MMA: Rich Franklin
LAS VEGAS -- Muay Thai instructor Diogenes Assahida has known Anderson Silva for more than a decade and cornered him throughout his legendary career.
It takes him three words to describe what went wrong July 6, when Silva suffered the first loss of his UFC career -- a second-round TKO to Chris Weidman.
“Lack of motivation,” Assahida told ESPN.com, through interpreter Derek Lee.
Assahida, who lives and trains fighters out of Curitiba, Brazil, first observed Silva in the late 1990s in Vale Tudo competition. He would eventually appear in his corner, while Silva was fighting for Cage Rage promotion.
He was part of the Brazilian's camp when he first fought in the UFC, against Chris Leben in 2006. He was in Silva’s corner when he took the middleweight title from Rich Franklin via first-round TKO at UFC 64.
As Silva’s career progressed, Assahida wasn’t able to remain a consistent presence in his camp -- although the two remained in near constant contact.
When Silva meets Weidman for a second time at UFC 168 on Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, it will be the first time Assahida has been a full-time member of his camp since he fought Chael Sonnen for the first time in August 2010.
Assahida, who spent the previous six weeks with Silva in Los Angeles, said they've worked on technique but most of their focus has been mental.
“Since he started training in the beginning, he’s always worked hard to be the best -- to be the champion,” Assahida said. “In my personal opinion, I don’t know how much it matters to him to be the champion anymore, but it matters to win this fight.
“I think for a few fights, he’s had a little bit of a lack of motivation. He was tired. His mindset and his focus now look good. I’ve been with him since the beginning of this camp and I am very confident.”
ESPN Stats & Information
The UFC was to crown its first ever superfight champion on April 7, 1995, at UFC 5. Royce Gracie, the three-time tournament champion against Ken Shamrock, whose only loss was to the Brazilian jiu-jitsu master at UFC 1 in just 57 seconds. The two men fought for 36 minutes, with Shamrock gaining a takedown shortly into the fight and holding top position for the remainder of the 31-minute period. A five-minute overtime settled nothing and the fight was declared a draw. Despite being in top position, Shamrock landed 10 significant strikes (98 in total). And so began the legacy of the UFC rematch.
Over its 20-year history, the UFC has had more than 100 rematches. Some bouts such as Gracie versus Shamrock have changed the course of UFC history.
Battles that Changed History
UFC 52: Couture vs. Liddell 2
UFC 65: Hughes vs. St-Pierre 2 (aka Bad Intentions)
Matt Hughes had defended his UFC Welterweight Title twice when he fought Georges St-Pierre for the second time at UFC 65. Hughes won the first matchup at UFC 50 by way of armbar, with one second remaining in the opening round. In the rematch, St-Pierre dominated, outstriking Hughes 45-10 and landing a brutal head kick and punches to dethrone the champion. Hughes would fight St-Pierre at UFC 79 and lose again, his last shot at a UFC title.
UFC 77: Silva vs. Franklin 2 (aka Hostile Territory)
UFC 100: Lesnar vs. Mir 2
By November 2008, Brock Lesnar had become the UFC heavyweight champion. But there was one man who had his number: Frank Mir. Mir defeated Lesnar by heel hook at UFC 81, and after Mir became interim champion, it set up the rematch at the UFC’s century mark event. Lesnar would control the action from the opening bell, bloodying Mir and outstriking the interim champ 47-4 in significant strikes. Lesnar would make one more title defense before health issues and losing the title led to his departure from MMA in 2011.
UFC 100 would be a night of redemption for Lesnar, much like these rematches.
Battles of Redemption
UFC 49: Belfort vs. Couture 2 (aka Unfinished Business)
Randy Couture was the UFC light heavyweight champion when he defended his title against Vitor Belfort at UFC 46 in January 2004. The end of the fight was marred in controversy when the doctor halted the bout just 49 seconds into the opening round because of a cut on Couture’s eyelid from a Belfort punch. Belfort was awarded the title because of the doctor stoppage, resulting in an immediate rematch in August. In the rematch, Couture gained two takedowns and damaged Belfort on the ground, ultimately leading to a doctor’s stoppage after the third round. Couture landed 33 of his 50 significant strikes on the grounded Belfort.
UFC 63: Hughes vs. Penn 2
UFC 46 also saw another title change in the co-main event when BJ Penn submitted Matt Hughes to win the UFC welterweight title. Penn would leave the UFC because of contractual issues, but would return in March 2006. He would again fight Hughes at UFC 63, but the result was much different. Hughes was the UFC welterweight champion, and proved why in defeating Penn by TKO stoppage in the third round. They would rematch once more in 2010 with Penn winning by KO 21 seconds into the fight.
UFC 83: Serra vs. St-Pierre 2
UFC 148: Silva vs. Sonnen 2
The matchup against Weidman will be Silva’s third rematch in his MMA career. In his second set of rematches in 2010 and 2012, Silva fought Chael Sonnen and picked up two victories. But the first fight was three minutes away from going to Sonnen. At UFC 117, Sonnen gained takedowns in each of the first three rounds and had Silva on his back in the final round up on the cards when Silva forced a tap out with a triangle choke and armbar. Many thought Sonnen had Silva’s number when the two would rematch at UFC 148, but the Brazilian had other ideas. Sonnen landed 76 total strikes on Silva while the champion threw just two, missing both. But Silva battled in Round 2, eventually striking after a Sonnen slip and finishing the fight with knees against the cage.
All of those battles took place over time, but some rematches remain timeless for their bad blood and exciting results.
UFC 61: Ortiz vs. Shamrock 2 (aka Bitter Rivals)
While Ronda Rousey-Miesha Tate may be the preeminent feud of today’s MMA, it all started with Ortiz and Ken Shamrock. The two fought at UFC 40 in 2002, at the time the most watched UFC PPV of all time. The fight was one-sided as Ortiz dominated Shamrock for three rounds before the fight was stopped. The rematch took place 3 1/2 later at UFC 61 after the rivalry reignited on Season 3 of the Ultimate Fighter. Ortiz, in the middle of his career, beat the aging Shamrock with strikes 68 seconds into the first round. They would rematch in October 2006, and again Ortiz pounded Shamrock into a stoppage. But the rivalry and the bad blood is what kept the feud going for almost 10 years.
UFC 66: Liddell vs. Ortiz 2
UFC 71: Liddell vs. Jackson 2
In 2003, Liddell was sent to Japan by the UFC to represent the company in the PRIDE Middleweight Grand Prix. Liddell would face “Rampage” Jackson in the semifinals and the winner was expected to face Wanderlei Silva in the final. Jackson would defeat Liddell by TKO due to corner stoppage in the second round. Fast forward to 2007, and Jackson became the No. 1 contender to Liddell’s UFC light heavyweight title. Once again, Jackson would catch Liddell with big punches, putting him to the mat and winning the bout 1:53 into the first round.
UFC 125: Edgar vs. Maynard 2 (aka Resolution)
The rivalry between Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard began in April 2008, when Maynard beat Edgar by unanimous decision. Edgar would go on to win the UFC lightweight title from Penn in April 2010 and would defend it against Penn in August. After winning that rematch, it was time for UFC 125 and a rematch against Maynard, the only man to beat him. Edgar was knocked down three times in the opening round and Maynard looked to be on his way to another win. But Edgar battled back, outstriking Maynard 95-71 in significant strikes and earning a split decision draw. The two men would fight one more time in October 2011, but this time the clear winner was Edgar by fourth-round knockout.
This Saturday night, UFC 168 is headlined by not one, but two of these rematches. Will they be battles of redemption for the challengers, Silva and Tate? Or will Weidman and Rousey continue to cement their places as champions and put their foes out of the title picture for good? Either way, these fights will become part of the ever growing legacy of the UFC rematch.
There are only a handful of fights remaining in Cung Le’s professional mixed martial arts career, and he would like each of them to be meaningful.
Le is interested in main card-caliber bouts; a main-event showdown against middleweight contender Michael Bisping brings a smile to his face. He’d have to get in line, these days everyone seems to want a piece of Bisping.
But first, Le must resolve a more pressing issue: getting his right elbow back to 100 percent. He had surgery on the right elbow (bone spurs) shortly after a first-round knockout of Rich Franklin in November.
Le hasn’t specified how he injured the right elbow, but it’s likely the result of a near-perfect right hand that found Franklin’s face and sent him to the canvas. The punch was delivered at the 2:17 mark.
The left elbow, which was operated on before the fight with Franklin, appears normal but his right elbow isn’t responding positively to extensive workout routines. Until that injury fully heals, Le’s return to the Octagon remains uncertain.
“I’m still going through rehab,” Le told ESPN.com. “But my right elbow keeps getting reinjured whenever I try to step it up in training. So, I’m not going to push the issue.”
At 40 years old, Le can see the finish line. MMA has been good to Le: he’s compiled a respectable 9-2 professional record and claimed the Strikeforce middleweight title along the way.
His success as a mixed martial artist opened doors to an acting career. Le has made several movie and television appearances. He intends to continue acting when his MMA career comes to an end.
For now, MMA remains a major part of his life. But in the time remaining, there are a few things Le intends to check off his to-do list. A UFC middleweight title fight would be nice, but that isn’t where his focus is right now.
“I’d like to have high-profile fights and a shot at coaching on TUF, whether it’s here [in the United States] or in China, wherever,” said Le, who has won two fights in a row. “I have a few more fights and they should be good fights for me.
“I’m not going to accept just any fight, and at this point in my career I don’t have to. I’ve worked hard to be where I am. I’ve had a few setbacks, but other than that, I’m just going to heal up and whatever happens, happens.”
What he’d like to happen upon his return is a fight with Bisping. Le isn’t one to call out an opponent, but he isn’t shy about expressing his desire to take on Bisping -- who is the target of several middleweights these days.
Franklin (a former UFC middleweight champion) and Luke Rockhold, the ex-Strikeforce titleholder who suffered a first-round knockout May 18 to Vitor Belfort in his Octagon debut, have also expressed interest in facing Bisping next.
A fight with Bisping makes sense for Le; he currently isn’t ranked among the top 10 middleweights, but has looked good in his most recent outings. Besides, Bisping is the high-profile fighter Le covets.
Bisping versus Le warrants main-card status -- possibly a main-event slot. It would be a fun fight to watch. Plus, a win over Bisping secures a top-10 middleweight ranking for Le.
“That would be a great fight for the fans,” Le said. “That would be a big fight. But I’m not the one to make that decision. Whether I’m at the top of that list for the fight or on the bottom, it ultimately comes down to who Joe Silva and the UFC decide who we fight.”
Bisping, however, might be given some say-so in the matter. That would be good news for Le.
“Of those three, Cung Le would be the most attractive,” Bisping told ESPN.com. “He’s on a two-fight win streak. He just knocked out Rich Franklin. So I would fight him.”
ESPN Stats & Information
UFC on Fuel TV 8 takes place from the Saitama Super Arena in Japan this Saturday, the sixth time the UFC has traveled to the “Land of the Rising Sun.” The main event sees Wanderlei Silva battle Brian Stann at light heavyweight while Stefan Struve takes on Mark Hunt in a heavyweight bout. Here are the numbers you need to know for Saturday’s fights:
6: Fights Silva has had against an American fighter since his return to the UFC in 2007. He is 1-5 in those bouts, losing his past four (Rich Franklin twice, Chris Leben and Quinton Jackson). “The All-American” has fought just one Brazilian fighter in his career, defeating Jorge Santiago at UFC 130.
Wanderlei Silva, UFC Career vs. American Fighters:
UFC 147 Rich Franklin L, UD
UFC 132 Chris Leben L, KO
UFC 99 Rich Franklin L, UD
UFC 92 Quinton Jackson L, KO
UFC 84 Keith Jardine W, KO
UFC 79 Chuck Liddell L, UD
6: Times Silva has been defeated by KO or TKO in his 48-fight career. Four of those knockouts have come inside the UFC Octagon, while the other two were his last two PRIDE fights against Dan Henderson and Mirko Filipovic. The "Cro-Cop" fight was the last time Silva fought in Japan, which served as the home for PRIDE organization. Stann has nine KO/TKO wins in 17 career fights.
75: Percent of wins by "The Axe Murderer" that have come by KO or TKO (24 of 32). When Silva defeated Michael Bisping at UFC 110 by unanimous decision, it marked his first win not by KO or TKO since November 2003 at PRIDE: Final Conflict.
3: The combined takedowns by both fighters in their UFC careers (Silva 2, Stann 1). Each fighter attempts less than one takedown and one submission attempt per 15 minutes. In other words, it would be shocking to see this fight go to the ground unless one of the fighters gets knocked down.
2010: The last time former WEC light heavyweight champion Stann fought at 205 pounds, where he is 8-3 in his career. Stann will be dropping back to middleweight after this fight with Silva, where he holds a 4-2 record.
9: The reach advantage for 7-footer Stefan Struve in his co-main event bout against 5-foot-10 Mark Hunt. Struve’s reach is 83 inches while Hunt has a 74-inch reach. The 83-inch reach for Struve is second behind Jon Jones (84.5 inches) for longest reach in the UFC.
9: Wins for Struve inside the UFC Octagon, tied with Junior dos Santos, Gabriel Gonzaga and heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez for third among active heavyweights. With a win, he would join Frank Mir, Cheick Kongo, Andrei Arlovski and Randy Couture as the only UFC fighters with double-digit wins in the division.
Most UFC Wins, Active Heavyweight Fighters:
Frank Mir 14
Cheick Kongo 11
Cain Velasquez 9
Junior dos Santos 9
Gabriel Gonzaga 9
Stefan Struve 9*
*Four-fight win streak
3.9: Submissions attempted per 15 minutes for "The Skyscraper," fifth highest in UFC history and first among heavyweights. "The Super Samoan" has six submission defeats in seven career losses, all arm-related (three by armbar, two by kimura, one by keylock). Of Struve’s 16 submission victories, only three are by armbar (13 submissions by choke).
2: The main and co-main events are the only fights on the card not to feature a fighter from Japan or South Korea. There are nine Asia versus The World contests on the card. Japan is represented by Takanori Gomi, Yushin Okami, Mizuto Hirota, Riki Fukuda, Takeya Mizugaki, and Kazuki Tokudome. The South Koreans are represented in three matchups by Dong Hyun Kim, Kyung Ho Kang and Hyun Gyu Lim.
"It will be an interesting matchup," Fitch told ESPN.com after verbally agreeing to the fight last week. "I haven't created too much of a game plan, but I think I'll overwhelm him with everything that I bring to the table."
The bout will likely suffer from a lack of headlines leading up to UFC 156, in large part because the card, as it unofficially stacks up, is loaded. Then again, like the stone-grinding that follows Fitch from fight to fight, a weak spotlight is normal. While Maia isn't a particularly powerful draw either, his recent conversion down to welterweight has revitalized the Brazilian jiu-jitsu wizard's prospects of fighting for a UFC championship.
Maia looks every bit a serious, well-rounded mixed martial arts contender, and Fitch is the perfect guy to test that.
"He's really a monster at 170," Fitch said. "I was surprised at how big he was down in Rio [at UFC 153]."
Despite Maia's size -- along with everything else the 35-year-old Brazilian brings into the cage -- Fitch believes his own work rate and pressure will prove too much. That's how the wrestler unwound the tornado that is Erick Silva in mid-October, when he and Maia were tremendous at UFC 153.
Fitch, 34, has been a fixture at the top of the welterweight class for the past five years, and it's hard to argue a win over Maia wouldn't put him in prime position to fight for the belt again.
"I think as far as depth, 170 has always been the best weight class," Fitch said.
The assessment sounds fair to me. Welterweight has long been a marquee moneymaking division for the UFC because of its competitive strength and dominant champions. These days, St-Pierre has no shortage of potent threats to cope with, and Fitch-Maia should do the job of producing yet another.
Franklin to fulfill his end
Nearly three weeks after Cung Le knocked him cold in Macau, Rich Franklin sounds prepared to soldier on and honor the last fight of his contract with the UFC.
Franklin met Thursday with his manager, JT Stewart. The former UFC middleweight champion expects to take a fight at 185 pounds, Stewart said, though Franklin doesn’t have an opponent in mind.
“Doesn’t matter,” Stewart said.
If indeed it’s Franklin’s last rumble -- Stewart would only commit to “we will see” -- you can understand why middleweight is the destination. Franklin, now 38, reached his peak at the weight before Anderson Silva arrived and produced many moments since turning pro in 1999.
An odd one I was glad to see in person came in January 2001 in far-flung Friant, Calif. Fighting at 220 pounds, Franklin’s sixth pro bout came against Aaron Brink and turned out to be the only no-contest of his career.
Brink, a brawler, was a couple months removed from an armbar loss to Andrei Arlovski (the Belarusian’s first fight in the Octagon). Managed by Monte Cox at the time, Franklin was unbeaten in five fights, all stoppages, and undoubtedly a talent to watch.
Competing on an "IFC: Warriors Challenge" event meant this was the first time a promoter had flown Franklin out from Ohio to fight. He really shouldn’t have shown up. (I remember Cox saying Franklin’s fever was as high as 104 a couple hours before the event, but this was a long time ago.) Anyhow, “Ace” stepped in the cage to battle for IFC’s illustrious United States light heavyweight title. Crazily, midway through the first round of a slugfest, Brink’s right leg wedged between the cage and the canvas.
I’ve never seen anything like that again.
All together now?
Promoting UFC 154 at ESPN in Bristol a couple weeks back, Dana White’s many stops included a SportsNation chat with fans.
Leo from Salt Lake wondered when we’ll see a fighters union in the UFC.
This was White’s response:
“I doubt it. The thing about fighting is, fighting is not a team sport, it's an individual sport. It's going to be tough to see a day with Silva or GSP is giving up big chunks of their money to guys who won't make two fights in the UFC. Different sports. But if it happens, it happens. I have to negotiate with somebody on the fight contracts.”
Why would creating a union require Silva or GSP or any fighter to give up a chunk of money, let alone a big one? That doesn’t make sense based on the inroads unions and associations made in other sports.
I wonder how Marvin Miller would have reacted to White’s comment. Miller transformed Major League Baseball by organizing its players into one of the country’s strongest unions. His death Tuesday spawned widespread admiration, including this tweet from 28-year-old energy broker/UFC lightweight John Cholish:
“Very sad to hear of the loss of Marvin Miller, wish #MMA and #MMAFighters had a man like him #Greatness”.
Now that Frankie Edgar has finally been persuaded to fight in the UFC’s featherweight division, we can get on with other fresher transplantations.
Next up: Jose Aldo, to lightweight.
Go figure. Edgar goes down to fight for Aldo’s belt; Aldo goes up, so long as he defends that belt in a satisfactory manner against Edgar on Feb. 2. They’re gauging things whichever way you look at it -- just two ships passing in the night.
(Or, you know, two high-powered motorboats).
And if Aldo defends that belt, expect Edgar to return to 155 pounds, too. He’s really just dipping his toe in the water. And if Aldo loses at lightweight, he’ll whittle his form back down to 145 pounds. And even if he wins at lightweight, he may get greedy and become an exotic collector of belts.
Greatness is not above hoarding.
Why all the division jumping? Because, for one thing, disappearing from a familiar weight class and appearing in a foreign one means reinvention. It means fresh challenges for fighters, and intriguing, previously only imagined match-ups for fight fans. It’s rethinking divisional rankings and visible abs. Most of all, it means something new, and in the fight game new is always appreciated.
Everybody likes to have a reset button, and these days more and more fighters are using it. Why not? It’s usually a smart play, especially as the UFC grows along with our fascination in matchmaking. Some careers need kick-starts, and others just need a little spice.
Others being Anderson Silva, who does it because, so far as most of us can tell, he’s bored. Now he’s talking about cutting down to something in the range of 178 pounds for a catchweight fight with Georges St-Pierre (a fighter whose hands go clammy when he contemplates playing fast and loose with weight fluctuations). For Nik Lentz, it’s to make a name he couldn’t make at lightweight. For Demetrious Johnson, it’s because he was tired of fighting 135-pound monsters. Ditto Chris Cariaso.
It goes on.
Former middleweight Demian Maia went from one of the slickest practitioners of human origami ever to enter the Octagon (circa 2007-09) before turning into a nondescript kickboxer who lost a lot. What did he do? He began by dropping down to 170 pounds, and in the process he remembered the jiu-jitsu that Fabio Gurgel spent all that time teaching him. Reinvention? More like repentance. He’s remembering his roots while on a diet of apples and tuna.
Clay Guida goes down. Jon Jones, one day soon, will go up. We love the idea of that.
And Anthony Johnson? He has yet to find the weight class that can contain him. Maybe 205 pounds is right where he needs to be -- but if you’ve seen him walking around the Blackzilians gym in Delmar Beach, Fla., hulking like a linebacker and dwarfing guys such as Rashad Evans, you wouldn’t be so sure.
So what does it all mean? That Mike Dolce is in business, and that Georges St-Pierre is the new minority. He is at least a little reluctant to fight Anderson Silva because he’s (A) not desperate, (B) not bored or (C) not entirely masochistic. He is just dominant. At 170 pounds. Right where he knows he’s greatest.
If he declines to fight Anderson Silva at anything other than 170 pounds, he’ll not only be blameless in the ordeal, he’ll stand as a kind of traditionalist. He won’t just be defending his belt as a stubborn champion, he’ll become the defender of the weight classes.
And with so much movement between divisions, right now that in itself might feel like something new.
While acting remains on his resume, Le has put that part of his life on hold for nearly a year. These days, it’s all about mixed martial arts.
“Every time I fight, I fight to win and this win will mean a lot,” Le told ESPN.com. “My last victory when I beat Patrick Cote -- my win in UFC 148 -- was very emotional. I get very emotional after every fight, especially after a big loss to Wanderlei [Silva].
“After this one, I expect I will get even more emotional.”
For Le, 40, beating Rich Franklin will mean more than a second straight win in UFC. It will mark the culmination of arguably his most difficult training camp.
During preparation for this bout, Le (8-2) had to battle through physical pain. An injured right foot, which he sustained during his July 7 unanimous decision over Cote, caused Le discomfort at the beginning of training camp.
But the former Strikeforce 185-pound titleholder refused to take any shortcuts during his workout. Despite the pain, Le fought diligently through every physical regimen his trainers demanded of him.
People don't understand the therapy, the treatments I had to go through [after the Cote fight] to get back. I thought I had a broken foot, but I had a deep bone bruise in my [right] foot. ... I went through a lot of pain. It's been rough.” -- Cung Le, on the long road to recovery from a foot injury
“People don’t understand the therapy, the treatments I had to go through [after the Cote fight] to get back,” Le told ESPN.com. “I thought I had a broken foot, but I had a deep bone bruise in my [right] foot.
“The doctor gave me 6-8 weeks to get cleared to start training. I went through a lot of pain. It’s been rough. I couldn’t train like I usually do, but I continued to push hard. And I’m going to do my best to make it pay off [Saturday night].”
Le says he feels 100 percent physically and mentally for Franklin. His movement and timing have returned to normal levels. There is no more pain in his right foot and a few wrinkles have been added to his offensive repertoire.
In an effort to maintain that timing for Saturday’s bout, he arrived in Cotai Strip, Macau, two weeks in advance.
The UFC-promoted main card is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. ET on Fuel TV. Franklin (29-6, 1 no contest) and Le square off in the main event.
But Le says the unusually early start time won’t hinder him; his timing and rhythm are on point. He feels good heading into this fight, which has consumed all his attention.
A victory could lead to higher-profile bouts, but Le isn’t looking ahead. Even previous talk of a rematch with Silva has been tabled.
For now, it’s all about beating Franklin, nothing else. Besides, a win will make it easier to remove the images of that second-round TKO loss to Silva in November 2011 from his mind.
Le had been out of action for more than a year heading into his fight with Silva. But the inactivity factor did not ease the pain of that loss, which occurred in Le’s UFC debut. For many months, he couldn't put that loss to bed. That began to change after the fight with Franklin became official.
“I did mention wanting a rematch with Wanderlei, but it’s not a priority anymore,” Le said. “Whether I get it or not, I don’t care at this point. A win over Rich would be satisfying.
“Styles make fights and I just got caught against Wanderlei. In my head [a win Saturday] it will make me feel good knowing that Rich did beat him twice.
“I’m taking it one day at a time. Tomorrow isn’t promised, so my ultimate goal is to get that win against Rich Franklin.”
Like Le, the 38-year-old Franklin is seeking his second win in a row. He defeated Silva by unanimous decision on June 23 in Brazil in a rematch that was contested at 190 pounds.
He’s been at this physically demanding sport now for more than 12 years. At 38, he’s at an age where his natural testosterone levels inevitably decline. He’s sore in the morning when he wakes up and his recovery time is noticeably longer.
Franklin, though, says there are several reasons why he is not on TRT for his fight against Cung Le on Nov. 10, which will headline the UFC on Fuel event in Macau, China.
First, when Franklin initially mentioned during an interview months ago that he would consider TRT, the response from fans on his Twitter and Facebook accounts was venomous. Even though it is an approved medical treatment in the sport, Franklin says there is no question what the public’s perception is of the treatment.
“The public perception of TRT is that it’s cheating,” Franklin told ESPN.com. “The moment I said I was actually thinking about it, I started getting quite a bit of backlash.”
For the record, Franklin holds no personal feelings against TRT. It’s legal. Many of the fighters who use it are younger than Franklin. To this point, though, he says he hasn’t even checked his levels to see if he’s a candidate for an exemption.
As much as he doesn’t want to forfeit any advantage to an opponent (what professional athlete does?), he watches tape of his recent win over Wanderlei Silva at UFC 147 and doesn’t see a steep decline in his skills.
Sure, it’s harder for him to prepare for fights now than it was in his 20s -- but it’s not impossible. When it becomes impossible, maybe that’s nature’s sign to hang it up.
“I don’t believe I’ve dropped off with my speed or strength or any of that,” Franklin said. “You can’t look at my last fight and say, ‘Yeah, Rich has lost a step and is looking older.’
When that day comes, perhaps I will consider quitting or possibly taking TRT. More than likely, in my mind, I'll choose retirement over the necessity of TRT to continue.” -- Rich Franklin, on likely choosing retirement over TRT
“When that day comes, perhaps I will consider quitting or possibly taking TRT. More than likely, in my mind, I’ll choose retirement over the necessity of TRT to continue.”
Franklin (29-6) is looking forward to being in the cage again. It will mark the first time since 2009 he’s fought twice in a calendar year, after spending much of the past two years on the sideline due to injury.
The former champ has expressed a desire at one more title run with the UFC before the end of his career. He admits a win over Le next month would certainly not earn him a title shot, but it would be a step in that direction.
“I’ve had trouble maintaining ranking in any weight class just because a lot of people don’t know where to put me since I’ve been fighting at catchweights,” Franklin said. “I believe winning this fight, I will need another top-five contender before the UFC will actually give me a title fight.
“And that depends on whether they even want to have a Franklin versus [Anderson] Silva III.”
It might also depend on Silva’s willingness to defend the 185-pound title. The Brazilian champion has showed disinterest in potential fights against current contenders.
Franklin, who lost to Silva in 2006 and 2007, doesn’t believe Silva is ducking the likes of Chris Weidman or Michael Bisping. From Franklin's perspective, Silva has beaten the same caliber of fighters his entire career, so why run from them now?
“It’s not like he’s ducking hard fights or anything like that,” Franklin said.
“Whatever it is they’re thinking in his camp, they have some sort of intelligent strategy to it. Anderson Silva doesn’t hang on to his belt as long as he has by making stupid decisions. You can defend your title that many times by being a great fighter, but you have to be a smart businessman, too.”
There’s no title on the line, the bout will be contested at light heavyweight and Silva’s physical skills so far exceed what Bonnar has to offer that oddsmakers have the Brazilian opening as a 13-1 favorite.
Bonnar will enter the Oct. 13 bout in Rio de Janeiro on a three-fight win streak. Those victories, however, have come against middle-of-the-pack competitors Kryzstof Soszynski, Igor Pokrajac and Kyle Kingsbury.
Silva on the other hand has won 16 straight and doesn’t know the taste of losing inside the Octagon. Fighters on his destruction list include Chael Sonnen, Forrest Griffin, Rich Franklin, Dan Henderson, Nate Marquardt and Vitor Belfort.
By all measures this main-event fight is being viewed as nothing more than an exhibition. For Bonnar, however, it’s anything but.
This is as real a fight as any Bonnar has ever participated in, and regardless of conventional wisdom he is going in to it determined to give everything his 35-year-old body can muster.
Bonnar is a prideful man. He has given much of his body to the professional fight game for nearly 11 years.
He definitely has something to lose. If this is his final fight, Bonnar doesn’t want to be embarrassed. But more important, he has a lot gain with an impressive performance or better yet -- the unthinkable -- a victory.
“I’m going to do my best,” Bonnar told ESPN.com. “It’s so hard to top the Forrest fight after all those years. It’s a great storybook in and of itself, but what’s my storybook ending?
“I beat Anderson Silva and it’s like the perfect ending. What’s going to top that? Nothing! But after I beat Anderson Silva, if I want to fight again I’ll be given a fight that I can make a lot of money off of. Do I end my career on a storybook ending or keep fighting and get rich? That’s a great problem to have.”
Bonnar and Griffin fought in the Season 1 finale of "The Ultimate Fighter." That bout, which was held in April 2005, has been credited with catapulting UFC into the mainstream.
Griffin won that fight, and their August 2009 rematch, by unanimous decision. Despite suffering the two losses, Bonnar campaigned hard the past year trying to land a third fight with Griffin. His repeated attempts to convince UFC president Dana White to name him and Griffin as "TUF" coaches were unsuccessful.
But an upset of Silva, which would rank among the biggest upsets -- along with boxing’s Mike Tyson-James "Buster" Douglas and Sonny Liston-Cassius Clay -- in combat sports history, would open numerous opportunities to Bonnar.
“I’m going in there [against Silva] to win or die trying,” Bonnar said. “That’s the plan.
If I beat Anderson [Silva] I won't have too much of a problem getting that coaching gig with a fighter like Forrest [Griffin]. I just heard that in the history of UFC I'm the biggest underdog they've ever had. And I'm fighting in his backyard. Talk about no pressure, it doesn't get any better.” -- Stephan Bonnar, on what little he has to lose at UFC 153
“If I beat Anderson I won’t have too much of a problem getting that coaching gig with a fighter like Forrest. I just heard that in the history of UFC I’m the biggest underdog they’ve ever had. And I’m fighting in his backyard. Talk about no pressure, it doesn’t get any better.”
There is some pressure, however. Not the kind that comes from fan expectations, there is little of that. The only issue as far as an overwhelming majority of fans are concerned is how many rounds will Bonnar last against Silva?
This fight represents Bonnar’s final chance to cash in on a mixed martial arts career that began in November 2001. It’s now or never. That’s pressure. Bonnar won’t get another chance to hit the jackpot if he doesn’t, at the very least, deliver a respectable performance.
He has years of hard work, blood, sweat and tears riding on this fight against arguably the best mixed martial artist ever -- and it is proving to be a bit nerve-racking.
“Fear is a great motivator and so is money,” Bonnar said. “I’ve got this T-shirt business and all that. It’s doing all right, but I’d really love to blow that up and make it successful.
“And winning this fight would be the easiest way to do that.”
Dilemmas that look like specific little purgatories.
Dilemmas that look like harsh reality checks (to guys like Patrick Cote and Thales Leites).
Dilemmas that look like Rich Franklin trying to add body mass.
"Ace" was first to effectively get punted out the division by Silva, having fought "The Spider" twice and having lost spectacularly both times. A third fight in a lopsided affair was not and will never be in the cards. But then again gatekeeper wasn’t either. Reluctantly, and with the fresh dangling carrot of a different belt in play, he moved up to 205 pounds to see what havoc he could create there.
Turns out, not much.
Franklin’s (nearly all the way) back down 185 pounds with a set of new hopes. The problem is these are the kinds of hopes that have little to do with him. They are A.) that Anderson Silva retires, B.) that somebody (anybody!) dethrones Silva, or C.) that Silva bolts the division himself for 205 pounds.
Four years later and Franklin’s still at the mercy of Silva. And in a game flooding over with control freaks, playing wait-and-see can be harder to stomach than any kind of loss.
That’s precisely what Chael Sonnen wants nothing to do with, now that Silva has shot his star from the sky. Rather than settling for hopes like these -- hopes that are out of his control, and therefore intolerable -- he’s leaning towards a reinvention as a light heavyweight.
To paraphrase Sonnen, you don’t retire as a non-champion, you simply quit.
Sonnen’s not ready to quit. Instead, he’s gathering some things for his knapsack and headed north. The good news is that he isn’t reimagining himself into the WWE (yet) or anything drastic. Sonnen still has a driving desire to win a UFC belt, and he’s thinking of honing in on Jon Jones, is all. If not Jones immediately, then the people who might get him to Jones. Sonnen told UFC Tonight that “traditionally [changing weight classes] is a good way to get a fresh start and start over.”
That’s a fact.
We’ve seen it plenty in the fight game with everyone from B.J. Penn to Randy Couture -- and even with Tim Boetsch, who is closing in on a chance at Silva after a mediocre run as a light-heavy. Sonnen is as popular a star right now as anybody in MMA. He isn’t getting a third Silva fight with an 0-2 record head-to-head, but so long as he’s viable, he should capitalize on it. And so long as he can win fights, he can be accelerated in the new weight class because the UFC loves his ability to sell them.
There are plenty of consolations here.
But the question is: Can he succeed at 205 pounds? Though he presented a unique challenge to Silva by being 99 percent about dogged wrestling -- which made up 99 percent of Silva’s vulnerabilities -- the road to Jones is dotted with guys who won’t be bullied. Rashad Evans, Dan Henderson, Ryan Bader, Alexander Gustafsson, Glover Teixeira and so on. Not to mention Jones, who doesn’t get taken down and lose the way Sonnen wins.
The top at light heavyweight isn’t tailor-made for an upset like it was at 185 pounds. Sonnen’s strengths are a lot of guy’s strengths where he’s headed. It’s not a red carpet he’s looking at to Jones.
But like Sonnen has made clear, competing in the sport is only meaningful if becoming the champion is the goal. At least at 205 pounds that can still be the goal. Just like it was with Franklin back in 2008. There are a lot of parallels. Sonnen debuted in the UFC as a light heavyweight against Renato Sobral in 2005. Franklin did too, against Frank Shamrock that same year.
Both were in their mid-30s when they attempted to perpetuate glory in bigger frames. That is, if Sonnen does what it sounds like he'll do by moving up.
The difference between Franklin’s move and Sonnen’s is that Franklin was at one time a champion in the UFC. Sonnen can’t say the same thing. He has the WEC belt that Paulo Filho sent him after not making weight for their title fight, which was a gesture toward something real. That one is legit -- if unofficial. He has the fake UFC belt that he paraded around with ahead of the rematch with Silva. That one had good shtick value.
But he doesn’t have the real thing.
And in a pursuit to get it, he’s facing up to the inevitable -- switching to a weight class that doesn’t have Anderson Silva at the top. No sense is waiting around for Silva to lose, bolt or quit.
Besides, Silva won’t have to quit. By Sonnen’s standards, Silva can simply retire. Being a champion makes the distinction.
And the good news for Sonnen fans isn’t necessarily that he’s fighting on so much as he refuses to quit.
What a rare moment. So rare that it could more accurately be called a “never” moment.
Silva aired his bad intentions for Chael Sonnen on the UFC 148 media call on Monday. If taken out of context of the fight game, these were the kinds of threats that usually end in litigation. He said he’s going to break Sonnen’s face, careful not to exclude a single tooth from his mouth.
And boom! Just like that, the drama to UFC 148 has two sides. It was a couple of years in the making, but Sonnen finally made Silva want to assault him, which -- as any psychology major would say -- is exactly what Sonnen has wanted all along.
Let’s remember how this all started.
In 2009 and early 2010, Sonnen, seemingly from out of nowhere, defeated a couple of high-ranking guys by the names of Yushin Okami and Nate Marquardt. Before he fought Marquardt at UFC 109, he told those who would listen, “I have no choice but to win this fight.” As a 4-to-1 underdog, he talked as if his life depended on overcoming Marquardt, who was the guy most thought would be facing Silva next.
Sonnen was doing real estate at the time in suburban Portland. He had vowed to his late father to become a champion. He had a not-yet-totally public fetish for pro wrestling and a great understanding of how friction can be made of fiction. There were political ventures.
Just before Marquardt, Sonnen hit the switch and embodied all those elements of his biography. What happened next, it seemed, was as close to an example of self-fulfillment as MMA fans will ever see play out in public. Suddenly, Sonnen was a driven fighter, a parody, a fun-loving hypocrite, a one-man marketing campaign, a showman and a legitimate threat to the throne. He was loathed, he was loved.
He was a godsend to a division with MMA’s best fighter at the top and no known rival.
And above all else, he was smart.
Leading up to that Marquardt fight was when Sonnen first began casting stones Silva’s way. He said harsh things, audacious things and some comically untrue things. Things that felt goofy to hear and impossible to back up. To that point, Silva had been nothing but respected by everybody he destroyed. In fact, Rich Franklin enjoyed this kind of punishment so much that he began training with Silva. That’s a special sort of abuse.
When Sonnen beat the odds and ground Marquardt into a pulp with no-nonsense wrestling, his style looked dangerously like beacon-green kryptonite to Silva’s striking. At least it did for those with imaginations and/or cauliflower ear.
You remember the lead-up to UFC 117 -- it was like no other lead-up in UFC history.
Sonnen lambasted Silva for three months in the media. It was a piece of pure cunning, with Silva coming off the worst performance of his career in Abu Dhabi against Demian Maia. Sonnen’s timing was perfect to be the foil and vindicator of the people who had grown tired of watching Silva dance. He was saying publicly what plenty of people thought.
And that was the first allure -- Sonnen was the guy who would force Silva to fight. He was going to pry the predator back out of him, and this was music to the UFC’s ears. And guess what? He did. He backed up every word and brought the fight to Silva, dominating nine-tenths of the bout. Silva stared up at the lights at Oracle Arena in Oakland for nearly 23 minutes, eating elbows and having his ears boxed, all the while with a head burrowing into his chest.
Never had we seen somebody talk the game like Sonnen did and back it up ... only to, in the end, leave it at the altar of fruition.
Silva persevered, and Sonnen tapped. Then Sonnen got popped for elevated testosterone, was suspended, and pleaded guilty to money laundering. And in the process, became an immense star.
But add this to his list of credits, too: He also awoke Silva, who has gone back to annihilating opponents (Vitor Belfort, then Okami). Through it all, Sonnen has continued yapping. The lead-up to UFC 148 began the moment he tapped out back in 2010. For the past couple of years, he’s been calling Silva a fake and a coward and poking his finger in the champion’s chest. He’s done this relentlessly, to the point that it angers him to be the only one in a two-man party selling what is the greatest rematch in UFC history.
Not anymore. Silva finally fired back on Monday.
“He doesn’t deserve to be in the Octagon,” he said. “And when the time comes and the time is right, I’m going to break his face and break every one of his teeth in his mouth.”
And you know why this feels so personal? Because other than the two years of fermentation, each guy needed the other as much as the sport needed the rivalry. If Silva had been anything less than a gentleman’s champion -- a quiet great who’d been strictly revered -- Sonnen’s words wouldn’t have meant anything. If Sonnen hadn’t come along and provoked Silva, who knows if he’d have lost interest in the fight game? Now, the memories of Maia are as far away as Abu Dhabi.
Sonnen helped bury the memory.
And Sonnen made Silva the canvas of his greatest work. He didn’t beat him the first time through, but he has used the platform impossibly well. Without Silva, Sonnen never becomes Chael P. Sonnen from the “mean streets of West Linn.” Without Sonnen, Silva retires without a rival -- a rival that helped perpetuate his greatness into his late 30s through two solid years of pride shots. When this is all over, the two should thank each other.
Monday was good. Silva finally broke character and said publicly that he wants to punch holes in Sonnen’s face. We all knew this to be the case, but it never hurts to hear it. So what is the public’s response?
It can’t be anything other than these three words: It’s about time.
The promotion that had been the gold standard in mixed martial arts throughout the early part of the 21st Century vanished under a shroud of scandal and corruption in 2006-07. In what would go on to become the exit strategy of choice for failed MMA impresarios, Pride’s ownership group sold the once mighty company to the sport’s new American overlords for a song in spring, 2007. Six months later, the new owners shut it down and hardcore MMA fans rightly marked the occasion as the demise of an era.
Regrettably, for many of the fighters chiefly responsible for building Pride’s legacy, the end was not quite so cut-and-dried.
For guys like Fedor Emelianenko and Wanderlei Silva, their careers didn’t wrap up with the neat efficiency of a storybook ending (albeit a tragic one) when Pride shuttered its doors a half decade ago. Because this is real life and not the final scene of some movie, there was no fade-to-black, credits didn’t roll.
Instead, Pride’s two most fearsome champions awkwardly fought on, even as the MMA landscape changed around them and their skills deteriorated with age. They fought on, opting for markedly different career paths until (in one of those weird and wonderful little coincidences we occasionally get in sports) the stories of both “The Last Emperor” and “The Axe Murderer” effectively reached a shared conclusion last week.
Emelianenko never quite seemed to make peace with MMA’s brave new world. After Pride buckled, he made a series of increasingly uncomfortable pit stops in flailing organizations like BoDog, Affliction, Strikeforce and his own M-1 Global without ever setting foot inside the UFC’s Octagon. A miserably poor choice of management groups led to what seemed like a near constant stretch of contentious and eventually futile negotiations with Zuffa brass, until a three-fight skid during 2010-11 convinced the Americans to trumpet from the rooftops that they had never wanted him in the first place.
Because of this, and because he didn’t appear to care either way, Emelianenko never got the chance to match his skills against the best fighters of the new generation. Whether that was a good or bad thing probably depends on who you ask. On one hand, it allowed him to preserve his singular mystique long after it likely otherwise would have been snuffed out. On the other, when the end did come it was particularly brutal, casting him as a foil for lesser fighters like Fabricio Werdum and Antonio Silva and as a signpost on Dan Henderson’s march into MMA legend.
By the time he righted the ship with a trio of victories over B-listers like Jeff Monson, Satoshi Ishii and Pedro Rizzo, it felt more like an epilogue than anything else. When Emelianenko announced his retirement last Thursday after an 84-second blitzing of Rizzo on an untelevised card in St. Petersburg, Russia, he did so on his own terms, both for better and worse.
By contrast, Silva has had a much easier time adapting to a UFC-centric world, though it hasn’t necessarily landed him in a more advantageous position. For him, there were no prickly contract disputes after Pride closed and he returned to the Octagon for the first time since 2000 a scant 10 months after his final fight in Japan. He’s been a mainstay in the UFC light heavyweight and middleweight divisions sever since, has fought in the main or co-main event in seven of the eight events on which he’s appeared and five times has been honored with a financial bonus for having the "Fight of the night."
However, if there’s good news about Silva’s post-Pride UFC career, that’s probably where it ends. Truth is, he’s just 3-5 since making the jump back to the cage in 2007, has demonstrated an increasingly tenuous chin and only staved off a forced retirement by virtue of his win over Cung Le last November at UFC 139. He's still a bankable commodity for the UFC -- appearing as a coach on the inaugural season of “The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil” this year -- but that’s about all.
Like Emelianenko, fans have been forced to watch him transform into something less than himself during the last five years. If his unanimous decision loss to Rich Franklin in a 190-pound catchweight fight on Saturday at UFC 147 proved anything, it was that the “Axe Murderer” we knew and loved in Pride was only capable of showing himself for two of the fight’s relatively tepid 25 minutes.
Unlike Emelianenko, Silva didn’t announce his retirement last weekend (although he arguably should have), as his time as a top-tier fighter is obviously well passed. When he does finally call it quits, will he feel any more or less satisfied as Fedor about the path he chose? And how will the sport's history remember him for it?
Guess we'll have to wait and see.
At its best, Pride straddled the odd space between the final days of Vale Tudo and the comparably sterile, but ultimately preferable modernism of the Zuffa-led UFC. With one of its top champions now officially hanging it up and the other hanging on too long, any last vestiges of that era likely also flickered out last weekend.
As usual, the end of the story did not come easy for its heroes.
If we’re talking volume alone, this is the biggest fight weekend that ever labored so hard to raise an eyebrow.
And out of all the MMA going on this weekend -- Fedor Emelianenko versus Pedro Rizzo in St. Petersburg (good luck finding a feed) going on today, UFC on FX 4/the kick-off of Bellator season 7 on Friday -- only one card specifically requires your money. That would be UFC 147 in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. This is a pay-per-view card for North Americans, one of the "big numericals" we tend to revere on faith.
Only, this is one that, if the UFC were still using titles, should be called UFC 147: Twilight of the Idols.
Let’s face it -- only diehards and incorrigibles are going to purchase UFC 147, and those who are both (like the media). The main event is two guys who are as long out of contention as they are in the tooth. Rich Franklin against Wanderlei Silva: former champions with the wrong kind of intrigue in 2012. For the 37-year-old Franklin it’s “what’s left?” For the 34-year-old Silva, it’s something more dire. It’s “is he a knockout away from MMA extinction?”
If Silva’s chinny, the MMA world will be talking about it on Monday like a hunch finally realized. How’s that for fun -- we could be 48 hours away from cries of Wandy’s overdue retirement, both from fans and Dana White.
That’s not exactly the high point of drama and anticipation that you want from a PPV headliner.
Bottom line is, UFC 147 is a salvaged wreck that was once so gloriously thought to be Chael Sonnen against Anderson Silva II. It went from the most ambitious in design to the most forgettable on paper. UFC 147 was supposed to be held in an attendance-shattering, security-nightmare of a soccer stadium in Sao Paulo. Or, if not there, then in Rio at Joao Havelange Stadium with 60,000 partisans. All of that was a lot of fun to contemplate.
Now it’s being held inland at the Mineirinho Gymnasium, which sounds like a place you might go to attend a pep rally.
It morphed from Sonnen/Silva to Vitor Belfort against Silva, which would have still been a treat for Brazil until Belfort went down. Now it’s a TUF Brazil finale, with Mike Russow against Fabricio Werdum the second strongest beam in the scaffolding. And of course there’s Franklin, who hasn’t fought in 16 months and hasn’t fought well in two years, back when he used his only available hand -- his non-broken right -- to down Chuck Liddell.
And if there’s a glint at all to this, we’ve finally gotten around to it. Franklin felt gutted sending Liddell off into the twilight the way he did at UFC 115. He didn’t want to be the one to put the punctuation on Liddell’s career, but he did it anyway. Now he might be on the verge of doing that to a second early legend. Maybe Franklin is more than a company man. Maybe he’s the UFC’s hatchet man, where storied careers go to get finalized. Maybe he’s a one-man intervention, designed to punch sense into people.
Hey, for this one, we have to extrapolate our storylines.
Or just hope for an epic out-and-out brawl that warrants $50, one of those cards that pans out to be an out-of-the-blue fantastic. You know the ones -- the cards where Dana White reminds everyone afterward that only fools criticize what always looked like ore just under the surface.
Either way, none of this takes away from the free fights on FX on Friday for those who have the channel. Gray Maynard versus Clay Guida -- two guys near the top of their division and both in their prime -- is a great fight to get for free. If that’s not enough, there’s Bellator and Fedor, even if it’s just highlights and recaps from Russia or video streams from the nosebleeds.
There’s plenty of action this weekend. Some of it is free, some of it is hard to find, and some of it requires your disposable income.
And UFC 147 can't help itself from asking -- just how disposable is your income?