No disrespect to Wanderlei Silva, who was obviously more than just an opponent Saturday night. But UFC 147 was proof, in case anyone still had any doubts, that Rich "Ace" Franklin's name belongs on the list of mixed martial arts' all-time greats.
A memorable five-round battle in a rematch between two of the sport's legends offered further proof that Franklin is among MMA's greats in many of the attributes that draw fans to the sport.
You want a fighter with heart? The Cincinnati native displayed it in abundance Saturday night by weathering "The Axe Murderer's" second-round storm. So much so that Franklin had trouble remembering much of the fight: "Honestly, the last thing I remember was it was the second round, and then the next thing I knew, it was the fifth," Franklin said in his post-fight interview. "My corner told me it was the fifth and I said, 'Cool, only one more left.' "
Not that anyone was questioning the former middleweight champion's heart to begin with, but the fact he rode out the sort of vintage Silva beatdown that claimed many victims over the years, and then came back and convincingly won the fight, is all you need to know.
Then there's the fact he took the fight at all. Is there a big-name fighter alive who has come out of the woodwork to save shows more often than Franklin? While many of his contemporaries pick and choose their opponents in the late stage of their careers, Franklin once again rode to the rescue. He wasn't fazed by the task of fighting Silva in his homeland on short notice, and he delivered a compelling battle.
You like smart technique? Franklin managed to keep the fight standing with one of the sport's legendary bangers, by and large avoid Silva's infamous right hand (with one obvious exception), slowly pick Silva apart, and score a convincing win.
Franklin isn't ready to accept his UFC Hall of Fame plaque just yet. But last night was a reminder that the Hall is where he belongs when he finally decides to hang up the gloves.
UFC 147 notes
*A win over Mike Russow, in and of itself, does not turn one into a contender. But Fabricio Werdum's ferocious first-round TKO invites a re-examination of his record. Since the start of 2008, Werdum is 7-2. His wins include the likes of Brandon Vera, Antonio Silva, and, of course, he was the first fighter to defeat Fedor Emelianenko in a decade. The losses? There was the knockout loss to then-unheralded Junior dos Santos, which caused the UFC to cut Werdum in one of their more impulsive decisions. And there was the decision loss to the now-suspended Alistair Overeem. The former defeat is obviously no reason for shame; the latter is to a tainted fighter. When you add in the much-improved standup displayed by Werdum in wins this year over Russow and Roy Nelson, you have a fighter who has gone from heavyweight gatekeeper to contender. Maybe a rematch with Overeem if/when Overeem is re-licensed, with a title shot for the winner, should be in Werdum's future.
*UFC 147 wasn't the awful show that the same tired voices who dog most UFC events going in spent all week claiming it would be. Nor was it the unexpected home run of an event that sometimes occurs when a fight card is thoroughly criticized beforehand. Regardless of what you thought of the fights, though, one thing is clear: Brazil is on an MMA hot streak like the UFC hasn't seen since the company caught fire in the United States several years ago. UFC 147 featured a large, loud, raucous crowd in the arena in Belo Horizonte. The UFC does television ratings on Brazil's largest TV network, Globo, which dwarf anything it can do here. While this might be jarring to those who consider the United States the center of the universe to contemplate, guess what? With a huge gate and Brazilian television money, UFC 147 was profitable before they even switched on the satellite. So framing the debate in terms of the U.S. pay-per-view buy rate misses the big picture. And with the UFC expanding even further in Brazil and taking advantage of the hot run while it lasts, get used to it.
UFC 147 quotes
"I'm in Brazil, I'm fighting Wanderlei Silva. It doesn't really get much bigger than that. It's an honor to be here, he's such a respectable person. The American media, there were so many interviews where people asked about me fearing for my life and that kind of stuff ... but I was well received here and I would come down here and fight again." --Rich Franklin
"Usually the finale is the best fight of the season. These guys come out and they go for it. I think because the arena was packed and these guys felt like rockstars all week, they were coming out singing and dancing and [expletive] like they already had world titles. It was kind of weird." -- A noticeably cranky Dana White, about the TUF featherweight finale between Rony "Jason" Mariano and Godofredo Pepey, as told to Fuel TV.
To main event referee Mario Yamasaki, for letting Rich Franklin finish the second round. There's a reason guys with Yamasaki's experience level get the call in main-event fights: They're familiar with the level of punishment both Silva and Franklin can withstand and they call the fight accordingly. In this specific instance, Franklin was moving despite Silva's relentless onslaught, a signal to Yamasaki that he was still capable of intelligent defense. Maybe it was bad luck for Silva that his shining moment in the fight occurred so close to the horn, but them's the breaks, and Yamasaki made the right call in letting it continue.
To judge Aaron Chatfield, who scored a 10-8 round in favor featherweight Milton Vieira in his bout against Philippe Arantes in the first round of their bout. Arantes was the clear-cut winner of the last two rounds after Vieira the first. But Chatfield was about the only person watching who saw round one as a 10-8. As a result, his scorecard was 28-28, instead of 29-28 in favor of Arantes, which turned the bout from what should have been a split decision in Arantes' favor to a split draw, stealing a well-earned victory away from Arantes. The fact such a bizarre score came down in the night's opening match seemed to promise a night full of wacky scoring, but fortunately, that didn't come to pass.
Stock Up: Hacran Dias
It's a little scary to contemplate that yet another contender could emerge from the Nova Unaio camp, which features UFC featherweight champ Jose Aldo Jr. But that could be the case with the 28-year old featherweight, who improved to 21-1-1 in his UFC debut and halted Yuri Alcantara's 13-fight win streak. Sure, one UFC fight is a bit too soon to mark someone a contender, but a 30-27 win over an up-and-comer like Alcantara certainly marks you as one to watch.
The Honorary Hatsu Hioki "Stock Down" Award: Godofredo Pepey and Rony "Jason" Mariano
I was tempted to cheat here, and turn the clock back to Friday night and award "Stock Down" to Hatsu Hioki, who once again proved why you should never say no to a UFC title shot when it's offered. But instead, for one day we'll rename the "Stock Down" award in his honor, and give it instead to both contestants in the TUF: Brazil featherweight title fight. Rony "Jason" Mariano vs. Godofredo Pepey was simply brutal, and not in a good way. Suffice to say this won't be remembered like Forrest Griffin vs. Stephan Bonnar. The only consolation for these two is that, when we look back on the worst fights of 2012, the bout that just might be the winner, Clay Guida vs. Gray Maynard, took place one night prior.
Fight I Want to See Next
Rich Franklin vs. Michael Bisping: Franklin says he wants to make one last run at the middleweight championship, the belt he held before Anderson Silva so swiftly and memorably took it from him. I have my doubts about whether "Ace" can win another title. But I know this much: For everything Franklin has done for both the company and the sport of MMA, for all the times he's stepped up and saved a PPV when a big fight has fallen out and given the fans something memorable for their money, if Rich Franklin wants to make one last run at a title, then he absolutely deserves the opportunity. A matchup with a fighter the caliber of Bisping would be a solid indicator whether "Ace" really has one last climb up the ladder left in him.