The UFC’s long awaited return to Brazil has been marred by injuries and cancellations, but UFC 147 still features heavy star power as Wanderlei Silva, one of the all-time mixed martial arts greats, returns home for a rematch against former UFC middleweight champion Rich Franklin, while elite Brazilian heavyweight Fabricio Werdum looks to move one step closer to a shot at the gold when he meets American wrestler Mike Russow, who is unbeaten in four UFC outings.
UFC 147 will also feature the finals of the Brazilian edition of “The Ultimate Fighter” as some exciting prospects will get mainstream exposure for the very first time, plus a pair of explosive Brazilian featherweights seek a triumphant homecoming.
Here’s a closer look:
-Wanderlei Silva (34-11) vs. Rich Franklin (28-6)
After three competitive rounds at UFC 99, the beloved Brazilian warrior Silva and longtime UFC poster boy Franklin look to continue where they left off in a compelling five-round 190-pound showdown.
Silva, 35, was getting set for a rematch against Vitor Belfort before his compatriot withdrew from the bout with a broken hand. The new opponent could actually be a blessing for Silva as it’s definitely a fight that now favors him more. After all, Belfort crushed Franklin when they fought in 2009.
The Pride middleweight champion from 2001 to 2007, Silva is a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt widely acknowledged as one of the most dangerous and exciting fighters of all time.
The Chute Boxe Academy product reunited with former coach Rafael Cordeiro before his most recent bout at UFC 139, which proved beneficial as Silva trounced Cung Le via second-round TKO. It was a must-win fight for Silva, who had previously dropped six of his last eight bouts.
In his prime, however, Silva was one of the most feared fighters in the sport as he went on a path of destruction, defeating Dan Henderson, Kazushi Sakuraba, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Ricardo Arona and Kazuyuki Fujita.
Silva, who now resides in Las Vegas and spends a portion of his camp at Reign Training Center, insists he still has some fight left in him. Stylistically, Silva couldn’t ask for a better opponent to show it off.
In their initial June 2009 encounter, Franklin utilized a technical offensive approach to earn a razor-thin decision in Germany, but many observers thought Silva’s aggression and power punches could have won him the fight.
Franklin, 37, was one of the UFC’s biggest stars until he lost his UFC middleweight title to Anderson Silva at UFC 64 in October 2006. Franklin has remained a relevant contender who continually fights some of the best opposition in the world, but his name is no longer the focus of the division.
Over the past several years, Franklin has split time competing at 185 and 205 pounds, defeating Matt Hamill and Chuck Liddell, while dropping fights to Dan Henderson, Forrest Griffin and Belfort.
Franklin’s lack of size at light heavyweight was detrimental in his most recent loss against Griffin this past February, so a long-term drop back to the middleweight class could be a step in the right direction.
A seasoned southpaw and Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt under Jorge Gurgel, the Ohio-born Franklin is as well-rounded as they come, but his kickboxing has remained the focus of his offense.
This is a typical matching of aggression and power against technique and finesse. However, Franklin’s power should not be overlooked, evidenced by his career-ending knockout of Chuck Liddell at UFC 115.
Many factors in this fight tend to lean in Franklin’s favor, but Silva knows his back is against the wall and he’s adamant about deciding his own fate in the sport he helped catapult into the mainstream. If Silva can feed off the frenzied Brazilian fans, he should rekindle some of what made him one of the biggest stars in the Pride Fighting Championships, finding the perfect opportunity to pounce on Franklin with a storm of violent punches and knees, putting him away in emphatic fashion.
Verdict: Silva via KO, Round 1
-Fabricio Werdum (15-5) vs. Mike Russow (15-1)
In a heavyweight tilt, one of the world’s elite submission players Werdum meets hard-nosed American grinder Russow.
Werdum, 34, is probably most recognized for his submission win over the legendary Fedor Emelianenko in June 2010 as he finally ended the Russian great’s winning streak. However, Werdum has been a heavyweight contender for years, earning wins over Alistair Overeem, Aleksander Emelianenko, Gabriel Gonzaga, Brandon Vera, Mike Kyle and Antonio Silva along the way.
The Brazilian submission ace reinvented himself after his knockout loss to current heavyweight king Junior dos Santos at UFC 90, which prompted his release from the UFC. Working alongside Rafael Cordeiro, Werdum has transformed into a potent striker with dangerous muay thai, adding a muay thai black belt to go along with his black belts in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and judo.
In his UFC return this past February, the two-time ADCC submission grappling gold medalist obliterated durable contender Roy Nelson with a vicious striking game, earning a one-sided unanimous decision.
A consensus top heavyweight, many critics are questioning the UFC’s decision to match the Brazilian Kings MMA product against Russow. But Werdum is unlikely to make a grave error by looking past one of the toughest fighters in the division.
Russow, 35, is unbeaten in four octagon appearances, highlighted by stoppages of Todd Duffee and Jon Madsen. The Team DeathClutch member is a former NCAA Division I wrestler who shares time on the mats with undefeated Bellator heavyweight champion Cole Konrad.
There is only one blemish on Russow’s record — a February 2007 submission loss against Sergei Kharitonov at Pride 33.
With a strong wrestling background, Russow comes forward pursuing takedowns and he’s usually successful. Russow can also take major damage, which Duffee found out the hard way after a brutal come-from-behind knockout in the third round of their UFC 114 bout.
Russow has successfully employed his strategy as of late, but Werdum represents a major leap in competition.
The Brazilian should have his way however the fight plays out as he will have a significant advantage with technical striking and he will waste no time submitting Russow if the action spills to the mat. Russow can always land a devastating overhand right, but Werdum will be dishing out a heavy barrage of kicks, knees and punches. Instinctively, Russow will likely try to take his foe down, which could be his biggest error as Werdum will comfortably pull guard and lock in a fight-ending submission.
Verdict: Werdum via Submission, Round 1
-Cezar Ferreira (4-2) vs. Sergio Moraes (6-1) – TUF Brazil middleweight final
The middleweight winner of the first international edition of “The Ultimate Fighter” will be decided as Brazilians Ferreira and Moraes collide.
Ferreira, 27, earned his spot in the finals with victories over Gustavo Sampaio, Leonardo Maccarao and Thiago Perpetuo.
A Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt fighting out of Las Vegas’ Xtreme Couture gym, Ferreira is primarily a submission specialist, though he packs heavy power in his strikes, knocking out Perpetuo with a head kick in the semifinals.
Ferreira was the first pick by Vitor Belfort and the two have trained together for years leading up to the show.
Moraes, 29, is a replacement for the injured Daniel Sarafian in the finals. During his stint on the show, Moraes submitted Thiago Rela and Delson Heleno before a vicious knockout loss at the hands of Sarafian in the semifinal round.
A world-renowned Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt from Team Nogueira and Alliance Jiu Jitsu and multiple-time gold medalist in the BJJ World Championship, Moraes has submitted five of his six career victims, including Tommy Depret.
Moraes showed a susceptibility to heavy power strikes in his loss to Sarafian, a weakness Ferreira will be looking to exploit on Saturday night.
Instead of tangling with Moraes where he’s most comfortable, look for Ferreira to keep this fight standing, picking Moraes apart before unloading with a fight-ending combination.
Verdict: Ferreira via TKO, Round 2
-Godofredo Pepey vs. Rony Mariano Bezerra (10-3) – TUF Brazil lightweight final
In the lightweight final of “The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil,” the unbeaten Pepey clashes with the Team Nogueira pupil Bezerra.
The 24-year-old Pepey punched his ticket to the finals with wins over Johnny Goncalves, Wagner Galeto and Vina Borges Pancini. A Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt and Marcio Cupim Team representative, Pepey’s game revolves largely around his submission base, a similar strength of his opponent.
The 28-year-old Bezerra defeated Dileno Lopes, Anistavio Gasparzinho and Hugo Viana to earn his spot in the finals. A Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt and Team Nogueira member, Bezerra already owns a win over UFC veteran Felipe Arantes and he also fought bantamweight No. 1 contender Renan Barao to a split decision loss in November 2006.
Bezerra was picked first by Wanderlei Silva, while Pepey was the 12th overall selection.
Pepey made his professional debut in 2003, but Bezerra has already racked up more professional fights by staying active since his debut in May 2006. In a battle of savvy submission specialists, Bezerra’s superior striking and more dominant ground game could be the difference makers as he outworks Pepey and hands him his first blemish in a hard-fought decision, earning himself the title of “The Ultimate Fighter.”
Verdict: Bezerra via decision
-Yuri Alcantara (28-3) vs. Hacran Dias (20-1-1)
In a tantalizing featherweight contest, a pair of dangerous Brazilians will be looking to make a statement on their native soil.
The 31-year-old Alcantara has dominated his opposition, racking up a three-fight winning streak under the WEC and UFC banners, including a knockout of Ricardo Lamas and decisions over Felipe Arantes and Michihiro Omigawa.
The Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt has showcased excellent striking, while always posing a threat on the mat. His biggest weakness is his conditioning as he tends to fade late in his fights.
The 28-year-old Dias is an exciting addition to the featherweight roster as he rides an eight-fight winning streak under the Shooto Brazil banner.
Anchored at Nova Uniao, Dias strategically breaks opponents down with muay thai and he pounces at the opportunity to finish foes by submission. Relentless training with the likes of Jose Aldo, Marlon Sandro, Eduardo Dantas and Renan Barao could pay off as Dias would send a message to the rest of the division by dispatching his Brazilian counterpart.
Alcantara should have his way if he remains aggressive and presses the action. Dias has a granite chin, however, so we could be in for three unforgiving rounds.
Verdict: Alcantara via decision