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Franklin-Silva promises to be explosive

Michael DiSanto, UFC - Ask any former PRIDE fighter who competed in the Land of the Rising Sun between 2000 and 2004 to name the scariest fighter in the promotion during that time. Not the best; the scariest. The guy who sends shivers down your spine, for whatever reason.

The answer will almost just shy of unanimous, I guarantee it—Wanderlei Silva.

By Michael DiSanto

Ask any former PRIDE fighter who competed in the Land of the Rising Sun between 2000 and 2004 to name the scariest fighter in the promotion during that time.

Not the best; the scariest. The guy who sends shivers down your spine, for whatever reason.

The answer will almost just shy of unanimous, I guarantee it—Wanderlei Silva.

Things are different now. Silva no longer strikes the same level of fear in the hearts of opponents, thanks to a stretch of fights that leave many questioning whether the former PRIDE champion has anything left in the gas tank.

Silva must have asked himself those same questions after suffering a first-round knockout loss at the hands of former UFC champion Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson. It was Silva’s fourth loss in five fights and the driving factor for a major career change. The Brazilian is headed 20 lbs south to the middleweight division, with one scheduled, potentially painful, stop along the way—a 195-lb catchweight bout with former middleweight champion Rich Franklin.

Make no mistake about it. Franklin is more than just a temporary detour in Silva’s journey to 185 lbs. He is a potential roadblock. The former middleweight champion is as well rounded as anyone Silva has faced in his career. He is going to come out and attack Silva with an array of sharp, precision strikes from a southpaw stance with the hope of becoming the third man to score a knockout victory over Silva in the UFC.

It won’t be easy.

Anyone doubting Silva’s ability need only pop in a DVD of UFC 84. Just over a year ago, the Brazilian mauler faced one of the light heavyweight division’s tougher nuts to crack, the unorthodox, heavy-handed Keith Jardine. After a brief feeling-out period, Silva attacked with the familiar ferocity of his PRIDE days. Thirty-six seconds after the opening bell it was over. Jardine was reduced to a crumbled heap in the center of the cage, yet another victim of ‘The Axe Murderer.’ It was Silva’s first victory inside the Octagon since his 1999 first-round knockout win over Tony Peterra—albeit, Silva only fought in the UFC twice between 1999 and 2008—and it couldn’t have come at a better time because it instantly made Silva relevant in the UFC’s light heavyweight division.

But truth be told, Silva is a smallish light heavy who carried a bunch of unnecessary muscle in order to compete against men with far larger natural frames. The move to middleweight, therefore, makes perfect sense. At a shade under six-feet tall, he will not be a tall middleweight by any stretch of the imagination. But he will be much closer in size to 185-lb’ers than he was men 20 lbs larger. Plus, if he brings all of his strength and explosiveness down to middleweight, he will enjoy a strength and punching power advantage over just about everyone—including Franklin.

Franklin was a great middleweight champion—second only to Anderson Silva. There is no argument to the contrary. He was a huge middleweight, which helped contribute to his success, but he wasn’t overly powerful compared to his contemporaries. In fact, I firmly believe that light heavy is a much better weight class for him because he doesn’t have to deprive his muscles of desperately needed protein and calories. In my opinion, Franklin is stronger and more explosive at light heavy than he is at middleweight.

Will Silva face those same problems when he sheds a bit of muscle and cuts a dozen or more pounds for the first time in his career?

We won’t have the answer to those questions on Saturday. Silva won’t need to shed any muscle for his catchweight bout against Franklin on Saturday night. The former PRIDE champion will just need to spend a bit of time on the treadmill and possibly in the sauna on Thursday evening and Friday morning to make weight, something he doesn’t have to do at light heavy.

There is a difference, however, between making 195 lbs and 185 lbs. Those extra 10 lbs are a massive difference, particularly for a veteran fighter who isn’t accustomed to cutting a lot of weight. Yet, we will get a glimpse, possibly a preview, of what he will look like at 185 lbs when the 195-lb version steps into the cage with Franklin.

In order to win, Silva must jump on Franklin like a lion trying to take down a healthy water buffalo. He cannot hesitate. He cannot timidly fight on the outside. He needs to throw caution to the wind, step into the heart of darkness, plant his feet and go to war with those wide, looping right and left hooks. He needs to make this a slugfest so that he can put Franklin to the chin test.

If he doesn’t do that, he will get picked apart early and possibly stopped in the second or third round.

The fact remains that as great as Silva was in PRIDE, he was never (nor is he now) the best technical striker in the business. What he lacks in technique, though, he makes up for with sheer power and aggressiveness. Most fighters aren’t comfortable fighting someone who is constantly in their face, particularly when their attacker has an advantage in power and killer instinct.

Nobody matches Silva in that latter category. If he senses fear, the fight is over within minutes. Once he hurts you, the fight is over within seconds. That is true at 205 lbs, and it will prove to be true at 195 lbs, assuming he can hurt Franklin.

Honestly, I’m not sure if he can solve the Franklin riddle. The Cincinnati native is one of the best technical strikers in the game, across all divisions. He fights with tremendous poise and patience, and now that he is training with Matt Hume, his game plans are second to none, unless he is fighting that other guy named Silva.

Franklin knows that if he is going to be successful on Saturday that he must keep this a very technical fight that unfolds principally on the outside. He can also do a lot of damage to Silva from the top position. Even though Wand is a BJJ black belt, his short frame makes it easy for taller fighters to find his face from the guard, even when he has full control of their hips.

Nevertheless, I don’t see Franklin looking for a takedown at any point in the fight. Instead, he will throw hands early and often. He will pump the jab as a range finder and fire straight left hands and clean-up right hooks, as well as three- and four-piece combinations, mixing in kicks to the legs, body and head. He will continually vary his attack because he knows that he does not strike with the same concussive force that Dan Henderson, Mirko Cro Cop and Rampage Jackson do—the three guys who stopped Silva in over the last three years. But he can pepper opponents from the outside better than any of them.

At the end of the day, this fight is easy to predict—with the appropriate hedge, of course. If it ends in the first round, I’m taking Silva all day, every day. If it goes the distance, I like Franklin every day of the week and twice on Sundays. That isn’t to say that Franklin cannot stop Silva. He may do just that, though it will likely be from an accumulation of punches later in the fight, rather than a spectacular one-strike finish in the opening stanza.

Silva, by contrast, undoubtedly has the ability to cut through Franklin in the opening round with the same savagery that he displayed against Jardine. If he is able to do that, expect his unrelated namesake to take notice from his championship perch.