Rich Franklin entered the UFC ranks as a light heavyweight prospect with a wealth of steam behind his name but little “big league” experience. After brutalizing the late, great Evan Tanner at UFC 42, Franklin’s career would change dramatically.
In less than two weeks, “Ace” will return to the Octagon (for the 20th time) as a seasoned veteran and former champion with some amazing wins under his belt. The only major question that hangs above the head of the 38-year-old Franklin is, how much is left?
Wars with Dan Henderson, Wanderlei Silva, Forrest Griffin, Chuck Liddell, Anderson Silva and Yushin Okami have certainly taken there toll on Rich. A man who’s struggled to regain an identity in the sport, bouncing around from 205 pounds to 185 pounds to 195 pounds, it seems the former champion has lost his footing.
On November 10th, we’ll learn whether or not Franklin has taken strides to reinvent himself as a middleweight contender. But when facing a striker as dangerous as Cung Le, reinvention is no guarantee.
Unlike Rich, Cung Le enters this bout as a universal question mark in general. A stellar San Shou career (in which he went undefeated in 17 bouts) prepared Le for the landscape of mixed martial arts.
After bursting onto the scene in 2006, Le amassed a perfect 6-0 record before falling to Scott Smith in December of 2009. All of those bouts took place under the Strikeforce banner.
Le would bounce back and avenge the loss to Smith just six months later. Shortly thereafter, Le was recruited by UFC brass. He made his promotional debut at UFC 139 in a highly anticipated bout that saw the once beaten kickboxer challenge former Pride king, Wanderlei Silva.
For a round, things looked good for Le. But a fading gas tank enabled “The Axe Murderer” to take over the bout, eventually stopping Le with a plethora of vicious strikes (including some true vintage Wanderlei knees) before the second frame expired.
Since that bout, Le has yet again battled his way into the win column, handily outworking Patrick Cote at UFC 148. But a win over Patrick Cote isn’t a win over Rich Franklin, and to be blunt, it didn’t do too much to improve his divisional positioning.
Cung Le is still an enigma.
UFC on FUEL TV 6 offers Le a chance to change that status and bully his way into top-10 consideration once more. Toppling a former champion of Franklin’s caliber will provide a much clearer idea of the man’s capabilities.
And let’s be honest, at 40 years old, those capabilities deserve to be called into question. Le’s taken a strong fancy to the acting world (in fact, you can catch him in The Man with the Iron Fists, which opens in theaters tomorrow), and with three films shot inside this calendar year alone, one must wonder how much time he has to focus on MMA.
It’s tough to cut it as an elite mixed martial artist when all you do is eat, sleep, breathe and bleed the sport: Attempting to get a grasp on the additional challenges that come when moonlighting as an actor seems impossible.
Just the same, if Cung Le can prove that cinema hasn’t stolen his stride, and he can put Rich Franklin down and out, we’ve got a marquee name who will have reached a career pinnacle in a division with plenty of extremely relevant and intriguing matchups to be made.
For Le, it’s a chance to prove he’s capable of living up to the promise he’s long boasted. For Franklin, it’s an opportunity to remind fans that he’s one of the world’s finest competitors at 185 pounds.
A win for either man ensures more treacherous fights in the future. With Michael Bisping, Chris Weidman, Alan Belcher, Tim Boetsch and Vitor Belfort clogging the contender list, there will be further “gimme fights” for either man.
The middleweight division has become a serious shark tank over the last few years. Whoever wins this bout, be it Le or Franklin, they’ll be forced to collide with the other killers who tip the scales at 185 pounds.
Interestingly enough, the loser of this match may find himself forced to tangle with the elite beasts as well. Franklin and Le put asses in seats, and that means big fights.