The featured match of UFC 147 will have the oldest combined age of octagon main event performers since UFC 115, when Rich Franklin knocked out Chuck Liddell, ending "the Iceman's" career. After 16 months on the sidelines, the 37-year-old Franklin returns on short notice to face 35-year-old Wanderlei Silva in a rematch of their 2009 bout, which Franklin won by split decision.
A rematch was never demanded by Silva or the fans, but after a rash of scheduling issues and difficulties destroyed any hopes of a major stadium show this weekend, this is what we're left with. While its scheduling is seen as a disappointment by those who had been expecting Anderson Silva vs. Chael Sonnen this weekend, at least the original bout between them gives us hope for an exciting sequel.
The first offers us some valuable insight into the rematch. The bout was basically split into two halves, with Franklin (28-6, 1 no contest) using his footwork to stay on the outside early on, and Silva resorting to a stalking style later. Even in retrospect, the split-decision seems to echo the action that took place, close as it was. While Franklin out-landed Silva 67-55 overall, it was the Brazilian that landed the more impactful blows.
One thing that is forgotten about the UFC 99 bout is that after years of fighting at 205 pounds, Silva (34-11-1, 1 no contest) decided to move downward, and the two met at a catch weight of 195. Silva reportedly did not have a good cut, and during the 15-minute battle, you can see signs of exhaustion, from heavy breathing to arm punching as he struggles to maintain his normal form. Still, he kept the fight close.
Two years later, he has successfully made 185 three times, and now gets an extra five-pound allowance after Franklin's short-notice acceptance led to a 190-pound catch weight. That can only help Silva retain his conditioning if the fight goes the five-round distance.
The rest of the matchup comparison stays the same as the first time around. Franklin throws more, lands more and has a solid grappling game, while Silva has the edge in knockout power and aggression.
Franklin's built-in advantage stems from his footwork. Based in a southpaw stance, he likes to stand on the outside and pick his moments of attack. In most of the first bout with Silva, he went with short combinations of no more than two or three strikes in an attempt to stay away from Silva's counter blitzes. In this, he was successful early, though Silva made adjustments as the fight progressed.
Franklin's composure was a key, as he wouldn't allow himself to engage in the type of fight that would obviously play into Silva's advantage. Even though he got hit at times, he used his footwork to circle free and out of trouble in most instances.
That said, he was sometimes helped, particularly early on by Silva's caution. That changed as time passed and he realized Franklin wasn't hurting him. By the third, he was lifting his hands to goad audience reaction while at the same time wading in to engage. That's not always a wise strategy of course, but it indicated a confidence that he could attack with little fear of repercussion.
In some ways, that's Silva's best chance to win. While his warring approach has robbed him of his ability to take a punch the way he once could, his best success in the first fight came during his famed blitzkrieg moments, when he took away Franklin's footwork and forced him to anchor himself in moments of self-defense.
Every fight has an X-factor, and in this one, it's Silva's home-field advantage. The Brazilian won't just be motivated to perform well in front of his countrymen, but he'll also have an entire arena reacting to everything he does. That certainly can impact judges, who are sitting in the midst of the emotion.
Franklin's calculated style suggests he should win by scoring points and escaping Silva's violent flurries. Questions about Silva's increasing inability to take punches should only aid Franklin in his quest for victory. Yet I can't stop thinking about Silva's late performance in the original fight. Because of it, he's going to go into the rematch with a wealth of knowledge about how to approach Franklin. Because of it, he may step on the gas pedal sooner, not needing so much time to measure distance.
Each recent Brazilian event has authored a moment that could only be made there. UFC 134 had Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira's comeback KO over Brendan Schaub, UFC 142 saw Jose Aldo knock out Chad Mendes and then go crowd-surfing. I believe UFC 147 -- Silva's first match in his home country in over a decade -- will be his moment. Silva by third-round TKO.