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 Bonnar-Griffin.
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 Hughes' career.
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 great.
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, Fedor Emelianenko (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 was unbeatable.
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 you.
Wanderlei Silva (Pictures)'s loss to hated rival Ricardo Arona (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 sport.
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 boy.
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 figure.
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"?