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Wanderlei Silva's bout in Brazil with Rich Franklin at UFC 147 could be an apt career swan song

Kevin Iole
Yahoo Sports

A couple of hours after UFC 132 had ended, Wanderlei Silva was making his way through the MGM Grand casino in Las Vegas. Earlier on that night nearly a year ago, Silva had been knocked out in just 27 seconds by Chris Leben.

It took twice as literally had taken twice as long for ring announcer Bruce Buffer to introduce Silva than it took for the fight to end. it did for the fight to end.

It was Silva's sixth loss in his last previous eight fights and there was a palpable sense among fans and media that his legendary career had finally, perhaps mercifully, come to an end.

Silva is one of the most revered fighters in mixed martial arts history, but had recently had been getting beaten upon like a rag doll.

After this loss, a particularly violent one, there was a genuine fear for his well-being.

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Rich Franklin scored a narrow victory over Wanderlei Silva in their first fight. (UFC)

As he left the casino, though, a strange thing happened: He was mobbed. A group of fans spied him and quickly surrounded him, patting him on the back, posing for photos and generally acting as if he'd won the biggest fight of his career.

It was an example symbolic of the adoration the fan base has for him.

But Silva knocked out Cung Le in November and earned a fight on Saturday against former middleweight champion Rich Franklin in the main event of UFC 147 in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.

[Related: Rich Franklin to fight Wanderlei Silva at 190 pounds for UFC 147]

MMA has become a massive sport in Brazil and Silva is one of its biggest names. There are clearly more talented, and successful, Brazilian fighters in the game, but none who generate the passion that Silva does.

The Saturday's bout with Franklin will mark Silva's first fight in his homeland in nearly 12 years, since a 39-second knockout of Todd Medina in Curitiba on Aug. 12, 2000.

That was so long ago, Bill Clinton was president, Barack Obama was an Illinois state senator, gas cost $1.51 a gallon and the legendary MMA star Fedor Emelianenko was just preparing for just his second pro fight.

Silva will receive a hero's reception when he's the last man introduced Saturday, but whether it will be his last introduction or not remains an open question.

"I love to fight and I want to fight, but we'll see what I do," Silva said. "I'm not deciding anything now. After the fight, we'll see."

He was scheduled to fight Vitor Belfort, but Belfort injured a hand on May 26 and had to pull out of the fight. The UFC, as it often does in times of trouble, turned to Franklin for assistance.

Franklin was preparing to fight Le at UFC 148 and agreed to step in and face Silva in a rematch of an epic bout from 2009.

Franklin won a unanimous decision at UFC 99 in Cologne, Germany, an outcome that still stings the man known as "The Axe Murderer."

He has his own ideas, though, on the rematch.

"Of course I thought I won the fight," Silva he said, "but they gave it to him. That's fine. If you don't like the judges' [decisions], then do it yourself. If I can knock him out and finish the fight, then there is nothing to worry about what they might say."

[Also: Don't expect to see Alistair Overeem fight on the UFC's New Year's Eve card]

The key for Silva will be to avoid getting knocked out himself. He's been knocked out so much that even UFC president Dana White wondered if his time had come after the loss to Leben.

Silva regained momentum by battering Le at UFC 139, but he's only one punch on the chin away from being on the chopping block.

The fighters group that he came up with – Liddell, Randy Couture, Tito Ortiz, Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, Mauricio "Shogun" Rua – are either already retired, planning to retire or on the home stretch of their careers.

Silva is in a similar position. Should Silva get knocked out violently again, the pressure will be on for him to say goodbye.

If he wins, it might be the perfect opportunity to ride off into the sunset basking in the glory of a victory in his home country.

There are big fights he wants, against Belfort and Chael Sonnen, among others, but the risk of staying active might be greater than the reward of getting them.

Silva, ever the warrior, though, is unconcerned.

"I'm in great shape, very ready," he said. "I will do what is best for me. I know that. I will fight as hard as I can fight and hope to make the people happy, and then we'll see what happens later."

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