While focused on Rich Franklin, Wanderlei Silva still eyeing Vitor Belfort
By Case Keefer
(Sports Network) Anger has given way to patience for Wanderlei Silva.
The local UFC middleweight reacted irritably when Vitor Belfort pulled out of their UFC 147 main event bout two weeks ago with a broken hand. Silva called Belfort scared and unprofessional in a tweet sent in Portuguese.
“I said that because I felt sad,” Silva explained. “I trained three months for fighting with him and he broke his hand and I didn’t know how. After this fight, I’m going to fight that guy.”
Silva (34-11-1 MMA, 4-6 UFC) now meets Rich Franklin (28-6 MMA, 13-5 UFC) in the headlining bout of the UFC’s next pay-per-view card, which takes place June 23 in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.
Franklin, a former UFC champion, was one of the only opponents capable of making Silva momentarily forget about Belfort. “The Axe Murderer” wanted a shot at Franklin just as badly.
Silva and Franklin will meet in Brazil almost three years to the day after they gave a spirited battle in the main event of UFC 99 in Cologne, Germany. Both fighters had their moments, and media scores were split on who won after three rounds.
But the judges sided unanimously with Franklin.
“I was thinking I won that fight,” Silva said. “But that happened. It was a close decision and I don’t think it was right.”
Silva, who had moved to Las Vegas and opened his Wand Fight Team gym shortly before the first fight with Franklin, sees several more advantages in his favor for the rematch.
The 35-year-old said he reconnected with numerous former coaches and sparring partners in preparation for UFC 147. A video blog of his preparation shows Silva working with former UFC light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida.
The Brazilian crowd will also be squarely on Silva’s side. Silva has seen support in his native country grow since “The Ultimate Fighter Brazil,” in which he coached against Belfort, started airing in March.
Belfort’s celebrity level was already high in Brazil, but Silva’s has started to match it. He can’t walk the street without getting bombarded by fans.
“A lot more than the regulars watch (‘The Ultimate Fighter Brazil’), so many people watched — women, young kids,” Silva said. “Everyone watches on the open channel. That’s been a great moment for me.”
But the news of Belfort’s injury made the whole experience bittersweet to Silva. He felt the majority of the reality show's intrigue centered on the inevitable clash with Belfort.
That’s why, a week before the Franklin fight, he remains vocal about eventually facing Belfort. Belfort, who also lives in Las Vegas, has stayed mum on Silva but sent a few tweets about his disappointment regarding the fight falling apart.
“Can’t sleep thinking about what happened,” Belfort wrote in Portuguese shortly after the injury. “I am very sad and all I know is that I will come back strong.”
It looks like Silva has an easier assignment with Franklin. Belfort has gone 7-1 over the past five years, with the only loss coming to middleweight champion Anderson Silva, while Franklin has fallen from his championship form and gone 4-4 in the same span.
But Silva claims neither opponent is necessarily tougher than the other.
“It’s the same,” Silva said. “Like Vitor, Rich is a tough guy. I have concentrated and I’m training more to fight Rich.”
Silva, however, hasn’t stopped thinking about Belfort.
“When the moment comes,” Silva said, “I will be fighting him.”
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