Rich Franklin is stepping back into the octagon Saturday night at UFC 115 to face former light-heavyweight champion Chuck Liddell in an important bout that will determine the fate of both aging stars careers.
It’s been nine months since Franklin was knocked out by Vitor Belfort in the first round of a 195-pound catch weight fight. Before that, he was able to grind out a unanimous decision victory over the aging Wanderlei Silva. The fight before that, he dropped a close split decision to Dan Henderson.
Having lost two of three fights, Franklin requested time off after the Belfort fight to regroup and regain his composure. It’s been 14 months since Liddell’s last fight in which he was knocked out by current champion Mauricio “Shogun” Rua.
So what do we make of this fight?
Both men have their backs up against the proverbial wall. They each need a win to remain relevant.
For Franklin the timing and opponent were what made him decide this was the right opportunity to jump back in the octagon.
“Dana (White) called me and asked me if I could fight in June, and June would have been the right time anyway,” Franklin said. “The only reason why I accepted this in the first place is because the UFC asked me to. But when you have an opportunity to fight someone like Chuck, it’s just not something that you can turn down.”
The opportunity came about because Liddell’s original opponent, Tito Ortiz, pulled out of the fight just a week before the end of filming of the "Ultimate Fighter" reality series.
Franklin picked up the ball and stepped in to coach Ortiz’s squad for the final week.
Franklin needs to improve from his last outing and thinks his training camp will prepare him for the bout, unlike what happened to him before the Belfort fight.
“For me honestly I think that fight was lost six weeks before the fight even began,” he said. “Just the fact that I was mentally cashed and would start walking into the gym and the moment you walk in you look at the clock and count down the minutes until the time that you leave. That’s never a good thing. You can’t be focused on your workout and putting in 100 percent effort like you need to be when walking into the octagon.”
The fight headlines the UFC’s first foray into Vancouver, British Columbia. If the UFC’s other cards in Canada (three in Montreal) are any indication, the crowd should be fired up and ready to see two legends battle it out. Tickets to the event sold out just 30 minutes after they went on sale.
Like every time the UFC ventures into a new market for the first time some of the local media and politicians decry the sport and call it “barbaric.” Franklin, who was a math teacher before he became a full-time fighter, did his best to answer questions that those who he said were uneducated about the sport might have.
“This really is a physical chess match,” he said. “Chuck and I have spent the last 8-10 weeks prepping specifically for each other. Often times he’s the first person I think about when I get up in the morning and the last person I think about before I go to bed. And I spend many hours of my day statistically just prepping for this one night come June 12.”
Both men have come upon a crossroad in their careers. Only one of them will walk out believing they can make another run at a championship. The other must re-evaluate how much longer they have in the sport.