THIS DAY IN MMA HISTORY (11/10): Remembering Rich Franklin’s career three years after his final bout

By Dayne Fox, MMATorch Contributor

There are a number of obvious choices to review for the week between Nov. 8-14, such as the first UFC event and the UFC on Fox debut, but there was another event that also occurred in this time, something that doesn’t necessarily register on a grand scale. In fact, it is actually something that the primary topic of this piece would rather forget. Rich Franklin officially announced his retirement this fall, but it was on November 10, 2012, that he fought his last fight against Cung Le. Though it didn’t go the way that he wanted, it also provides an opportunity to remember his career.

A former school teacher who started his career by training out of a shed in his backyard, Franklin became one of the best things to ever happen to the UFC. His education and former career brought him instant credibility amongst opponents of the sport, which also led to him representing the UFC on multiple occasions in media interviews when the sport needed defending against its detractors. Furthermore, he was also the preeminent go-to-guy when the UFC needed a favor in terms of an injury replacement or a catchweight bout to prepare an opponent for an eventual drop in weight. Though he will probably end up in the UFC Hall of Fame someday, his career was often overshadowed by his devastating defeats to Anderson Silva and Silva’s subsequent dominant reign.

Franklin started his UFC career at light heavyweight, long the UFC’s glamour division, and easily the deepest at the time as Tito Ortiz was fresh off of his destruction of Ken Shamrock, but also avoiding his inevitable fight with Chuck Liddell. Randy Couture (recently announcing his drop from heavyweight to light heavyweight) and Vitor Belfort were also established names hovering around the title picture, making it exceedingly difficult for Franklin to break through into the title picture. He disposed of Evan Tanner (a former title challenger whose only UFC loss at the time was to Tito Ortiz) with relative ease at UFC 42 before scoring another relatively easy victory at UFC 44 over Edwin Dewees. Realizing he didn’t have enough of an established name at 205 lbs to break through for a while, Franklin decided to drop down to middleweight which was devoid of a champion and any major names at the time. It would be the best move of his career.

Franklin’s first fight at middleweight for the UFC was against a tough veteran in Jorge Rivera, scoring a finish with 32 seconds left. Recognizing his ability and wanting to add a name fans would recognize to his resume, the UFC matched him against Ken Shamrock in a one-off at light heavyweight at The Ultimate Fighter Finale. Franklin again walked out with an easy win, but his victory was overshadowed that night by the epic slugfest between Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar. Still, the victory set up a title shot in a rematch with Evan Tanner, this time at middleweight.

Tanner had only recently won the belt at UFC 51 after it had been vacant for almost two years following Murilo Bustamante’s defection from the UFC. He wasn’t exactly a well-known commodity, but was a deserving champion as Franklin remained his last defeat. They squared off at UFC 53 in June of 2005. From the beginning of the fight, Franklin dominated. His sound striking and reach advantage proved to be too much for Tanner to overcome, and Franklin pieced him up until the referee stopped the fight in the fourth round with Tanner’s face swollen beyond recognition. Franklin was the new champion.

More than just the title was on the line. A coaching spot on the second season of the Ultimate Fighter was also decided, and the public got a look into Franklin’s personality as well. Opposite of Matt Hughes, Franklin came across in a more favorable light than the Welterweight Champion, as many felt Hughes was self-righteous, uncaring, and hypocritical, whereas Franklin was seen as easy-going and likeable while caring more about his fighters than just winning the contest. Co-headlining UFC 56 along with Hughes for his first title defense, Franklin was facing Nate Quarry, a contestant from the first season of the Ultimate Fighter. Few felt Quarry deserved the shot, but there were no viable candidates to face the recently crowned champion. Franklin was largely in a no-win situation as he was expected to win with ease, meaning he had little to gain. What he delivered ended up being the greatest highlight of his career. Franklin had knocked Quarry down in under two minutes before Quarry fought back to his feet. About 30 seconds later, Franklin landed a straight left that stiffened Quarry like a board and dropped him to the floor, out cold before he hit the ground; that sent him into highlight reel infamy for the rest of his career.

Franklin’s second defense came against David Loiseau at UFC 58. For the first time in his UFC career, Franklin was unable to score a finish. That didn’t make his victory any less impressive. Franklin dominated Loiseau throughout despite suffering a broken left hand and torn ligaments in his right early in the fight. Despite the injuries, Franklin was able to earn two 50-42 scorecards and the other at 50-43. Loiseau was never the same fighter after the loss, as he would develop pre-fight anxiety before every fight following his loss to Franklin.

After healing up from his injuries, Franklin would defend against a Brazilian largely unknown to American fans at the time in Anderson Silva. Silva had torn through Chris Leben in his UFC debut in a manner impressive enough to warrant a title shot. Franklin was a 2-to-1 favorite going in as his track record only had one loss on it (to future UFC champ Lyoto Machida in 2003) while Silva had a history of mental lapses, including being caught in a scissor heel hook by Ryo Chonan. Little did anyone know that Silva was about to put all of his physical skills together for what would serve as the most dominant reign the UFC had ever seen. Thinking Silva’s wiry frame wouldn’t be able to deal with the strength of his own larger frame, Franklin figured he would have the advantage in the clinch. He was dead wrong. Silva landed knee after knee from the clinch and devastated the champion in a manner no one thought possible. Franklin’s reign was over in just under three minutes.

Determined to climb the mountain once again, Franklin had few problems with Jason MacDonald before dispatching of Yushin Okami in a hard fought unanimous decision to earn another shot at Silva. Silva was the favorite this time, but most expected Franklin to put on a more competitive showing this time around. While he was able to last a bit longer, the result was largely the same. Franklin had to be carried to his stool by his corner men at the end of round one after Silva once again devastated him in the clinch along with a series of punches that dropped him before the end of the round. Franklin had little left to offer, but went back out there only for Silva to finish what he started a little over a minute after the round began. Franklin would never challenge for a belt again.

After one more fight at middleweight (a victory over Travis Lutter), Franklin would move up to light heavyweight, hoping a fresh start in a new division would lead to a potential title shot at 205 lbs. After defeating Matt Hamill, Franklin would only face former UFC, Pride, or Strikeforce champions to close his career, alternating wins (Wanderlei Silva twice and Chuck Liddell) and losses (Dan Henderson, Vitor Belfort, Forrest Griffin, and Le). It was also during this time that Franklin became the UFC’s go-to-guy in terms of asking for favors. Wanderlei wanted a test run at 195 lbs before making his official middleweight debut; who was willing to meet him at 195 lbs? Most middleweights felt that would give Wanderlei an unfair strength advantage, while most light heavyweights felt they couldn’t make the weight. Franklin didn’t mind. Belfort wanted the same thing for his UFC return. Again, Franklin obliged.

Tito Ortiz would end up pulling out of his coaching stint on TUF season 11 when he opted for neck surgery. Who stepped in to finish the coaching season and face Liddell? Franklin. Belfort broke his hand before his scheduled rematch with Wanderlei. Anyone willing to face Wanderlei for a 25 minute fight? Who else would do it but Franklin? Franklin would end up winning both of those fights, including KO’ing Liddell despite having a broken arm. He would earn KO of the Night against Liddell while earning Fight of the Night against Henderson, and in his second bout with Wanderlei.

Franklin’s final fight came against former Strikeforce Middleweight Champion Le. Franklin had returned to middleweight thinking he might be able to make one final push for the title. This would mark his first official fight at 185 lbs in over four years. It was expected to be an exciting fight, as both were primarily strikers. After a little over two minutes without any serious engagements – with both feeling one another out – Le was able to land a right hand on the chin of Franklin that sent him sprawling facedown to the canvas, out cold.

Was it the ideal ending to Franklin’s career? No, of course not. But at the same time, it feels right. The shot Franklin took from Le appeared to be glancing at first until the replay showed the solid connection. What it did definitively show is that Franklin’s chin wasn’t what it once was. After losing once to strikes over the first seven years of his career, Franklin would lose four times in that manner over the course of the last six years, all of them in a very violent manner. Franklin would end up moving on, opening up a smoothie shop in 2013 and becoming the VP of ONE Championship, the largest MMA promotion in Asia. Fortunately Franklin was able to fall back upon his education, something many fighters are unable to do.

Franklin was one of my favorite fighters due to his Chuck Liddell-esque willingness to fight anyone at any time, yet he wasn’t seen in that manner. He was a proven finisher with 10 of his 14 UFC victories coming by way of stoppage, including 9 by KO/TKO. But for some reason he never achieved the level of fame of some of his contemporaries. Was it because he was too clean cut? That he wasn’t edgy enough? It can’t be that he had a boring style… his history of finishes and number of FOTN awards proved otherwise. What was it? It is hard to say exactly, but regardless his career was remarkable, one that 99% of fighters would love to call their own. Rather than hope he will receive the recognition I feel he deserves in comparison to some of his contemporaries, I’ll settle for hoping he finds satisfaction in his future endeavors.

On a further note, the KO would end up being the highlight of Cung Le’s UFC career. Le would only fight four times in the organization before leaving under less than ideal circumstances as he popped for PED’s following his loss to Michael Bisping in 2014. Le denies to this day that he took anything, and his claim is validated by the fact that the drug testing at the event was mishandled by the UFC staff, rendering his test obsolete. Unhappy about the treatment he received following the bungled handling of the situation, Le asked the UFC to release him, and he’s since joined up the class-action cause against the organization.

The event itself was the UFC’s first venture into China, foreshadowing a further future foray with TUF China. The experiment largely turned out to be a disappointment, as the amount of talent in China wasn’t ready to be mined, and the country itself doesn’t seem as though it is ready for the sport. A little over a year after crowning its first TUF China winner in Zhang Lipeng, the UFC cut Lipeng as well as its losses. Will the UFC return to China again? Probably, but it will be a while before that happens again as it shows no signs of renewing interest in China as there are no known plans to have an event there once again after three trips there over two years time.


This Week in MMA History

November 8, 2014: For the fourth (and currently last time), the UFC ran two events on the same day with UFC Fight Night 55 and 56 from Australia and Brazil, respectively, being held. Luke Rockhold thumped on Michael Bisping in a manner that hasn’t been seen before or since in Australia, while Ovince St. Preux easily disposed of Shogun Rua in Brazil.

November 9, 2013: Relevant to today’s current MMA temperature, Vitor Belfort KO’d Dan Henderson with a head kick at UFC Fight Night 32 in Brazil to even up their series. That would be the last bout for Belfort using TRT as well as capping off a 2013 in which he scored three straight head kick KOs. It was also the first time Henderson was KO’d in his long illustrious career.

November 12, 1993: The first UFC event was held in Denver, Colorado in an effort to prove which martial art was the most effective. Put together by Art Davie and Rorion Gracie, Gracie believed that BJJ, an art perfected by his family, would emerge victorious and ended up being right as his younger brother Royce would run through the tournament with ease and establish the Gracie family dynasty, and the birth of a new sport.

November 12, 2011: The UFC made its debut on a major network, as it held its first event on Fox. Looking to make a splash, Cain Velasquez put his Heavyweight Title on the line against Junior dos Santos. With both fighters entering the bout hobbled, dos Santos landed an overhand right to the temple of the champ and followed him to the ground to finish him with some punches, ending the fight about a minute into it and crowning him the new champion. This was the only fight televised despite a 10 fight card that also crowned a new #1 contender, as Benson Henderson defeated Clay Guida in what was a Fight of the Year contender.

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