For weeks, fans and media were paying homage to Wanderlei Silva, who was returning to fight in his native Brazil for the first time in more than a decade.
Now, perhaps, it's time to pay homage to Rich Franklin, the former UFC middleweight champion who yet again saved the company from a potentially disastrous situation.
Franklin was training in Singapore for a July 7 fight in Las Vegas against Cung Le when he received a call to fight Silva in the main event of UFC 147 in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, after Vitor Belfort was injured.
As he has throughout his career, Franklin not only accepted the call and helped to save the show, but he then performed brilliantly in stifling Silva's power and winning a unanimous decision.
All three judges – Mark Collett, Howard Hughes and Chris Watts – scored it 49-46 for Franklin, giving him all but the second round. Yahoo! Sports scored it 48-46 for Franklin, giving Silva a 10-8 edge in the second for the near-finish.
Franklin didn't remember much about his performance after nearly getting knocked out in the second.
"Honestly, the last thing I remember was it was the second round, and then the next thing I knew, it was the fifth," Franklin said, grinning. "My corner told me it was the fifth and I said, 'Cool, only one more left.' "
Franklin, who said he wants to make one final run at the middleweight championship before calling it a career, performed like a champion on Saturday.
He used his boxing skills to keep a jab in Silva's face while, for the most part, staying out of danger.
One of the reasons that Silva is one of the most beloved mixed martial arts fighters in history, though, is his great power and his willingness to always try for a knockout. He hit Franklin with a massive combination late in the second, landing a right, a left and then a knee, before a thudding right put Franklin on his back.
Silva, as he always does when he has an opponent in jeopardy, swarmed. But even in the bad state he was in, Franklin showed his fight IQ. Silva was firing punches at him on the ground and referee Mario Yamasaki was on the verge of stopping it.
Had Franklin remained in the same spot and simply covered up, chances are good that Yamasaki would have halted it. Instead, though, Franklin slid around the canvas in an attempt to not only get away from the punches but to show he was capable of defending himself.
After that onslaught, though, it was all Franklin. Silva pretty much punched himself out and didn't land anything of significance until just before the final bell.
"I pushed a bit too much because I wanted to knock him out," Silva said.
Franklin spent much of the rest of the fight firing his jab at Silva and keeping the slugger at a distance. Whenever Silva did try to advance, Franklin raked him with a kick to the body that blunted his charge.
In the final 20 seconds, Silva poured it on in a late bid to end the bout, but it was Franklin who scored the big shot. Franklin landed a crisp counter left that decked Silva just as the bell sounded.
"I wanted to pick my punches and move around and I think I did a good job," Franklin said.
It was his second win in as many tries over Silva and furthered Franklin's reputation as one of the UFC's finest.
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