Rich Franklin has had a career that will one day assuredly see him in the UFC Hall of fame. A former Middleweight champion who also has victories over legendary names like Ken Shamrock, Wanderlei Silva and Chuck Liddell when fighting above his natural class; Franklin is also the sort of well-spoken and intelligent ambassador for the sport that Zuffa drools over. After middling success at light heavyweight, Franklin is now set to return to the division he once dominated when he faces san shou expert Cung Le at UFC 148 in a middleweight bout.
The move back down to middleweight was suggested to UFC from Franklin and his camp, who have always felt it to be his natural weight class. It was UFC that initially wanted him to move up to light heavyweight after a pair of losses to current division kingpin Anderson Silva. Every the company man, Franklin agreed, but now sees his old divisional stomping grounds as the best way back to the top.
"I was reluctant to [go to 205] at first but eventually did and we recently talked to them about moving back down to 185. I am not a big 205er and my success in the weight class has been mixed. I think 185 is my true home so they were interested. They said “hey there are some good match-ups at 185 and they’ll be good for you”, so we’ll move in that direction. They presented me with Cung, I was kind of surprised by that but here we are."
Franklin seems to have a very clear narrative in mind for how he wants his return to the division to go. He makes it clear he won’t be satisfied with just showing up and collecting his “show” money. Although he is respectful to his upcoming opponent, it wasn’t the chance to fight Cung Le that convinced him to re-enter the middleweight ranks.
"[Another title run] is my Cinderella story. That’s absolutely exactly what I would want to do if I could end my career with a run at that title for 185 and getting the title for 185. What better story could you write then that? I don’t want to put their carriage before the horse, right now I’m worried about Cung Le and we’ll take care of that first."
Far from the bitter trash-talking that envelopes other pre-fight banter, the lead-in to Franklin-Le has been met with almost a jovial back and forth. Le took the opportunity in one interview to challenge Franklin to a wager on their fight, based on each man’s vice of choice. Le’s being chocolate, and Franklin’s being Krispy Kreme donuts. Never one to back down from a challenge, Franklin addressed the challenge head-on and with tongue planted firmly in cheek.
I’ll tell you what I’ve thrown down the chocolate and Krispy Kreme donuts wager gauntlet Cung. Plan on us hanging out after the fight that night and loser buys [for] the winner.
If Franklin manages to defeat Le and perhaps another ranked contender or two, a shot at the belt that once resided around his waist could be within his grasp. The man that took the title from him, Silva, is now fighting Chael Sonnen in one of the most hyped fights of the year. While Franklin sees the bout as being a tough one for “The Spider”, he predicts his old foe will retain.
"If I had to make a prediction on that fight, assuming that both fighters come in healthy their best versions of themselves, I would pick Anderson. The reason why, Chael had a great fight last time but a lot of that would depend on the fact that he clipped Anderson in the first round and that really took Anderson by surprise in my opinion. I think that’s a testament to Anderson’s fighting ability to be able to work through with that kind of fight it takes someone with a tremendous amount of heart to be able to do that. I don’t see him letting that happen a second time so if Chael’s going to beat Anderson he needs to be able to come up with a different way of getting him down on the ground."
Franklin’s journey back to another crack at Silva begins at UFC 148 with Cung Le and hopefully a post-fight meal of Krispy Kreme donuts.
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