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Rich Franklin: The Under-Appreciated Superstar

E. Spencer KyteSenior Analyst ISeptember 18, 2009

How can a fighter with a professional record of 27-4 who has headlined three fight cards in the last eight months and is a former middleweight champion be under-appreciated?

By being Rich Franklin.

One of the early faces of the UFC, the former math teacher from Cincinnati, Ohio has become an afterthought when discussions turn to the premier fighters in the sport today.

Fans are quick to call out his two devastating defeats at the hands—well, knees—of Anderson Silva, as if Franklin's fate was somehow different than the other eight men who have stood before "The Spider" and came away with nothing.

Knowing that a third fight against the dominant middleweight ruler was less than likely to materialize, Franklin set his sights on the light-heavyweight division. Since that time, all Franklin has done is whatever the UFC has asked of him, including headlining UFC 93 and 99 earlier this year.

Saturday, he steps into another catchweight fight against another dangerous opponent, the returning "Phenom" Vitor Belfort. While some consider Franklin a gatekeeper to fighters looking to earn instant opportunities in the middleweight division, I call him a consummate professional who is grossly undervalued.

Think about it: His four losses are to Anderson Silva, Dan Henderson, and Lyoto Machida. Two of those men are currently the undisputed kings of their divisions, while Henderson was the first man to simultaneously hold titles in two different weight classes.

Their combined record is 65-11.

How do you fault a man for suffering defeats to three of the greatest champions the sport has ever seen?

Say what you will about Franklin being unable to win the big fights against the big names, but no one has been able to beat Machida at all, Silva has barely been challenged under the UFC banner, and both of Henderson's UFC losses came in title fights, including one against Anderson Silva.

Yet somehow Rich Franklin has become this middle-of-the-road fighter unworthy of another title shot to some.

A loss to Lyoto Machida six years ago should not preclude Franklin from another opportunity, and a case could be made for a win here catapulting "Ace" into a title fight early next year.

Machida makes his first title defense next month against Mauricio "Shogun" Rua and should emerge victorious. Honestly, can you see the guy who gassed against Mark Coleman come away with a win over the undefeated, almost untouchable champion? Me neither.

But who would be next in line?

Anderson Silva has stated on numerous occasions that he has no interest in fighting his friend and teammate, Quinton Jackson and Rashad Evans have a score to settle once Jackson is done channeling his inner Mr. T, and the rest of the potential contenders within the division are all locked up for the foreseeable future.

Add the UFC's need to find a suitable main event for the year-end Ultimate 2009 card (UFC 109) scheduled for Jan. 2 at the MGM Grand, and you have a tailor-made opening for Franklin to receive a title shot in a highly marketable main event against Machida.

Regardless of what happens in the future, both next year and tomorrow night, Rich Franklin is a consummate professional and a world-class fighter.

Here's hoping some people start to remember that.

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