Rich Franklin has never been a light heavyweight. Before he signed with the UFC, he did well fighting at 205 lbs., but that was before the modern era of extreme weight-cutting began.
After jumping from 185 lbs. up to 214 lbs., he finally settled down in the middleweight division and it wasn't long before he had a UFC title at that weight and people were wondering whether he might not be the best pound-for-pound fighter.
Then along came Anderson Silva, who beat Franklin not once, but twice. There is no shame in losing to Silva; everyone does it, but the UFC decided that they didn't want a fighter who could not challenge their champ again sticking around at 185 lbs. where he might put a premature end to the title run of potential challengers.
Franklin didn't want to move up in weight; he had no problem getting down to 185 lbs and no desire to start fighting much bigger men so late in his career. But he is a company man and a long-term UFC servant and he did what he was told.
At first it seemed like the right move, as he stopped former friend and training partner Matt Hamill with a hard kick to the body in the third round of their fight and was a bit unlucky not to have been awarded the decision after going three rounds with Dan Henderson.
Next stop was at 195 lbs, where Franklin defeated Wanderlei Silva in a Fight of the Night performance but was then blown away by the resurgent Vitor Belfort. After that, it was back to 205 lbs. to knock out Chuck Liddell before being outmuscled by Forrest Griffin, a fighter who used to compete at heavyweight.
An injury to Antonio Rogerio Nogueira put paid to Franklin's appearance at UFC 133 and another injury, this time to Franklin himself, has ruled him out of action since then. After fighting 18 times for the UFC, the 37-year-old deserved a break and he has been given one with a return to middleweight to fight Cung Le.
Le's status as the former Strikeforce middleweight champion and movie star makes him very high profile, but he is 39 years old and has only fought once in the last two years and looked very short of stamina in the loss to Wanderlei Silva.
Le is not exactly a bum, but on recent evidence he isn't one of the better fighters in the UFC's 185-lb. division. Aspiring middleweights will be queuing up to become famous for being the fighter who retired Cung Le.
He looked on course to beat Wanderlei Silva and is still a threat, but one a fighter of Franklin's experience should deal with comfortably. Who knows how many fights Franklin has in him or how long he can keep going, but he deserves to be able to compete at his natural weight and be given high-profile fights that he has a good chance of winning.
There are no easy fights in the UFC, but Cung Le might just be one of the weaker opponents out there and if anyone has earned the right to a winnable fight, it's Rich Franklin.
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