Wanderlei officially on his last legs
Sorry to say, in the fight game age is often more than just a number.
Rich Franklin, 37, bested Wanderlei Silva, 35, Saturday night during the maligned main event for UFC 147 -- a card that was far more meaningful for the UFC in a burgeoning Brazilian fight market than back home in the States, where fans and media kvetched about being asked to drop $55 to watch the shindig.
While Franklin looked all right after taking the fight on short notice following an extended layoff, Silva's performance simply reaffirmed that he doesn't have what he once did. Among the best action fighters of all time, the worst thing one can say about Silva is that he literally could not muster an attack. Save a wild sequence in Round 2, Silva was forced to deal with Franklin moving and pecking to a proper four-rounds-to-one decision.
In the end, fans who skipped out on this card (anecdotally, many did) shouldn't feel as if they missed out, particularly as the top of the bill is concerned.
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Where this leaves Silva is unclear. He'll want to fight again because that's who he is. The UFC may choose to keep him around considering its emphasis on building up its Brazil business. Fine, he can make some cash; he deserves every penny he can get. But will fans continue to want to watch him fight? It must be painful for his longtime followers to watch this version of Silva. Not that we're talking about a recent trend. The former Pride light heavyweight champion hasn't been the same since Mirko Filipovic and Dan Henderson starched him in back-to-back fights more than five years ago.
It's been so long since "The Axe Murderer" resembled his nom de guerre, one has to wonder if his hard-earned legacy will suffer irreparably because of fights like the one he put on Saturday. I hope not.
I'll always choose to remember the Pride-era Silva, in part because I saw him compete in person numerous times and he was a sight to behold. That's why this antique version is so hard to watch.
Franklin, meanwhile, will have his chance at making another run. I doubt he capitalizes, but at least he resembles a capable mixed martial artist. Granted, he looked good against men of his age range who can't bring it anymore, but at least "Ace" moves well, fights with technique and is always prepared.
One last point on this fight: The next time someone mentions that wacky idea for an MMA senior division, point to Franklin-Silva, say no thanks, and walk away.
As it was, the weekend offered plenty of MMA action, including two UFC cards. Here's how fighters fared from Atlantic City to Belo Horizonte, Brazil.
UFC on FX 4/UFC 147 grades
Coming into his fight against Mike Russow, it felt like Fabricio Werdum was set up for a showcase, and that's exactly how it went down. Werdum exposed Russow's glaring weaknesses, not on the ground where his skills are as good as it gets, but on the feet, capitalizing on an uppercut that felled the large American. Werdum, 37, is a top-five heavyweight, no question about that. He asked for a rematch against UFC champion Junior dos Santos, who knocked out his countryman Werdum in 2008, but it's doubtful he'll get his wish so soon. I want to see Werdum (16-5-1) fight Alistair Overeem again, with the winner earning a title shot.
Cub Swanson is dangerous, a point he clearly made while stopping Ross Pearson within a round. The 28-year-old Californian can bang, and when he's sharp as he was against the Brit, all manner of attacks appear to flow from him. Injuries have hampered him, but if he can avoid extended absences, perhaps Swanson (17-5) is capable of making a run at featherweight. I'm still not convinced, even after his KO-of-the-night effort.
Apparently unaffected by a 16-month layoff due in part to shoulder surgery, Rich Franklin, 37, danced circles around Wanderlei Silva and was technically superior for 24 out of 25 minutes. The former UFC middleweight champion weathered one rough patch, though he couldn't remember anything past the second round. Franklin has taken extreme care of his body during his 13-year career, and it shows each time he steps in the Octagon. Against spry opposition he'll have a tougher time, but fighting men of his experience and age range, I'd make him the favorite. Who's next? If he's fine with fighting at 185 pounds, how about Michael Bisping?
Ricardo Lamas made the most of his physical nature to stifle Hatsu Hioki and take a three-round decision. This was a monster win for the 30-year-old from Chicago, who now finds his name in the top 10 rankings at 145 pounds. Lamas has been excellent since moving down from lightweight and is set up for big bouts there. If Chad Mendes defeats Cody McKenzie on July 7, a Lamas-Mendes match makes sense.
Unflappable, that's Brian Ebersole. The veteran welterweight weathered several submission storms from T.J. Waldburger en route to a well-earned unanimous decision. Ebersole (4-0 since joining the UFC in 2011 and 50-14-1 overall) is said to be contemplating a move down from 170 to lightweight. It's a risky proposition. He's never fought that low before, and it's not as if the 31-year-old fighter appeared undersized or outgunned at welterweight. He's tricky and savvy, and those are valuable intangibles. He's also almost impossible to submit. He may be the bigger man at 155 pounds, but he will be much slower and will run into a bevy of skilled opponents.
Gray Maynard definitely wasn't at his best, but he didn't have to be against an opponent who didn't care to push him. Through the first half of the fight against Clay Guida, Maynard seemed occupied with thinking his way through the fight. In some respects that's understandable, considering this was his first fight with a new camp, one that emphasized different areas of the game that he rarely used. His new skills didn't materialize, and it wasn't until frustration set in that Maynard (11-1-1) actually came to life. Maybe Maynard is best served fighting angry, because letting loose against Guida is the reason he won. Expect Maynard, 33, to improve and make another run at the UFC lightweight title.
Sam Stout, 28, put on a convincing performance to score a unanimous decision over Spencer Fisher. Stout suffered emotional distress when his trainer and brother-in-law Shawn Tompkins passed away last August, but the fighter finally looked as if he was competing without that weight on his shoulders. He knows Fisher very well, having already gone six rounds against the American, and that may have helped. As it was, Stout (18-7-1) moved better than Fisher, landed the better strikes, and appeared in control throughout the 15-minute contest.
Hatsu Hioki, ranked No. 2 by ESPN.com at 145 pounds coming into Friday night, looked overrated against Lamas. Save a couple of takedowns which led to Hioki's maintaining top control, the well-traveled 28-year-old Japanese did little over his three rounds in Atlantic City. The performance served as damning evidence that he is not as good as his record suggests. It's back to the drawing board for Hioki (26-5-2). I like his skill set, but he hasn't looked confident since joining the UFC last year.
Explosion and energy made Spencer Fisher dangerous when he first entered the UFC in 2005. That was put on full display when Fisher met Sam Stout in 2006 in one of the best lightweight contests in the organization's history. Their third bout on Friday did not live up to their first match, mostly because Fisher just doesn't have it anymore. He's lost five of six fights and looks like an old 36-year-old lightweight.
As much as it pains me to write this, I don't like watching Wanderlei Silva fight anymore. Once a wrecking ball that wouldn't stop, Silva is a shell of himself, incapable of doing much more than what we saw against Franklin. He had one legitimate burst in the fight, which he claimed afterward was enough to wear him out. Silva always left himself open when he punched. Now he does so as a slow, predictable, weak-chinned man in his mid-30s who's suffered too many bad knockouts. I've never met a fighter who enjoys the art of war more than Silva (34-12-1), and in the end that might prove very costly.
Ross Pearson was much larger than Cub Swanson, but Pearson was slower and less dynamic, and in the end that meant he was headed for trouble. In the last minute of Round 2, Pearson took a crushing left hook that put him down. That makes three losses in five fights for the 27-year-old Englishman, and signals that even a move to 145 may not be the answer. He can box, especially with momentum on his side, but he's too easily hit and Swanson hammered home that point.
You could see what Clay Guida hoped to accomplish within the opening few minutes on Friday, and he did well enough in Rounds 1 and 2, but then he did something I doubt anyone would have ever expected from him: Clay forgot to fight. Coming off a war against Benson Henderson, Guida's hop-skip-and-a-jump routine got under the skin of many fans, and it's hard to blame them for the harsh words they had for the 30-year-old lightweight afterwards. No question that Maynard is dangerous and Guida (29-13) had to take care, but this was overkill and disappointing.
Mike Russow's UFC unbeaten streak ended at four when Werdum, easily the best opponent the 35-year-old Chicago cop has faced in the Octagon, handled him without any fanfare. Russow is tough, but if that's the best thing one can claim about a fighter, it's only a matter of time before he's exposed. Such was the case Saturday in Brazil. Russow (15-2-1) will find wins along the way, but he is no contender in the heavyweight division.
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