UFC® : Ultimate Fighting Championship®
The Spider’s Web - Part One
By Thomas Gerbasi
When you’re a champion in mixed martial arts, there is no off-season, no time to take a few weeks off for vacation or to bask in the glory of being the best at what you do. So when you ask UFC Middleweight Champion Anderson Silva about the training camp for his highly-anticipated rematch with Rich Franklin at UFC 77 on October 20th, and when it began, he just smiles.
“I haven't really stopped training,” Silva told UFC.com through manager / translator Ed Soares. “Of course, the training intensifies seven to eight weeks out, but I'm training the same way I always do, which is to be prepared for any situation, especially for someone like Rich Franklin, because he is a very complete fighter.”
And to beat a complete fighter, you had better be one yourself, and if Silva has shown anything in his 2007 campaign, it’s that walking into the Octagon with him and expecting an easy night if you can survive his striking and get him to the mat is a mistake of epic proportions. Just ask Travis Lutter, who got his fellow Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Black Belt to the mat and had success early, only to be submitted himself in the second round at UFC 67 in February. Next, at UFC 73 in July, was another solid ground fighter in Nate Marquardt, and Silva was even more impressive as he showed a complete MMA game before sweeping Marquardt while on the canvas and finishing him off with ground strikes late in the first round. Yet ask the soft-spoken Brazilian about his improvement since coming to the UFC in 2006, and he just says simply, “I have become more experienced.”
Frankly, at this point of the game for the 32-year old Silva, there’s no need for him to beat his chest or scream from the rooftops about how good he is. The proof is in the numbers – four UFC fights, four wins, three first round stoppages and one second round submission. If he’s not one of the top five pound for pound fighters in the world, who is?
It’s a long way from his humble beginnings in Curitiba and from battling through the worldwide fight circuit in his formative years as a fighter. But for Silva, everything changed in just two minutes and 59 seconds on October 14, 2006. On that night, Silva strode confidently into the Octagon at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas and forcibly removed the UFC middleweight title belt from Franklin’s waist.
That fight was one few who witnessed it will forget, mainly because of the controlled fury Silva used to take the championship and leave thousands of onlookers stunned. In typical understatement, Silva says that he didn’t picture the fight progressing in the manner it did, and that he wasn’t taken aback by Franklin’s choice of attack, which led the then-champion into ‘The Spider’s vice-like clinch and moments later, defeat.
“I wasn’t really surprised by anything,” said Silva. “I try to be prepared for anything, and I was able to take advantage of some of his mistakes. Like I have said before, it's like a chess game - you move the wrong piece, and it's over.”
Once Silva locked in the clinch and started firing away with knees, it was pretty much over for Franklin. Within seconds, his nose was shattered and the finisher came soon after. It was as emphatic a coup d’etat as you will see in combat sports. But after the fight, there was no gloating, just tears from the new champion.
“That fight was a huge turning point in my career,” said Silva. “It fulfilled a lifetime dream of mine and has changed my life in many ways. It has also given me a lot more responsibility having the belt.”
To date, Silva has been an exemplary champion, much like Franklin was during his reign, as he has been accessible to the media and the fans while possessing a quiet charisma to go along with his obvious talent in the Octagon. But there is still unfinished business with Franklin, who has defeated Jason MacDonald and Yushin Okami in his two bouts since losing his crown.
“I thought he fought well against MacDonald,” said Silva, “But I haven't really watched his fight against Okami.”
The Okami fight in June saw Franklin fight tentatively, and it almost cost him when the Japanese contender locked in a late submission attempt, but Franklin was able to score the three round unanimous decision to ensure his rematch with Silva. And while the champion didn’t balk at going to his challenger’s hometown to defend his title, it did take him by surprise.
“Of course, I don't think I should have to fight Rich in his hometown, but if that's what the UFC wants, let's do it,” said Silva, who is prepared to be the bad guy on this night, at least to the crowd. “I expect to get booed, it's his hometown.”
But the packed house won’t be in there with Franklin when the bell rings. And when it does, Silva will be looking to equal or surpass his performance from their first fight and leave the Octagon the way he came in – with his championship belt.
“I am going out there to do what I always do,” he said of October 20th.