Silva-Franklin II: Unlike Any Other
In sports, reference and comparison are inevitable. If the Patriots
win another Super Bowl, they will be linked to the dynasties of the
Steelers, Niners and Cowboys. If a top seed gets bounced in the
first round of the playoffs, Sonics-Nuggets and Sharks-Red Wings
will be mentioned. The next Cinderella that tops March Madness will
be the new Villanova; the next golf king, the new Tiger; the next
tennis superstar, the new Federer.
The same goes for fight sports. A toe-to-toe war in boxing invites
Hagler-Hearns or Gatti-Ward comparisons. For better or worse, if
MMA fighters go to battle, you hear echoes of Gomi-Diaz and
The point is that all things in sports, MMA included, have these
narratives. They help us make abstract ideas of magnitude and
significance more tangible and digestible. Fighters and fights
become templates and archetypes that tell us about the future. And,
in most cases, our romantic ideas about the history of MMA serve to
enrich the present.
However, for all the super-forced symmetry of fight analysis, this
Saturday's marquee bout has its own identity. The second chapter
between Rich Franklin
(Pictures) and Anderson Silva isn't a new this
or an updated that.
Certainly this is not the first time a champion has lost, or been
destroyed for that matter, then attempted to regain his title and
stature. But that's a broad, nondescript story.
Circumstance and ramification catalyze Silva-Franklin II in a
unique way. Beyond the basic "the once-king wants his crown back,"
this scrap is a new narrative for MMA.
Saturday's rematch in Cincinnati is not Liddell-Couture deux or
trois. Sure, heading into the second bout, Liddell was forced to
overcome the fact that he was soundly out-struck and dominated from
bell-to-bell in his first go-around with "The Natural." And yes, in
the third bout, Couture was faced with the enormous task of
rebounding after a vicious knockout.
However, while Liddell was perhaps Zuffa's championship hopeful in
the summer of 2003, he was not the champion. While Couture's third
bout with Liddell was of considerable magnitude, his eventual loss
assuredly would not become his legacy.
Silva-Franklin II is not Ortiz-Liddell II either. There's no
question Tito Ortiz
(Pictures) was the face of the UFC
during his lengthy reign as light heavyweight champion. Yet his
prior loss to Liddell, wholesale defeat at the hands of Couture and
hotly debated decisions over Belfort and Griffin dictated that
Ortiz had everything to gain and nothing to lose in his rematch
against "The Iceman." A victory would've meant a surge back to
prominence for Ortiz, but his expected and realized loss altered no
one's perception of "The Huntington Beach Bad Boy."
Before Silva's clinch-based vivisection of Franklin, the most
recent pantheon-level embarrassment of an entrenched Octagon
champion had been B.J. Penn
(Pictures) making an ill-advised leap to 170
pounds to debase Matt Hughes
(Pictures). But Saturday's main event
isn't Hughes-Penn II.
A win for Hughes over Penn represented a chance to rectify the most
embarrassing moment of his career. After years of knocking off
top-10 opponent after top-10 opponent, however, and being regarded
as a preeminent pound-for-pounder, a loss would not have indicted
For that same reason, when Hughes-Penn gave way to Hughes-St.
Pierre for a second time, little changed. A win would have been yet
another outstanding feather in the cap for MMA's foremost
country-breakfast enthusiast. But more importantly St-Pierre was
considered a favorite by many in the second bout. He had competed
gamely in the first one despite having virtually no top-level
experience and showed marked improvement afterward while rattling
off a string of sensational wins.
If anything, Hughes-St. Pierre II was a torch passing to the UFC's
new dominant dynamo. Matt
Serra (Pictures) didn't care much for that
storyline. Nonetheless the encounter doesn't bare any resemblance
to Franklin-Silva II.
Some elements of the Arlovski-Sylvia fights are perhaps present in
the upcoming UFC 77 feature. Both of those men were looking to
overcome embarrassments that became, however fairly or unfairly,
their very characterizations: Sylvia as a product of anabolic
benefits with little ability from his back and Arlovski as the
owner of a weak chin that would hold him back from being truly
No matter how poorly either looked in defeat, though, they were not
quite as helpless as Franklin against Silva. Sylvia and Arlovski
got caught; Franklin looked like he was ensnared in a bear trap and
the worst kind at that -- the kind that knees you in the face.
More importantly, because of an overall lack of depth and talent in
the division and the nature of the class itself, Arlovski and
Sylvia continued to stick around the heavyweight ranks win, lose or
draw. That's not what's at stake with Silva-Franklin II.
Even outside of the Octagon, there is no facsimile of this fight.
PRIDE also played host to a smattering of similar bouts but none
with quite the same essence.
As far as dominant displays in high-profile title fights go,
(Pictures)'s unexpected critical
beatdown of Antonio Rodrigo
Nogueira (Pictures) for PRIDE's version of the
heavyweight championship remains somewhat of an exemplar. Nogueira
was unquestionably the world's top heavyweight. After his
performance against Bob Sapp
(Pictures), many opined that Nogueira
When subsequent rematches between Nogueira and Emelianenko rolled
around, the status of being the sport's top heavyweight was on the
line, though a loss would not have impeached either's credibility.
After the quasi-controversial No Contest in their second meeting,
Nogueira was again decisively bested by Emelianenko in the third
fight. Yet Nogueira is still viewed as one of the best fighters
this young sport has seen, and he continues to be an elite
heavyweight. People don't tend to hold losing to Fedor against
(Pictures)'s loss to hated rival
(Pictures) was no doubt humiliating
and humbling, but it hardly packed the carnage of Franklin's
impromptu rhinoplasty. Again, going into the second bout, two
losses to Arona may have blemished the résumé of "The Axe
Murderer," but a major altering of his legacy was not likely.
Those who derided Silva as a bully picking on 185-pound Japanese
fighters may have grown more vocal, but anyone capable of objective
analysis would still see the accomplishment and significance of
Silva in the MMA landscape. We'll never know for sure, as Silva won
the rematch via a debatable decision.
Marcus Aurelio shocked
Takanori Gomi (Pictures) in their April 2006 encounter. In
relation to the Silva-Franklin bout, Gomi was also definitively
embarrassed. The fact he was able to keep his title did little to
salve the sting of his defeat.
The loss was not the first time Gomi had been shocked by a live
underdog as a reigning champion, though. Gomi admitted he'd fought
foolishly against Aurelio, and coupled with Mitsuhiro Ishida (Pictures)'s subsequent domination of
Aurelio, Gomi was still the favorite when a rematch with Aurelio
rolled around. Regardless of what the outcome would be, Gomi still
had seven years' worth of elite-level competition, a considerable
amount of top wins and would probably still secure more of those
wins in the years to come.
It was an ugly and painful affair, but Gomi won a split decision.
If the decision had gone Aurelio's way, would Gomi have become a
punch line? Only if you think history will remember Marco Antonio Barrera as that
guy who lost to Junior Jones.
Even more peripheral bits of history can't serve as templates. The
featherweight division's beginning in MMA was marked by, if not
predicated on, the humiliation of champions. Shooto legend Noboru Asahi was disgraced in 1998
by a 20-year-old novice named Alexandre Franca
Nogueira (Pictures). Royler Gracie (Pictures) had treated Asahi similarly two
years earlier in what was a watershed moment for the developing
When Pequeno's guillotine choked Asahi asleep again in the rematch,
the result was simply a matter of progression. The old guard of
Shooto had given way to younger fighters more suited to deal with
the changing climate of MMA.
Pequeno himself reigned as Shooto champion for nearly seven years.
Along the way he was forced into the role of disgraced champion
twice in losing non-title affairs to Tetsuo Katsuta (Pictures) and Hiroyuki Abe. However, both losses
came in bouts where it was clear Nogueira was either not fighting
to the best of his abilities or disregarding what his best
abilities were. In rematches a motivated Nogueira showed the losses
to be aberrations, as he ran roughshod over Katsuta and Abe and
regained some measure of dignity.
Still not Franklin-Silva II.
More famously in the Shooto ring was the pair of bouts between
Rumina Sato (Pictures) and a young Caol Uno (Pictures). When they first met in May 1999,
Sato was not the champion in an official sense. Of course the very
bout had been organized for the sole purpose of placing the vacant
title on Sato, who was Shooto's young and charismatic poster
Sato had dominated nearly the entire first bout until the young and
inexperienced Uno, who was picked to be a proverbial lamb, took
Sato's back and choked him out in the last minute. The loss was
neither the first nor nearly the last time Sato faltered in epic
fashion, much to the chagrin of Shooto enthusiasts.
When they rematched a year and a half later, Uno knocked Sato out
in the first round. Everybody knew Sato could win, but the teeming
hopefulness that accompanied him into pro Shooto was already being
reduced to a faint glimmer, and Uno's right hook smashing his jaw
was merely further development in the story of MMA's most tragic
Silva-Franklin II is not Kondo-Funaki for the King of Pancrase
title either. It's reasonably certain that Franklin didn't simply
allow Silva to crush his face and become a new star. The athletic
commissions don't like that sort of stuff anyhow.
Some of these bouts had poster boys losing. Some of those losses
came in brutal, vicious and thoroughly humiliating fashion. Some
were between two popular fighters highly regarded in their
respective weight classes. Yet an exhaustive flipping through the
pages of the MMA history book can't provide any kind of narrative
identical to the Silva-Franklin II story.
In a broad spectrum, the Silva-Franklin rematch will inevitably
join the aforementioned fights in chronicling MMA's championship
rebounds, whatever failure or success they netted. However, more
specifically, a win for Rich
Franklin (Pictures) will see him notch the triumph of
his career while avenging a genuine loss that was not a product of
being surprised by an unknown fighter or taking an opponent likely
or any external factor beyond getting beat by a better fighter.
A win gives him the chance to set up a rubber match and potentially
prevail in the trilogy, erasing the horrific defeat he suffered a
year ago. A loss puts Franklin in the awkward and aimless misery of
having to fight in circles until someone can dethrone "The Spider."
Although in defeat Franklin will still undoubtedly be good enough
to be a top-10 fighter, he will also be cast as a failed poster boy
who was good but just not good enough.
For Silva another win over Franklin would seemingly make him the
most accomplished fighter the 185-pound division has seen. If the
Brazilian wins, more dirt is thrown on top of his losses to Chonan
and Takase. If he loses, his reputation as an exceptionally
dangerous but undeniably flakey fighter may resurface.
You won't find any bout in the history of MMA on which two
fighters' reputations and legacies rely so heavily. Therefore the
question isn't which fight Silva-Franklin II most resembles, but
rather, years from now, exactly what will it mean when we watch a
bout and say, "That was Franklin-Silva II all over again"?
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