CINCINNATI, Oct. 20 -- Much was made of Anderson Silva having to defend his UFC middleweight title in the hometown of his opponent, Rich Franklin (Pictures).
Silva didn't mind -- before the fight he had said he didn't care if he was fighting in his own "backyard or in hell against the devil."
Franklin started well in Saturday's rematch before a sellout crowd of 16,054 at the U.S. Bank Arena, but Silva didn't seem concerned then either. The Cincinnati native opened with inside leg kicks before body locking the Brazilian to the mat.
Silva had tried to clinch as he had in the first encounter last October, but Franklin fought free and turned the maneuver into a takedown. At that point Franklin had the champion where he needed him -- on the ground, on his back, where Silva's strikes were relatively harmless.
The hometown audience, still standing since Franklin's raucous walk to the cage, roared collectively. No doubt they sensed safety from the onslaught of knees that had battered Franklin in the first match.
But then Silva escaped to his feet, quickly and undamaged, and Franklin's forced game of Russian roulette resumed.
Silva let his opponent be the aggressor. "Ace" moved forward and landed a good right hand, but the former champion's punches already looked less crisp. His arms began to flail some as he started getting hit, and his movement in the cage lost its fluidity.
Each time the 32-year-old Silva grabbed his head, Franklin fought desperately to avoid his prior fate. With two minutes left in the round, though, "The Spider" began dragging him back in that direction. When knees started plunging back into Franklin's body, the champ followed with his hands and his legs.
Franklin flurried back, though Silva, fighting out of Curitiba, Brazil, bobbed and weaved and danced, each move a remark: You're not hurting me.
Then, with seconds remaining in the first, Silva delivered a right hand to Franklin's jaw that melted him down against the cage. Only the round ending before Silva could pounce saved Franklin -- and even then he was saved but for a few more minutes.
Trainer Matt Hume (Pictures) rushed into the Octagon to help Franklin, 33, back to his stool. The former middleweight titleholder was in trouble, and the fans knew it. A minute's rest couldn't have been enough to clear the chaos in their fighter's head.
Recovered or not, a gutsy Franklin came out fighting in the second. He jabbed, let loose a pair of one-twos. He kicked. Meanwhile Silva didn't throw much back. He was waiting.
About a minute into the round, Franklin missed with a wild left hand that let Silva trap his head and launch a knee into his jaw. Franklin dropped. Silva rushed him with punches, more knees, a kick, then two more knees that gave referee John McCarthy plenty of reason to end the contest 1:07 into the second round. The rematch had been brutal, and not terribly unlike the first fight.
"He had me tonight," Franklin, now 22-3 with one No Contest, commented in the cage after his loss. "What can I say?"
In the year since their first meeting, Franklin had refused to let his fans boo the man who had taken his title. Saturday was no different. He applauded Silva's introduction before the fight and called him a great warrior and a class act after.
The respect was mutual.
"Rich is a great athlete, a great person, a champion," said Silva, who increased his record to 20-4 and remains unbeaten in five UFC fights. "He deserves everyone's respect inside this arena."
In heavyweight action, Tim Sylvia (Pictures) beat Brandon Vera (Pictures) with accurate punch combinations.
Vera (8-1) had clinched immediately, not wanting to trade with an adversary who had weighed in 35 pounds heavier than him. Locked up against the cage, the fighters traded short, insubstantial strikes while time ticked by and boos showered down.
When the two did break, it was never for long. From his southpaw stance, Vera would throw a left hand, then circle away or wrap up Sylvia, 31, before the big guy could start swinging. The strategy allowed Vera to connect with a left hook that was the best punch of the first round, but Sylvia also scored with knees and moved forward throughout.
In the second round, Vera continued to initiate the clinch. After a restart, Sylvia found enough range to land a right hand but was soon swallowed up as Vera, 30, rushed in.
Sylvia, fighting out of Davenport, Iowa, worked knees on the inside until a body-lock takedown dropped him to his back. Just as he showed against Jeff Monson (Pictures), however, the 6-foot-8 Sylvia is difficult to deal with on the ground. Vera has a strong submission game, but he mounted no offense from side-control. In fact, the only damage Vera did was an illegal knee, which was delivered to Sylvia's face when the Miletich-trained fighter had a knee on the ground.
The third round belonged to Sylvia (24-3). Vera slowed significantly, and his frequent clinching, which had forced him to carry Sylvia's 260-plus pounds for much of the fight, couldn't have helped.
The previously undefeated fighter stopped angling out of Sylvia's range. Instead he stood in front of his hard-hitting foe and tried to cover up, letting Sylvia load up on elbows and five-punch combinations. A pair of jabs stuck Vera in the face, then an uppercut found him, then a hook and another uppercut. The strikes weren't power shots and Vera never wobbled badly, but the combos were knocking him around.
As the round wore on, the combinations only continued. Sylvia would measure his opponent with the jab, snap down an elbow and return to hooks and uppercuts. In the end, all three judges scored the fight in his favor: 29-27, 29-28, 29-28.
Vera apologized to his coach after the fight, saying he hadn't implemented the game plan. "In the first round I broke my left hand; I don't know how the hell I did it," said the San Diego-based heavyweight. "It kind of threw me off my game plan a little bit."
Sylvia explained that clinching with Vera neutralized his opponent's kicks. "He was fairly strong in the clinch -- a little stronger than I thought he was going to be," Sylvia said. "But I felt I wore him out pretty good in the first round."
The former heavyweight champion also challenged Cheick Kongo (Pictures), who recently out-pointed Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic.
"We don't know what's going on with Randy [Couture] right now," Sylvia said. "He's a little bit in limbo. I don't want to sit my ass down and wait for him, so I think Cheick and I should fight."
Alvin Robinson (Pictures) rode the momentum of a big second round to a unanimous decision over Jorge Gurgel (Pictures).
Gurgel, 30, dominated positioning in the first five minutes. He looked tense early, perhaps due to the overwhelming support he received from the packed audience of his current hometown. Time and time again he slipped through the 25-year-old Robinson's guard and passed to side-control, though the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt couldn't secure a submission or inflict any damage.
Robinson (9-2) started the second round with a single-leg takedown. A scramble ensued -- a frenetic exchange of positions that lightweights have made commonplace in their bouts. Robinson worked a Kimura, then later an omoplata reversal.
In Gurgel's guard the Colorado resident broke through his opponent's defense with hammerfists. None of Gurgel's submission attempts came close, and soon he was flat on his back, severely fatigued, while Robinson postured up and pounded on him.
By the end of the round, Gurgel (11-3) had taken a good deal of punishment. He walked out for the third battered, and Robinson quickly forced him to the mat again. From the top Robinson easily thwarted Gurgel's submission attempts and peppered him with more punches en route to the unanimous decision: 29-28, 29-27, 29-27.
Stephan Bonnar (Pictures) won his second match in a row by stopping Milwaukee, Wisc.'s Eric Schafer (Pictures) in the second round of their light heavyweight tilt.
The opening five minutes were Schafer's, though. Bonnar, 30, prevented a single-leg takedown, but Schafer switched to a double that moved the fight to the mat. Seconds later he had Bonnar's back and was working on a rear-naked choke. "The American Psycho" protected his neck, but Schafer, also 30, won the round.
Unwilling to stand for long, Schafer (7-3-2) pulled guard to start the second. The move would prove to be a mistake. Bonnar (11-4) postured up well, and soon his punches were poking holes in Schafer's defense. A couple right hands got through, a couple lefts. The more that hit, the bigger the hole became.
Eventually Bonnar, fighting out of Las Vegas by way of Chicago, found himself teeing off on an opponent who was hurt and covering up -- and not trying to escape. Accordingly the fight was stopped at 2:47.
In the first main card bout of the night, Alan Belcher (Pictures) blitzed Kalib Starnes (Pictures) early with an array of knees. Starnes wanted to clinch, but Belcher moved well around the Octagon and stung Starnes when the Canadian walked into range.
Midway through the round, however, Starnes (8-2-1) began scoring with a jab that set up a few more powerful punches. Belcher didn't let his opponent take control for long. The 23-year-old native of Biloxi, Miss., retaliated with right uppercuts, then framed Starnes' head for a picture-perfect knee that opened a terrible gash above his eye.
Starnes, 32, made it out for the second round, and Belcher met him in the center of the cage with more knees and elbows. The assault was impressive. Soon Starnes' cut reopened, and a shovel full of Vaseline wouldn't have helped.
Officially referee Yves Lavigne stopped the bout at 1:39 of round two, after the ringside doctor said he could see Starnes' skull. The win improved Belcher's record to 11-3 and pushed him up another rung on the middleweight ladder.
Yushin Okami (Pictures) also climbed the 185-pound ranks Saturday. The Japanese fighter, who according to reports fought the final bout on his current UFC contract Saturday, may be ready for a title shot after his methodical victory over Jason MacDonald (Pictures).
Okami controlled all three rounds against the Canadian, who dropped to 19-9. MacDonald grabbed a single-leg twice in the first round, but Okami never fell to his back. Instead he retrieved his leg each time and effectively nullified MacDonald's game.
After tripping MacDonald in the second stanza, Okami (21-4) landed his first big punch of the fight, connecting with it inside his opponent's guard. He then straightened his back before firing down another.
MacDonald, 32, blocked some of the punches that followed, but eventually Okami was ripping through his defense with right-hand bombs. He hurt MacDonald, cutting him under the eye, but couldn't finish him.
The 26-year-old Okami took MacDonald's back in the third round, though he didn't put him away then either. Regardless, the fight was his, 30-27 on the three judges' cards.
Also at 185 pounds, touted Brazilian jiu-jitsu artist Demian Maia (Pictures) was unscathed in his UFC debut against 30-year-old Ryan Jensen (Pictures). The fight went as hundreds before it: Maia used a single-leg to take Jensen down. The Brazilian pursued a pass until Jensen (11-3) tried to roll out, which wouldn't work against Maia's fundamentally sound submission game.
The 29-year-old Brazilian seized the opportunity to take Jensen's back. After he worked in his second hook, Maia (6-0) locked on a rear-naked choke for the tapout at 2:40.
Forrest Petz (Pictures), 32, may have had Josh Burkman (Pictures) beaten until the waning moments of their welterweight fight.
The first round went to Burkman, who tripped Petz (13-5) early and threatened with a guillotine choke. In the second round, however, "The Meat Cleaver" stuffed his opponent's takedowns and battered his body with punches.
Entering the third, Burkman (9-4) was gassed. Petz's punching was more technical and more effective. He'd step inside and drive hooks to the body while Burkman, 27, took one swing at a time, each cut for the fences.
Petz's only problem was that one of Burkman's haymakers hit. A left hook launched from the hip caught Petz's jaw and put him down. The blow likely swayed the necessary number of judges, two of which scored the bout in Burkman's favor, 29-28, while one dissented, 28-29.
Matt Grice defeated Jason Black (Pictures) in an entertaining bout that began the night. The first round was close. Grice threw his opponent to the mat and controlled from the top for most of the five minutes, though the 35-year-old Black never stopped from his back and reversed Grice with a Kimura.
Both fighters nearly won and nearly lost in the second round. Grice, 26, dropped Black early with a left hand, cutting him below the eye. By the end of the round, though, Black had reversed Grice with a deep triangle choke. He was holding the choke and hammering a defenseless Grice (9-1) from the top when the round ended.
A takedown allowed Grice to work from the top again in the third. Black (21-4-1) was less active from his back, and Grice's strikes earned him the round. Although the fight was initially announced as a draw, Grice was awarded the decision.