Rich Franklin is 37 years old. He is the former UFC middleweight champion who, when he signed on to fight Cung Le at UFC 148, expressed road-weary relief to be headed back home to 185 pounds. It had been too long, and Franklin never felt comfortable at 205 pounds.
But his return route to middleweight has become a scenic detour that now involves fighting Wanderlei Silva at UFC 147 in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. These things are always as complicated as they are poetic. As he slowly adapted into becoming a light heavyweight, Franklin fought Silva at a catchweight of 195 pounds at UFC 99 --- a fight he won the fight via unanimous decision. He lost two of the next three, including his last against Forrest Griffin at UFC 126.
On the way back down, he’s transitioning with -- surprise! – a fight against Silva at a catchweight of 190 pounds. Just to be clear, when Franklin went up before, it was because he was on his way down. Now that he’s going back down, he’s doing it with designs of heading back up. Silva has stood in his way both directions.
So is Franklin. But even in all the confusion, if there’s been one constant to his post-champion career, it’s this -- dude has a hard time saying "no." When the UFC calls needing a favor, Franklin is on speed dial. He has gotten the UFC out of more jams than he’ll ever be able to recount in his rocking chair days. And he did it again when Vitor Belfort broke his hand ahead of UFC 147 and left the card without a main event.
The UFC knew just who to call. There’s always an “Ace” up matchmaker Joe Silva’s sleeve.
And if Franklin’s serious about making one last go at the title, this fight makes more sense for a variety of reasons. For one, Franklin isn’t buried in the stacked UFC 148 deck. He’ll be fighting in his first main event since UFC 115, when he stood in against Chuck Liddell when Tito Ortiz went down. The math is simple: Being the spotlight of an otherwise weak card is better than being dwarfed by Chael Sonnen/Anderson Silva II.
And besides, Silva is higher up in the middleweight pecking order than Le. As a matter of fact, Silva just defeated Le at UFC 139. If Franklin were to beat Le it would have been a decent notch, but it wouldn’t have helped get a man in his late thirties with three fights left on his UFC contract any closer to gold.
Silva at least does. This is the shrewder mindset that Franklin’s camp had to come to grips with in a 24-hour period of contemplation and Skyping while he was in Singapore preparing for Le. It wasn’t an easy decision.
What are the cons? Well, he was in Singapore preparing for Le, and Le is a kickboxer that played to Franklin’s strengths. Now he’ll have to shift focus, come back to America and process a rematch with a three-alarm, stand-up brawler. Franklin’s also fighting two weeks earlier than he was expecting to on June 23, so his training camp just got accelerated. This is why he negotiated a catchweight of 190 pounds.
The other thing is he fights Silva, who has everything to gain by beating Franklin in his native Brazil. Go back over the last couple of cards in Rio and see how many Americans actually emerged victorious. (The answer is one -- Mike Pyle at UFC 142. The overall record for Americans fighting Brazilians in Brazil is 1-8).
Having spoke to Franklin’s camp, I can tell you one thing -- it wasn’t the most enticing scenario to stomach. Not when you’ve been on the other side of the globe for a month training Thai boxing for a guy you’re being asked to forget about.
But Franklin is the company man, and has dutifully accepted the switch. “No” is a word he hates using. And in this case, his accepting the challenge wasn’t just to avoid leaving the UFC in the lurch. Franklin is a competitor who wants to get one more crack at the belt.
And for as crazy as it sounds, if that’s Franklin’s ultimate destination, then Brazil becomes the better route.