There’s little question to the intrigue of Saturday night’s main event bout between Rich Franklin and Cung Le. Fans are eyeing two completely different, yet highly effective strikers, who both need an impressive win to remind the MMA community that they still stand as relevant fixtures of the middleweight division.
For Cung Le, a win over former champion Rich “Ace” Franklin means a mixed martial landmark, for Franklin, a return to serious top ten contention looms should he dispose of the San Shou practitioner.
Who’s got more to lose, you ask? The answer is Cung Le. If Le drops this fight, it, in the mind of many, proves the “hype” was never justified. Unfortunately for Le, he’s not going to exit the octagon victorious.
While Le has a superb kickboxing track record, his prime days have come and gone, and to enter into professional mixed martial arts in the mid-30’s after already accumulating plenty of fight mileage on the body sounds like a recipe for disaster. All the same, Le has picked up a few impressive wins, and he’s made it a known fact that even now, at 40, he’s a dangerous foe.
Dangerous or not, he won’t be throttling Rich Franklin with flashy kicks.
Rich himself may be on the downside of his career. With 13 years and 36 bouts invested in MMA, the man is anything but a spring chicken. Just the same, his experience, where it counts (within the confines of a cage), trumps just about everything Cung can hurl in his direction.
Franklin has tangled with the best the sport has to offer. He battled Anderson Silva twice (UFC 64 and UFC 77), faced the feared puncher Vitor Belfort at UFC 103, fought a vicious Dan Henderson back at UFC 93 (and quite arguably won, although the books read different), and even met Lyoto Machida early in his career at Inoki Bom-Ba-Ye 2003 - Inoki Festival in 2003.
You’ll note every fight I just mentioned resulted in a loss for Franklin. Don’t take that to mean he can’t cut it with the key dangers of the division.
Franklin brutalized a still prime Evan Tanner back 2005, outworked top 10 contender Yushin Okami at UFC 72, sent Chuck Liddell into retirement with a slumping counter at UFC 115, and twice defeated the legendary Wanderlei Silva (at UFC 99 and UFC 147). “Ace” has certainly made it common knowledge that any fight he engages in, is a fight he can win.
And win he will this weekend, I reiterate.
Franklin is a relatively lanky guy, enough so to keep Cung Le at bay. Le may land a sidekick or two in this fight, but he’s going to have significant issues closing the distance on Rich. Rich’s punches, while still often a bit looping have taken on a measure of refinement perfectly fit for MMA. He knows how to keep a fighter at the end of his strikes, and he knows how and when to mix up combinations.
Le must wade through treacherous trenches to land a significant strike in this bout, and though he may be willing to eat a few to deliver one of his own, and he may be a fairly agile guy, his mobility is vastly overshadowed by the footwork and octagon awareness of Rich. If Franklin sees a counter coming, he’s typically long gone from the pocket, that’s a quality picked up after years of competing for the grandest promotion in the world, and that’s going to be the story of this fight, for a round or so.
What may be an even more significant disparity between these two is conditioning. Rich Franklin has gone five rounds, achieved victory more than once, and he’s always in great shape; no two ways about it. “Ace” can apply pressure for 25 minutes without fading.
I’m not remotely near convinced Cung Le can manage the same feat.
Le has never competed in a cage for longer than 15 minutes, and we’ve seen his gas tank emptied after grueling affairs. At 40 years old, juggling a career as an active thespian, it’s not stunning to know that Cung isn’t exactly a cardio machine. The guy has a lot on his plate, and sometimes, well, a man gets more than his fill.
Cung Le could probably be given the nod in regards to overall striking versatility, but in truth that’s about the only advantage he brings to this fight. Maybe he can land a movie like combination, but chances of that are about as strong as me winning the lottery: it’s not happening.
Tough or not, Rich Franklin’s tactical offense and instinctual defense when mixed with his cage savvy and overall experience, will be far too much for Cung Le.
These two will play it relatively safe for about half of a round before the real fireworks start. When they do, prepare to see the fading Le broken down methodically before forcing the referee to intervene and prevent further damage. The end of this wreckage comes as the third round approaches closure.