Rich Franklin and Wanderlei Silva are two fighters going in different directions; the former on his way up to the 205-pound weight class, the latter moving down to 185.
So in the transition, the UFC decided to pair off the duo in an intriguing matchup between a former UFC champ and former PRIDE champ at UFC 99. And while there appears to be little at stake aside from a won or loss on their records, there is likely more to it than that.
So what exactly will it determine and how will the matchup go down? Let's take a look.
br />Cutting right to the chase, Silva has a lot more to gain – and to lose – in the matchup. Just a few weeks shy of 33 years old, Silva (32-9-1) has participated in so many physical battles that concern has been growing about how much time he has left in the ring. Most worrisome is the fact that he's been knocked unconscious in three of his last five fights. Still, Silva also managed a dominant win over Keith Jardine and an inspired but close decision loss to Chuck Liddell during that time, leaving many onlookers unsure just what he has left in the tank.
A move to 185 is the first phase of his hoped-for career re-start, but even at a catch weight, Franklin, who has previously fought at 205, is no easy task. The potential reward, however, is huge. In the pre-fight hype packaging, the UFC hasn't been shy about pointing out the new rivalry between "the Axe Murderer" and his former Chute Box teammate Anderson Silva. That's no accident. Indeed, a source with the knowledge of the situation told FanHouse that if Silva were to beat Franklin, he'd be "a lock" for a title match with Anderson Silva. (It should also be noted, however, that at Friday's Fan Q&A, White said he thought Michael Bisping was the more likely candidate for a title shot as long as he can get past Dan Henderson.)
Here you have an interesting style clash between a thinking game-planner (Franklin) and a bomb-throwing wildman (Silva). Franklin has been installed as a slight favorite in the fight, and it's likely because he comes in with a more efficient style, is the physically fresher of the two, and has a two-inch reach advantage that will likely play dividends in what is expected to be primarily a standup fight.
When Franklin is at his best, he utilizes good footwork to move in and out of range, picking his spots and staying away from his opponent's power. His fights with Anderson Silva aside, he's managed to do that quite effectively throughout his career.
In some ways a matchup with a slugger like Wanderlei Silva is the best and worst matchup for Franklin; Silva is going to throw punches and leave himself open for the counterstrike, but of course if his punch lands there is going to be dangerous power behind it. In some ways, it could mirror Franklin's most recent fight against Henderson, who has a propensity to eschew technical striking and look for the knockout. Franklin managed to avoid any big strikes and fired back effectively. Though he lost a razor-close split decision, the deciding factor was likely Henderson's four successful takedowns. Against Silva, that should be much less of a concern.
Franklin is clearly the better wrestler of the two, and likely has a better submission game as well, so any grappling would tend to favor him.
Silva, however, does have another weapon that he may dust off and use on Saturday: the Muay Thai clinch. During his PRIDE reign of terror, Silva brutalized many an opponent with knees to the head and body, and he prefers fighting in from close range. Anderson Silva also used the tactic to devastating effect against Franklin, and even though Franklin has likely shored up his defense in that facet of the game, it might still be worth it for Wanderlei Silva to try to get inside.
In the end, it seems that Silva's most likely route to winning is scoring a knockout, not an easy task against a smart veteran who covers up well, tends to stay in good position and has a good chin. Franklin, meanwhile, is more likely to score in exchanges, and though his straight-ahead strikes lack the "Wow" factor of Silva's swing-for-the-fences philosophy, they are more likely to consistently find their mark.
Silva has always delighted in pleasing the fans just as much as emerging victorious, but after years of fighting a physical style, the manifestation of it appears to have slowed him down slightly and made him more prone to damage. Franklin is bigger, quicker, has a reach advantage and follows his game plan.
But let's also remember this about Silva: he's always been dangerous when he's wounded because of his propensity to ignore pain and press forward. A great like him is always capable of turning back the clock to his old form for at least a sliver of time, but then again, that's hardly a guarantee.
While the "Axe Murderer's" career needs the boost of beating a top-tier fighter like Franklin, we have to generally accept that losing four of five fights is a trend difficult to reverse when you're continually fighting Grade-A competition, and given that many of the factors in this bout favor Franklin, I suspect Silva will again come up short.