UFC is presenting a strong cast of inductees for this year’s Hall of Fame class.
The ceremony takes place this Friday night on UFC Fight Pass and going in will be Rich Franklin, Michael Bisping, and Rashad Evans.
All three fighters held UFC gold and headlined major shows. All three are also products of the Spike era with Franklin headlining the first live show on Spike against Ken Shamrock, and Bisping and Evans both being early “Ultimate Fighter” winners and eventually coaches.
We thought it would be fun to contrast and compare the three candidates, not to see whether they belong in the Hall of Fame or not because they’re all deserving of the honor, but to compare the strengths of their careers in a few categories.
For the purposes of this article, we’ll look at the careers of Franklin, Bisping, and Evans through the lenses of their in-cage records, pay-per-view buy outcomes, and the success of their championship reigns. For each category, we’ll select a winner and try and come up with a final power ranking. With that out of the way, let’s get down to it:
Rich Franklin had the earliest start to his professional career, making his debut in 1999 with a win over Michael Martin. He remained undefeated until losing a catchweight bout to Lyoto Machida at Inoki Bom Ba Ye on New Year’s Eve 2003. He finished with a 29-7 career record with one no contest and a .806 winning percentage. Franklin has also been out of the cage the longest, last fighting in 2012, a knockout loss to Cung Le. His UFC record was 14-6 with a .700 winning percentage.
Bisping debuted in 2004 with an early submission win over Steve Matthews. He made his UFC debut at the TUF 3 finale, taking out Josh Haynes in the second round. His first career loss was actually to Evans, in his fifteenth pro fight. It was a split decision, but it was enough to send Bisping down to middleweight for the rest of his career. Bisping closed out his career with a short notice knockout loss to Kelvin Gastelum, just weeks after losing his middleweight title to Georges St-Pierre. With a 30-9 career record, he had one more win than Franklin but his .769 winning percentage is slightly worse. His 20-9 UFC record was stronger though, but his .690 UFC winning percentage is slightly behind Franklin’s.
Evans career started and ended just months apart from Bisping’s. He had fewer fights overall and finished with a 19-8-1 record. Evans holds that head to head win over Bisping of course and also stayed undefeated until his fifteenth pro fight. Taking out the draw, Evans had a winning percentage of .704. His UFC record was 14-8-1 with a .538 winning percentage, by far the weakest of the three. Losing his last five fights and probably sticking around a little longer than he should have hurt Evans in this category.
Verdict: While Rich Franklin might have had the benefit of coming up in a less competitive era and joining the UFC a little deeper in his career, the numbers don’t lie and his career and UFC winning percentages are the strongest of the group. He also had only one less win than Bisping and had the least losses of the group.
All three fighters headlined multiple pay-per-view events. They also headlined many TV cards, but it’s difficult to compare TV ratings across eras and outlets. Many factors can influence a TV rating, such as lead-in, competition, the night of the week, time of day, etc. So we’ll just use PPV numbers when these three were in the top-billed fight as it’s an easier apples to apples comparison.
Rich Franklin’s first PPV headlining bout was at UFC 56 against Nate “The Rock” Quarry. This was the culmination of the second season of “The Ultimate Fighter” he coaches opposite Matt Hughes. Rather than fight each other, which wasn’t going to happen, both Hughes and Franklin defended their titles on this show. UFC 56 did about 200,000 buys, not a blow away number but this was early in the Spike era and still a few months before things really blew up on pay-per-view for UFC.
His UFC 58 fight against David Loiseau did about 300,000 buys as did his title loss to Anderson Silva at UFC 64. Franklin was then used frequently as a non-title headliner for overseas shows, the first of which was UFC 72 against Yushin Okami that did 200,000 buys. From there, he had his rematch against Anderson Silva that improved on the first fight, doing 325,000 buys.
Though he never fought for a championship again, Franklin headlined five more pay-per-views: UFC 93 against Dan Henderson (350,000), UFC 99 against Wanderlei Silva (360,000), UFC 103 against Vitor Belfort (375,000), UFC 115 against Chuck Liddell (520,000), and UFC 147 against Wanderlei Silva (140,000).
Overall, Rich Franklin headlined ten UFC PPVs with a peak of 520,000 buys and an average of 307,000 buys per show.
Despite being such a UFC mainstay, Bisping only headlined four pay-per-view events. He was a key support player in many events, including the ultra-successful UFC 100, and main evented many TV cards, but he was only in the top-billed fight at UFC 78 against Evans (400,000), UFC 199 against Luke Rockhold (320,000), UFC 204 against Henderson (290,000) and UFC 217 against St-Pierre (875,000).
Bisping’s PPV peak was higher than Franklin, and his average of 471,250 buys per show is higher, although with a much smaller sample size.
Rashad Evans headlined nearly as many shows as Franklin did with nine pay-per-view main events. His first was the UFC 78 fight against Bisping (400,000), followed by UFC 88 against Liddell (480,000), UFC 92 against Forrest Griffin (1,000,000), UFC 98 against Machida (635,000), UFC 108 against Thiago Silva (300,000), UFC 114 against Quinton Jackson (1,050,000), UFC 133 against Tito Ortiz (310,000), UFC 145 against Jon Jones (700,000), and finally UFC 161 against Henderson (140,000).
Evans clearly peaked higher than Franklin and Bisping with two shows breaking the million buy mark. UFC 92 had strong support from Frank Mir vs. Antonio Nogueira and Rampage vs. Wanderlei Silva, but UFC 114 against Rampage was a show he can take full credit for. Until McGregor vs. Diaz, Evans vs. Rampage was the most bought UFC show headlined by a non-title fight. Evans had the strongest average of the group with 557,222 buys per show.
Verdict: The numbers indicate Evans is the clear strongest pay-per-view draw of the group with the highest peak and biggest average. Franklin headlined one more show than Evans did, but when he was on top, Evans was one of UFC’s true top stars.
All three men had one UFC championship reign. Franklin and Bisping were middleweight champions while Evans was light heavyweight champion.
Franklin won the championship with a doctor’s stoppage of Evan Tanner at UFC 53. He defended the title twice, against Quarry and Loiseau before losing his belt to Anderson Silva and then dropping the rematch as well.
Bisping famously stepped in on a few days notice to take the middleweight championship from Luke Rockhold at UFC 199. He defended the title once against Henderson before sitting on the belt for a bit then losing to St-Pierre at UFC 217.
Evans took the title from Griffin at UFC 92 and lost it to Lyoto Machida at UFC 98. He fought for the belt once more at UFC 145, losing to Jon Jones by decision.
Verdict: Franklin defended his title more than Bisping or Evans. You could argue that his reign was during a weaker era in the middleweight division, but Evans’ lack of a defense and Bisping’s selective matchmaking lead me to give the nod to Franklin.
Looking at the three criteria discussed above, I would rank Rich Franklin as the strongest Hall of Fame candidate of the bunch with Bisping and Evans trailing very closely behind. Franklin had an excellent record that wasn’t tainted by a string of losses late in his career. His PPV numbers were always solid and he had the strongest championship reign of the three. Bisping and Evans both had so-so championship runs. Evans was clearly the stronger draw but Bisping had the overall better fighting record. In the end, all three men make for great Hall of Fame candidates and had memorable and admirable careers.
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