Weekend Fight Musings
Franklin begins the road back to middleweight
Rich Franklin knows that his days in the sport are numbered. The former middleweight champion turns 38 years old in October, which qualifies as long in the tooth by anyone’s athletic standard. As a result, he needs to put together an impressive stretch of wins if he wants to make one final run at UFC gold before it is time to hang up the gloves.
Franklin got the ship pointed in the right direction on Saturday night with a clear, but certainly not safe, victory over former PRIDE champion Wanderlei Silva. The win proved that “Ace” remains relevant in the division. Yet, the near knockout loss at the end of the second round has to draw questions about his ability to dominate at middleweight like he did during his 16-month title run.
To be blunt, I don’t think anyone outside Franklin’s inner circle would be complaining if referee Mario Yamasaki had chosen to stop the fight in the waning seconds of the round. Silva dropped Franklin with a savage right hand that came on the heels of a couple clean shots that had the former UFC champion on wobbly legs. Once Silva knew for sure that his opponent was hurt, he jumped on him with all the ferocity that made him a legend in Japan.
Franklin moved just enough on the bottom to prevent a stoppage. I am certain that Yamasaki gave him additional leeway because the round was almost over. Many fighters haven’t received the same leeway in similar situations.
I am not suggesting in any way that I disagree with Yamasaki’s decision. Not at all. I think that fighters in that situation should be given the ability to try and work through the storm, particularly with just a few seconds remaining in the round. Franklin was rattled at the time. We know that for sure because of his post-fight comments about not remembering the third or fourth rounds at all. But he was also alert enough to roll on the ground in search of a leg lock or securing his guard. He covered up, but he also was moving his head to defend. All those things suggested that he was able to continue just a little bit longer.
Yamasaki’s decision was validated by the fact that Franklin was able to resume executing his effective game plan in the third round en route to a clear five-round unanimous decision win.
I’m sure Franklin wants to parlay the win into another marquee middleweight matchup, as he tries to build his case for a middleweight title shot. Don’t pay any attention to the fact that Franklin hasn’t actually competed at 185 pounds since April 2008 and Saturday’s fight was at a catchweight of 190 pounds. He can easily make the required weight limit. The catchweight was solely due to the fact that Franklin, who takes a very scientific approach to making weight, agreed to take this bout on short notice, so he didn’t have the proper time to come down from his walking around weight of 205 pounds.
Welcome back to middleweight, champ. It’s been a long time in coming.
SILVA SHOWS THAT HE STILL HAS SOME TREAD LEFT ON THE TIRES
It probably shocks the average MMA fan to read that Wanderlei Silva has only three wins in his last 10 fights. There is no doubt that the “Axe Murderer” isn’t the same dominant force who once ruled in the Land of the Rising Sun. But he remains a competitive force in the UFC, despite his recent run of tough outcomes.
Silva has now earned five post-fight bonuses in his eight UFC bouts, including “Fight of the Night” honors for his bout with Franklin. Yet, he suffered losses in three of those fights. Silva’s willingness to wade into the heart of darkness in search of victory, seemingly with no regard to his personal safety, is why fans love to watch this guy, whether he wins or loses. That isn’t going to change any time soon, if he keeps fighting with reckless abandon.
Silva will almost certainly never again put together an 18-fight streak with no losses like he did from 2000 to 2004. But his near knockout win over Franklin proved that he still has some tread left on the tires.
JASON MAKES HISTORY
“The Ultimate Fighter” is a popular reality television show in the United States. It is must-see TV in Brazil. It’s not on cable. It’s on network television. And approximately 12 million people watched the debut. That is nearly 10 times more viewers than the most recent installment of TUF in the US.
Rony Jason became the first winner of TUF Brazil with a workmanlike effort over Godofredo Pepey. The fight didn’t have the same level of fireworks that Jason’s fights had in the house. But that is to be expected because of what was on the line. I know. One of the best fights in UFC history was the inaugural light heavyweight final of TUF. But things are different now. The UFC is a monstrous global brand. Millions of dollars are on the line for top fighters. And fighters are no longer relatively anonymous, particularly not fighters in Brazil, where they are almost as popular as NFL football players in the US.
The magnitude of the fight was obvious in Jason’s affect before and after the fight. He was overcome with tears walking to the cage. He was overcome with tears after the fight was over. Yet, he was somehow able to turn all of that off and completely relax once Pepey was trying to punch a hole through his head. Amazing, isn’t it?
It’s tough to know how Jason fits into the UFC featherweight division. That is one of the deeper divisions in the sport, and it is ruled by one of the best in the world, pound for pound, Jose Aldo. My guess is that Jason will be brought along slowly so that he can develop a bit before throwing him to the wolves.
WERDUM ON THE CUSP
I’ve never seen Fabricio Werdum more outwardly comfortable and confident than he was walking into the cage for his fight with Mike Russow. He was dancing and smiling in a way that suggested that he didn’t have a care in the world. At first, I thought it was overconfidence. Then, when the fight started and he switched on the competitive focus that we are used to with him, it suggested something else.
This fight was so important to Werdum, who was fighting in his home country for the first time since 2004, that he was doing anything he could to remain calm before the storm. It worked. That was the single best standup performance of his career. The right uppercut was a beautiful technique, something that would have been a pipe dream for Werdum a few years ago.
This guy is one of the best, if not the best, heavyweight submission fighters in the world. Frank Mir is the only man who can challenge for that title. His blind spot has always been his standup. With back-to-back stellar standup performances against seriously tough opponents, Werdum appears to have eliminated that blind spot. That is bad news for the rest of the heavyweight division.
Werdum has now won five of his last six fights. His only defeat was to one of the best heavyweights on the planet, Alistair Overeem. His run of recent success definitely has him on the cusp of heavyweight title considerations. In my opinion, he is one marquee win away from joining the current short list of heavyweight Preferiti. A bout with former champion Frank Mir is the perfect situation to see where this guy really stands.
Anyone who read my pre-fight breakdown of Friday’s main event on FX knows how much I was looking forward to what was sure to be an entertaining, back-and-forth scrap between Clay Guida and Gray Maynard. Anyone who watched the fight must have been wondering what kind of narcotic was affecting my brain when I wrote that because the actual fight turned out to be one of the major sleepers of 2012 thanks to Guida riding a bicycle for five full rounds in an attempt to avoid engaging with Maynard.
Believe me, I’ve been asking myself that question all morning. Remember, Guida easily ranked as one of the top 10 most exciting fighters on the UFC’s roster heading into the fight. His average fight is more entertaining and action-packed than the career best for most fighters. Yet, he chose to completely flip the switch and run from Maynard for five full rounds.
Yes, I described it as “running.” His execution wasn’t about calculated lateral movement designed to open angles for lead attacks or counters. It was about getting out of Dodge and staying out of Dodge. I really had to rack my brain to remember a guy fighting like that in the UFC. Three other instances come to mind. The first is Kalib Starnes completely embarrassing himself against Nate Quarry at UFC 83. This was easily the worst fight in UFC history, with Starnes not so much as throwing a punch that I can remember. Maybe he actually let a handful fly. But if my life depended on correctly answering whether he threw fewer or greater than 10 strikes over three rounds, I would bet on fewer. But he easily ran the equivalent of a couple of miles over the 15 minutes. Disgusting.
Next is David Loiseau versus Rich Franklin at UFC 58. Loiseau certainly engaged when he was cornered, but he was the first guy that I can remember ever seeing turning his back and running at one point in the fight—literally. If memory serves, he did that twice. Of course, Franklin broke his hands and feet in that fight, so there were plenty of action-filled moments. It was far better than Starnes-Quarry or Guida-Maynard.
The final example is Kenny Florian versus Diego Sanchez at the finale for the inaugural season of “The Ultimate Fighter.” Florian opened the fight laterally jogging around the extreme edge of the cage. When Sanchez got close, Florian picked up the pace and changed directions. It was obvious to anyone watching that Florian wanted no part of Sanchez, who looked at least a full weight class, if not two, bigger than his foe. Luckily for the fans and Florian’s future, it only took about two minutes for Sanchez to finally cut off the cage and get his hands on Florian. The fight was brought to a brutal end moments later thanks to some nightmarish ground and pound.
I’m not sure what Guida was thinking heading into the fight. He plan was obviously to stick and move, which is a perfectly acceptable way to fight. I encourage that sort of attack all the time based on styles. As Floyd Mayweather once said, “Fighting is about hitting someone and not getting hit back.” There is no need to take unnecessary punishment in any fight. A guy should only take as much punishment as is absolutely necessary in order to defeat his foe. But Guida took that to the extreme. It wasn’t quite as bad as Starnes – I’ve never watched a fight that bad – though it was a putrid effort. I’m sure when Guida watches the tape he will be equally disgusted, so I don’t suspect that we will ever see that sort of effort out of him again.
PEARSON LEARNS WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A FEATHERWEIGHT
Ross Pearson was always a smallish lightweight. He looked like Conan the Barbarian as a featherweight. The problem, however, is that he looked a full step slower against Cub Swanson on FX than he did in his lightweight fights. I don’t know if that is solely because Swanson is a speed maniac or if Pearson was flat from the cut for his second 145-pound bout. He looked better in his division debut against Junior Assuncao.
The reality is that life as a featherweight is very different from life as a lightweight. Even though there is only a 10 pound difference, it is a big deal. These guys are significantly faster, on average, than lightweights. And they are significantly smaller. That much was evident by Pearson appearing a full weight class bigger than Swanson, when the Brit was almost always the noticeably smaller man in his lightweight bouts.
Pearson should work on his quicks for future bouts. Lots of fast-twitch muscle training. If he can improve in that area, then I think the sky is the limit for Pearson in the featherweight division.