Ok seriously now, this past week has been one of the most downright fucked up strange weeks I’ve ever seen, and not just because it seems Canada has thrown in the towel in the millenniums long battle with winter and decided to just skip that whole “Summer” thing. I’m sure most people reading this have been following the huge story breaking right now about Josh Barnett, steroids, and Vitor Belfort/Fedor in the works (did I just type that?) I definitely have a lot to say about that, but I'm going to leave that for a part 2 to this entry later this week. Part of the reason is because I want to have all of the facts on the table and confirmed before I go off assassinating MMA icons, and part is because it deserves it’s own article. Don’t worry though, it’s been the MMA version of Twilight Zone (not featuring vampires for anyone under 13) this week with enough strange news and head scratching decisions to go around, starting with,
Does the UFC suddenly hate Rich Franklin?
The first time Dan Henderson and Rich Franklin fought, at UFC 93 back in January, the fight didn’t make any more sense then it does now. Franklin was looking to establish himself at 205, while Henderson seemed eager to campaign for the 185 pound belt. So, this fight wouldn’t really help either guy. At stake was the right to coach the next season of The Ultimate Fighter against, and eventually face Michael Bisping, which would basically have sidetracked Franklin’s whole career had he won. Fate, or poor judging intervened, as the judges awarded Henderson the narrow split decision in a close and pretty fun fight. I was glad it happened, but hoped Franklin would get a serious contender next to establish himself at 205. Instead, he got Wanderlei Silva, another big name and exciting fighter who also happened to be moving down to 185. Even worse, the fight was contested at an imaginary 195 catch weight. Another fun fight, another close decision, this time going Franklin’s way. I thought finally, fucking finally, the UFC will have to give Rich Franklin a serious 205 fight. A Keith Jardine, a Thiago Silva, a Brandon Vera, hell a Luiz Cane would have worked. Any serious contender that can test Franklin’s ability to excel in the new weight class and see if he can finally get his career back on track, and possibly even recapture some of the momentum of his glory days. After two back to back gift fights for the UFC, they owed it to their company man to repay him with a shot at title contention.
Instead, we get Dan Henderson vs. Rich Franklin 2: This time it’s even MORE Irrelevant!
Dan Henderson just cemented himself on highlight reels forever, and was talked about by many (including me) as being next in line for Anderson Silva. That was definitely the way his career was headed. Now he’s back to 205, to face a guy he’s already beat in a fight that doesn’t benefit him at all. And Franklin is put in a do or die situation, with little to gain but lots to lose. Back to back losses to Hendo could overshadow his Light Heavyweight career like the Silva losses overshadowed his Middleweight accomplishments. Without a doubt, losing to Henderson again would derail any chance Rich Franklin has of ever again fighting for a major world title. Look at the timing. UFC 103 is in September, less then two months away. That’s short notice for Franklin (who fought in June) and really short notice for Henderson (who fought on July 11), which adds even more confusion to the UFC’s decision. Could they not find one meaningful, serious contender at 205 for Franklin to face without dragging Henderson back up to 205 for the umpteenth time and forcing Franklin to fight for his career?
Rich Franklin is undoubtedly one of the most popular fighters in the UFC, with a world class skill set and an impressive record. But, like Sonny Liston or War Admiral (a horse racing reference? Really?), his career is forever haunted by the spectre of his greatest failure . Flashback three years ago, and Rich Franklin was on top of the world, the dominant Middleweight champion coming off two back to back title defenses. His all-American, former high school teacher background caught on with fans, the title was safe around his waist, and he was firmly set on course to become a blockbuster attraction. But sadly, it never happened, because fate had decided that the breakout star was not to be Rich Franklin. Two crushing, knee induced knockout defeats later, and Rich Franklin’s rise to stardom would become another stepping stone on Anderson Silva’s rise to the top of the sport. This put him in an awkward spot, as he theoretically could defeat any of the other middleweight contenders, but clearly was no match for the champion. The UFC seemingly recognized this, and encouraged Franklin to move up to 205, his former weight class. Since that move, however, the UFC has booked Franklin in one useless match after another, killing any momentum he seems to get going. Instead of putting him in a career benefiting or at least career building contest like others who have moved weight classes like BJ Penn, Randy Couture, and Brandon Vera, they have used his still considerable fan appeal to plug any hole in their matchmaking, and Franklin like a good company man keeps accepting these fights even though he must know it does nothing for his career. Even though a lot of people I knew loved “Ace”, I was never any serious fan of his, but his career trajectory of late has turned me into a fan of his almost by proxy. It’s time to reward Rich for his loyalty to the UFC and his ability to headline shows and book him in a fight that means something.
Franklin vs. Lutter 2 anyone?
As a final note, check out this piece in the Globe and Mail http://www.theglobeandmail.com/sports/ufc-feeding-the-primal-urge/article1223181/
That's exactly the kind of unbiased coverage the sport needs to see more of from the mainstream press.
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