By Michael DiSanto Aside from the hardcore fans, few casual onlookers understand the true significance of the main event at UFC 64. Fair enough. The millions of fight fans know Rich Franklin all too well. His fight resume speaks for itself: a 22-1 professional record, including a perfect 7-0 in the Octagon. The UFC middleweight champion is the unquestioned No. 1 ranked 185-pound fighter across all MMA promotions worldwide—bar none. He is the quintessential mixed martial artist, possessing a truly equal blend of standup and ground skills. But who is his opponent, this Anderson Silva guy? And why is he getting a shot at the title after only a single UFC bout? Sure, he basically undressed Chris Leben in less than a minute, announcing his arrival with a thunderous exclamation point in the form of a right hand that crumbled the iron-jawed Leben to the canvas like a sack of discarded potatoes. Regardless, what about more experienced UFC middleweights like Mike Swick or Nathan Marquardt? Aren’t they more deserving of a shot at the title? Whether Silva is the most deserving of a title shot solely based on his accomplishments in the Octagon are certainly grounds for serious debate. Nevertheless, his standing in the global MMA community and his overall world ranking is not. Silva is 16-4 overall, though his most recent loss occurred when he was disqualified for kicking a downed opponent (Yushin Okami) in the head, something that is often legal when fighting overseas. Aside from that loss, he has been perfect since the start of 2004, racking up impressive wins over UFC veterans Lee Murray, Jeremy Horn, Jorge Rivera, Tony Fryklund, Curtis Stout and Leben. That is evidence enough that the Muay Thai expert is more than deserving of a shot at Franklin, and quite possibly the biggest threat to date to end the champion’s perfect UFC record. So how do the two match up? What will happen when they clash on Saturday, October 14? Size In breaking down the matchup, the first thing that jumps out as a significant is the size difference between the combatants. Although Franklin has fought exclusively as a middleweight since June 2005, he spent most of his career competing as a very lean 205 pounder. The champion, therefore, must diet very hard and make a very real effort to cut the 20 pounds required to make the 185-pound division limit. In other words, he is an absolutely huge middleweight. Unfortunately for Silva, he is anything but a full-blown 185-pounder. Whether he had to starve himself or not, the fact remains that Silva fought most of his career 15 pounds below the middleweight division, campaigning in Japan as a welterweight. As recently as last January, he competed in a 175 pound fight. Simply put, there is absolutely no way that Franklin, who is actually leaner than Silva, could weigh 175 pounds without cutting off one of his legs. Edge: Franklin—huge edge. Strength It may be somewhat unfair to separate size and strength, particularly when we are talking two guys who could arguably be competing two weight classes apart. Edge: Franklin—again, this one isn’t even close. Punching Power At first blush, one would assume that Franklin, due to his larger frame and greater strength, would own a significant punching power advantage against Silva. Size and strength, however, do not necessarily translate to power, which is more a function of speed, timing and leverage than anything else. UFC fans saw a vivid display of Silva’s serious punching power when he physically moved the much bigger Leben with each punch that he landed, before dropping him for good with a well-placed right hand. It was a true one-punch knockout, the kind that will find its way to the highlight reel when the UFC takes a look back at its year in review. Franklin, by contrast, isn’t a true one-punch knockout guy. He is more of a bludgeoner, a guy who batters opponents with punches that seem like baseball bats. The accumulation of damage he dishes out over the course of a few rounds is enough to permanently wreck a fighter’s psyche. David Loiseau wasn’t even close to himself after the vicious beating he experienced at the hands (and fists) of the champion. Maybe Silva disguises his shots better or throws them with more speed so that an opponent doesn’t see them coming, which certainly increases the odds of a swift knockout. Maybe he simply commits to knockout-seeking blows more often than Franklin. It is tough to say. Whatever the case, past history suggests that the edge in one-punch knockout power probably falls slightly in favor of the challenger. Then again, the last time someone (Nate Quarry) questioned Franklin’s power, he got starched with what this writer still feels was the most eye-opening knockout of 2005. Edge: Silva—albeit a slight one, and this could very well be the great equalizer in the bout. Standup Technique This is another category that is very close. Both men possess a wide variety of weapons on the feet, throwing a variety of punches and kicks from a distance, while firing off knees and elbows in the clinch. Franklin seems slightly more effective with his hands, bringing a more varied arsenal of combinations and throwing from a wider variety of angles compared to Silva. But Silva snaps his shots and counters more effectively. Franklin’s left high kick is the single most dangerous weapon in the bout, though Silva is better with leg kicks. This one is too close to call. Edge: Even. Wrestling Neither fighter is an accomplished wrestler. Neither is overly dominant with their takedowns. And both are pretty effective with their takedown defense. Again, there is no discernable difference here. Edge: Even. Ground Fighting Although Franklin strongly prefers to stand and throw hands with his opponents, he is an extremely skilled jiu-jitsu guy, both from the top and bottom position. With Horn fighting outside of the UFC, David Terrell is the probably only active fighter in the middleweight division that can claim a ground fighting edge over Franklin. Silva is described as a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. But half of his four career losses came by way of submission. The first (to Daiju Takase) was a triangle choke. The second was an impressive scissor takedown transitioned into a heel hook by Ryo Chonan. Both occurred in Japan by guys that are solid submission fighters, but nowhere close to the level of Franklin. In other words, a major question mark hangs over Silva's groundwork. Suffice to say, if the fight goes to the ground, it is Rich Franklin all day, everyday. Edge: Franklin. Ability to Finish Opponents This one is answered by a single statistic. In 23 professional fights, Franklin has gone the distance exactly once—his lopsided win over Loiseau at UFC 58—making him one of the most effective finishers in the sport. Silva has fought to a decision win five times in 16 wins. It is an impressive finishing percentage in his wins, but it pales in comparison to the champion. Edge: Franklin. Conditioning Besides the Jorge Rivera fight, where Franklin appeared drained and fatigued from the effects of cutting weight for the first time in his career, the champion hasn’t had any sort of trouble with his conditioning in any of his fights. Similarly, Silva fights like the Energizer Bunny, seemingly possessing cardiovascular conditioning for days, even in the 10-minute first round format used in Japan. But he hasn’t fought a full five-round fight yet in his career. And in the previous two years, he has only fought past the first round once. With that sort of unknown entering the fight, one must give the conditioning edge to the man who has proven that he can fight 25 hard-fought minutes. Edge: Franklin. Chin One of the biggest fallacies in the UFC is that Franklin has a glass jaw. Yes, he was knocked out almost three years ago by Lyoto Machida —the only loss of his professional career. Yes, he was dropped and badly hurt by an Evan Tanner right hand in their 2005 title fight. Yes, Loiseau rocked him on multiple occasions and dropped him once back in their March scrap. But the great thing about Franklin is that he recovers almost instantly from knockdowns, which is evidence of his great conditioning, his tremendous heart, his will to win, and the fact that his chin, while able to be bent at times, is extremely difficult to break. Silva, however, has never been knocked out. In fact, he has taken what appeared to be several isolated big shots from feared strikers such as Murray without showing any weakness in his chin at all. Does that mean he has the better chin or has he simply avoided getting hit on the sweet spot, unlike Franklin? The champion aims to answer that question on the 14th. Until that time, ‘The Spider’ gets the nod. Edge: Silva. On paper, this seems to be a favorable matchup for Franklin. The champion has more tools at his disposal and more ways to end the fight. But after watching Silva decimate Leben back in June, can anyone, even the staunchest Franklin supporters, claim with a straight face that this fight doesn’t give them at least a bit of pause? Absolutely not. This is an extremely dangerous fight for the champion several reasons, the principal one being the fact that Franklin would rather go out and test his standup against the deadly Muay Thai expert than quickly take the bout to the ground and play in the arena where he holds the most decided advantages. Another concern is whether Franklin’s body will hold up if the fight turns into another five-round war? If his hand hasn’t fully healed over the past seven months, then it will be difficult for Franklin to keep Silva at bay, which makes for a very long night for the champion. Then again, October 14 could be the return of the prodigal son, with a healthy Rich Franklin further distancing himself from his peers with another dominant performance against a top-rated opponent. He might use Silva as a means to send a message to the rest of the division that they should think twice before stepping through the Octagon doors to face him. How will it turn out? We will all find out soon enough.