Feb. 5, 2011) when he steps into the cage Saturday night.

722: Significant strikes landed in his UFC career, fifth in UFC history. Chalk this up to longevity, if you will (Rich has had 18 UFC bouts), but take note that "Ace" is not among the promotion's leaders in overall strikes landed.

3: Decisions among his 28 career victories (15 KO's, 10 submissions).

What we should expect: Punches. Lots of them. Neither guy has the hand speed he once did, but neither has his old foot speed or elusiveness, either. So maybe the Brazilian fans will be treated to an entertaining slugfest. Then again, maybe one fighter or both will run out of gas. It's more likely going to be Franklin, who has been inactive for nearly a year and a half while rehabbing his shoulder tear. Silva, on the other hand, will be fueled by his surroundings, as he'll be fighting in his native land for the first time in 12 years.

Why we should care: There's no championship on the line, and nothing but the faintest hope of working toward one. So the appeal of this one comes down to this: If you're a fan of Wanderlei Silva, you'll watch; if you're a fan of Rich Franklin, you'll watch; if you're a fan of fights in which both guys continually move forward and try to finish the other, you might even be looking forward to this one.

"The best way to describe Wanderlei's fighting style: It would be like fighting a tornado. As long as you stay away from a tornado, you're safe. But if you get too close to the tornado, it does damage. When you come in, he pulls the trigger. And when he pulls the trigger, things fly. He's throwing multi-punches with his hands, following things up with his knees. And he's just dangerous."-- Rich Franklin in a UFC.com video

"Both are southpaws and fight on the feet. Rich Franklin kicks a little more, is a little taller, but it is not much difference. I want to fight one fight at time, but obviously I want to fight Vitor [Belfort]. That fight has not been canceled, only postponed."-- Wanderlei Silva, who can't seem to get his original opponent out of his mind, speaking to Sherdog.com

"I got hit and saw black for a second, but then I quickly came to."-- Franklin, speaking to reporters after his UFC 99 win over Silva

"This is my victory. I fight for my fans. I wanted to give a show for them. They're the reason why I'm here today."-- Silva, after the UFC 99 fight, trying to come to grips with a close loss

Heavy duty: Who carries the more cumbersome burden into the evening's lone heavyweight bout? Mike Russow, the only non-Brazilian other than Franklin on the 11-bout card? Or Fabricio Werdum, who must impress in front of his home fans if he hopes to hold his place among the top fighters in his weight class? I suspect that Russow, a Chicago police officer, won't wilt under the pressure of performing in front of a crowd that doesn't favor him. But while he's 15-1 (with one no contest), he's never fought someone with the ground game of Werdum, a multiple medal winner at the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu World Championships and other elite international competitions in submission grappling.

Reality times two: The first Brazilian season of The Ultimate Fighter concludes Saturday night with the two weight class finals. At featherweight, Godofredo "Pepey" de Oliveira takes on Rony Mariano Bezerra, and at middleweight it's Cezar Ferreira vs. Sergio Moraes. Moraes is a replacement for the injured Daniel Sarafian, who defeated him in the semifinals.

Questions? Comments? To reach Jeff Wagenheim or contribute to the SI.com MMA mailbag, click on the E-mail link at the top of the page.

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