Former UFC middleweight champion Rich ‘Ace’ Franklin has been one of the organisations top stars with a 12-4 record inside the octagon and having headlined numerous events, including being the main attraction as the company broke into new territories like Northern Ireland (against Yoshin Okami at UFC 72) and Germany (against Wanderlei Silva at UFC99). The former school teacher has also featured as a team coach on the second series of the popular reality series The Ultimate Fighter opposite Matt Hughes.
In the early days of his UFC career he seemed an unstoppable force at middleweight winning 7 fights in a row, a run which included holding the Middleweight belt (after defeating the late Evan Tanner at UFC 53) and successfully defending it twice against Nate Quarry and David Loiseau. Things were about to change though when a Brazilian striker named Anderson Silva arrived in the UFC in October of 2006 and wrenched the belt from his grasp after rearranging Franklin’s nose with his knee in their first match, and then repeating the favor a year later, leaving everyone watching in no doubt that the former champ had now met his match.
Having been chased out of town by Silva and with no one else looking likely to wrestle the title back from him, Franklin made the decision to move up to the Light Heavyweight Division. Since that time Franklin’s career has been somewhat unsettled, chalking up a win over Matt Hamill and a close split decision loss to Dan Henderson at 205lbs in January, and then most recently taking on two fights at a catch weight of 195 (the first being a victory over Wanderlei Silva) which had some fans questioning where Franklin’s long term future really lay.
In the build up to last night’s 195lb bout with Vitor Belfort the talk was that a win over the Brazilian would put Franklin firmly into the mix in the upper reaches of the LHW division. Things didn’t go according to plan however with Belfort dispatching the former champ by KO in the very first round of the fight. The result leaves Franklin and the UFC in somewhat of a dilemma as to what to do next. Getting knocked out and then moving up a weight class sounds like a risky strategy, particularly when it’s the UFC’s ultra-competitive 205lb light heavyweight division which is currently filled with hard hitting stars like former LHW champions Rampage Jackson and Rashad Evans, along with current champion Lyoto Machida who as it happens already holds a TKO victory over Franklin from back in December of 2003 in a match unrelated to the UFC in Japan. Anderson Silva has also recently cast his shadow over the division and is likely to compete their again in the future.
Meanwhile a trip back down to the more familiar 185lb Middleweight division where Franklin has spent most of his career might seem like a safer move but in reality there won’t be a warm welcome for him there considering Anderson Silva still looms large as the champion with 8 successful defenses of his belt to date and to add to his woes Vitor Belfort is now set to make the division his home, and not forgetting his other nemesis Dan Henderson.
So where does Rich Franklin go from here? He still has five fights left on his recently signed contract and Dana White confirmed at the post-fight press conference that Franklin is still very much a part of the UFC’s plans. Having already stated that he was preparing to move back up to Light Heavyweight it’s unlikely that he’ll change his mind now, though there must surely now be doubts in his mind. To be fair there are interesting match-ups for him in the division – Forrest Griffin springs to mind if they are looking to keep him in the publics mind as a viable contender and a potential headline star. For the time being though perhaps it would be best that he decides not to make too much noise about being in the division to compete for the belt against the top names. An interesting tune-up fight to slot him into the division would perhaps be against Griffins Ultimate Fighter Season 1 counterpart Stephan Bonnar who’s career has recently faltered in the division. It would be a chance for both fighters to redeem themselves after a less them stellar performance and would likely be an entertaining battle for the fans.
Whichever division he ends up in, and whoever he ends up facing perhaps there’s a more pressing issue that he needs to consider. Having not being known throughout his career as a heavy hitter (despite his often played highlight reel knockout of Nate Quarry) and with questions over the quality of his chin now may be the time for Franklin to rethink his overall fighting strategy. Though his recent fights in particular have been almost purely stand-up battles it’s worth remembering that he is a well-rounded fighter who is comfortable on the ground. If he could rediscover and develop those skills and look to become a true ‘mixed’ martial artist again then maybe there’s time yet for one of the UFC’s most down to earth and likeable fighters to re-invent himself and become relevant once again.
Article by RossC.