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What’s next for Rich Franklin in the UFC?

Rich FranklinRich Franklin surprised a lot of MMA fans with his performance at UFC 115. Rich Franklin knocked out Chuck Liddell and thrust himself right back into the elite mix of UFC fighters. Does the UFC have a great comeback story or another fighter who can sell more tickets than win more fights?

I have never been a big fan of Rich Franklin and anyone that has read my previous blogs is well aware of my feelings on the former UFC middleweight champion. I have always found Franklin to be an overrated fighter. However I must say I was very impressed with his performance at UFC 115 vs. Chuck Liddell. I haven’t seen Franklin look that good in ages.

Now the argument could easily be made that Rich Franklin was on his way to losing the fight before he knocked out the “Iceman.” Liddell was peppering Franklin with a great mix of strikes and had Franklin on the ropes several times throughout the round. I don’t think that Franklin could have handled that pace for two more rounds with a broken arm. But at the end of the day he did what he needed to do and won the fight. It was an extremely gutsy performance by Rich Franklin and worthy of praise.

In my opinion the problem with Rich Franklin is that he is better than the mid-tier of MMA fighters but not good enough to hang with the elite mix of UFC competitors. This is why it is imperative for the UFC to keep him out of the middleweight division. Franklin was destroyed twice by Anderson Silva. By all rights Franklin is arguably the second best fighter in the division because it is so weak (probably the weakest in the UFC). So by continuing to promote Franklin in the middleweight division, the UFC would be obligated for a Franklin vs. Silva rematch which nobody wants to see. So the first step to making Rich Franklin’s comeback work is to keep him in the UFC light heavyweight division.

Ironically the problem here is that the UFC light heavyweight division is just too good (the best in the UFC in my opinion). So there is only so much you can do with Franklin. No way is Rich Franklin beating Shogun Rua or Lyoto Machida. The top guys are just too fast for the “Ace. ” Yet there are a few intriguing matchups in the division for Rich Franklin.

Rich Franklin vs. Forrest Griffin – I think this is the logical next step for Franklin. I think Franklin could really give Griffin fits with his leg kicks and take downs. It may not be the most exciting fight, but Franklin would really have an edge here with his wrestling background. Forrest on the other hand desperately needs a big win to jump back into the elite mix. A win for either guy is a big win for the UFC. There are rumors of a Forrest Griffin vs. Rampage Jackson on the horizon so this fight may not be available. If Griffin is available, I like this matchup a lot for the “Ace.”

Rich Franklin vs. Rampage Jackson – This is a really intriguing fight right here which reflects the Rampage vs. Rashad match on paper. Franklin would definitely want to take Rampage to the ground and ground and pound him for three rounds. I think he would have the edge on Rampage as far as speed goes. However, Rampage could very easily catch Franklin and corner him with strikes. If Rampage can cut off the cage and trap Franklin into a slug fest like Vitor Belfort did, game over. The fight would give Rampage a big win needed to jump back into the title picture. A win by Franklin immediately puts him into consideration for a shot at the champion or number two.

Rich Franklin vs. Thiago Silva – This is a really tricky fight right here. Silva has lost two of his last three fights in the UFC. Silva looks like a stepping stone but he is a lot better than his record. I’d almost look at Franklin as a sacrificial lamb here to get Silva back into the elite mix. I think Silva would rock Franklin and frustrate him through three rounds. But at the same time, Silva is an immature fighter who plays right into Franklin’s hands. Franklin loves to get in and out and frustrate his opponents in the early rounds, which usually leaves them tired and angry by the third and deciding round. Franklin has a really good shot here and the win would give Franklin a win over a ranked fighter under 30. A win over Thiago Silva won’t hold the same weight among casual fans as a win over Rampage or Forrest, but hardcore MMA fans will immediately appreciate the comeback of the “Ace” and start talking about a Franklin vs. Rua title match down the line.

Rich Franklin vs. Tito Ortiz – This is a bit of a throwaway for Franklin. This fight would be about one thing and that is selling tickets. A win over Tito Ortiz does nothing for Franklin in the rankings and would probably hurt his reputation among hardcore MMA fans. Winning your last three of four fights against aging fighters like Ortiz, Chuck Liddell, and Wanderlei Silva is not something that will get you a whole lot of respect in the MMA world. Unfortunately there is too much money left on the table for the UFC not to make this fight. Franklin taking Ortiz’s spot, Franklin looking to knock out Ortiz as something of a tribute to Chuck Liddell, this fight has big money written all over it. The fight would also retard Franklin’s progress towards a title shot as other guys jump over him who fight and beat the guys in the top five. I don’t necessarily like it, but I see it coming.

Rich Franklin vs. Randy Couture – When Randy Couture is done taking mismatches, Rich Franklin is right around the corner. There is no way I see Couture matching well against Franklin’s strength and speed. Couture may have a better pedigree on the ground, but age has caught up to “Captain America.” Like an Ortiz fight, there is really no upside here other than selling tickets and a big payday for Rich Franklin. Also like the Ortiz fight, Franklin could wind up with a lot of negative backlash as being seen as a guy who takes fights against aging fighters and ducks elite competition. At some point Randy Couture is going to have to actually “fight” someone other than a gassed out Mark Coleman or an aging boxer with zero MMA experience. Franklin is the perfect opponent for Couture, but I am not so sure Couture would be the perfect fight for Franklin.

So the question that the UFC has to answer is whether they really think Rich Franklin could make a run at the UFC light heavyweight title. If the answer is yes, the UFC needs to make Franklin put up or shut up with a match against a top five fighter like Forrest Griffin or Rampage Jackson and see exactly where the “Ace” is. If the answer is no, cash in now with Rich Franklin vs. Tito Ortiz or make Franklin a sacrificial lamb to someone like Thiago Silva or Jon Jones who could use a win against a name fighter.

The big question is not what to do next with Rich Franklin, it is what not to do with Rich Franklin if you are the UFC.

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Eric G.

Eric is the owner and editor-in-chief of the Camel Clutch Blog. Eric has worked in the pro wrestling industry since 1995 as a ring announcer in ECW and a commentator/host on television, PPV, and home video. Eric also hosted Pro Wrestling Radio on terrestrial radio from 1998-2009. Check out some of Eric's work on his IMDB bio and Wikipedia. Eric has an MBA from Temple University's Fox School of Business.

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