Don't blink: An MMAmania.com UFC 103 interview exclusive with Hermes Franca

Hermes Franca has officially entered the twilight of his career at the age of 35.

He's been around the block a time or two and has put together some big wins while enduring a few losses along the way -- but he's still standing tall.

His mixed martial arts resume reads like a who’s-who list of some of the best fighters in the world including Mike Brown, Caol Uno, Josh Thomson, Jamie Varner, Nate Diaz, Spencer Fisher, Sean Sherk and Frankie Edgar.

Franca already has a WEC lightweight championship belt with his name on it but the UFC belt is something that has eluded him throughout his six-year tenure.

His fight against the aforementioned Sean Sherk at UFC 73 was his first and only shot at the belt to date, but unfortunately he was on the wrong end of a unanimous decision after twenty five minutes of battle.

Even if Franca would have defeated "The Muscle Shark," he would have been stripped of the belt because of a positive test for banned substances stemming from a post-fight drug test (Sherk was eventually stripped of the belt for his own positive test).

His route back to a title shot starts with finding a way to beat a man ten years his junior in Xtreme Couture product Tyson Griffin on September 19 at UFC 103 in Dallas, Texas.

Franca took some time out of his busy fight schedule to discuss Griffin, the possibility of a WEC-UFC merger, B.J. Penn and coloring his hair on a regular basis.

Check it out:

Derek Bolender (MMAmania.com): You haven’t fought since October 2008 at UFC 90 so it’s been roughly a year due to the knee injury you sustained. Was the rehab difficult for you mentally?

Hermes Franca: Actually I was expecting to fight again. I didn’t know how damaged it was. I had like an ACL, meniscus, and cartilage damage. It was really rough. The doctor said be careful and do the rehab. Day by day it was getting better so after four months I was teaching long hours in my classes. After five months I was training. Now I’m training hard. Thank god nothing is wrong with my knee now. Actually I’m feeling good. I’m feeling 100%. I’m able to do my cardio and conditioning. I’m able to do what I used to do.

But with the training I had to be careful because I was worried about my knee. I’ve never had to be careful with my training before. We always go hard. Thank god I didn’t get hurt again. Everything’s fine. I just finished my training and now I don’t have anything to do anymore but lose weight and step it up on fight night.

Derek Bolender (MMAmania.com): You just turned 35 recently. You’ve been fighting professionally for about eight years now. How much longer do you still want to fight and how will you know when it is time to walk away?

Hermes Franca: I don’t know. I think I can be able to fight long enough. I just have to respect my body. I think I got my injury because I fought like nine times in 2006. I have never fought nine times in a year – hard fights. I fought for the title. I fought like nine times in twelve months. I think I was hurting my body. If I am able to fight three times a year, four maximum, I think I can be able to fight many years.

Derek Bolender (MMAmania.com): How many fights do you have left on your contract?

Hermes Franca: I think I have two more fights – this week and one more.

Derek Bolender (MMAmania.com): Do you feel like you still have the ability to win a championship belt?

Hermes Franca: Of course. I don’t fight in the UFC for nothing. I’ve been in the UFC for six years. I’ve had some ups and downs but Hermes Franca is still going to hang in there. I always put on a good show. I think I’ve lost two times in the UFC – Sean Sherk, he’s like a number one contender and Frank Edgar, another great fighter. I think he just lost to Gray Maynard. I never disappoint my fans. I never disappoint the UFC. In my heart I do believe I can beat both again. I do believe I can get the belt.

Derek Bolender (MMAmania.com): You’ve fought a laundry list of top fighters in your career including Mike Brown, Frankie Edgar, and Sean Sherk. Who would you say was the toughest guy you have fought in your career?

Hermes Franca: Jamie Varner. He came really strong. Frank Edgar. He surprised me a lot. Every time I see him fight he gets better and better. It was a tough fight. Marcus Aurelio from this past year. At my weight everybody knows everything. Everyone knows jiu-jitsu, wrestling, and boxing so if you make a mistake it’s over. You can’t blink.

Derek Bolender (MMAmania.com): You’re a former WEC lightweight champion. Do you think the WEC should merge into the UFC and add those fighters under the UFC brand name?

Hermes Franca: That is what they’re saying but that is a lot of fighters for just one belt. Before it was just me, Yves Edwards, B.J Penn, not a lot. Now, oh my god, there are like fifty fighters in the lightweight division. It’s out of my hands though. Before you used to do three fights to get the title. Now you have to do like eight fights, maybe more, and if you lose you go to the back of the line.

Derek Bolender (MMAmania.com): The current UFC lightweight champion is, of course, B.J. Penn. He’s a guy you have trained with before. Is there anyone better than him in the world at 155 pounds?

Hermes Franca: I don’t think so. The guy has great skills. He submitted Kenny Florian. He knocked Sean Sherk out. He submitted Takanori Gomi. What can I say about the guy? Nobody is better than him. If one day we have to fight we’re going to be real professional, just for the title, that’s it. It would be a hard one for sure.

Derek Bolender (MMAmania.com): Some people still argue that Japanese fighter Shinya Aoki could still be the top lightweight in the world. Do you think Aoki could compete in the UFC?

Hermes Franca: I think so. Sooner or later he’s going to be in the UFC. I think UFC is growing show much that people can see UFC is the best. There’s really no competition. I think they’ll be able to get those Japanese fighters. I don’t think he’s in the top ten. If he wants to be in the top ten he has to fight against the UFC top ten guys and prove it.

Derek Bolender (MMAmania.com): You’re facing Tyson Griffin at UFC 103. What are his biggest strengths? What have you learned about him in your preparations?

Hermes Franca: We’ve spent a lot of time looking at his game. There’s no surprising him. I can see the kid is really strong. He has great cardio. We studied his game. I don’t want to spend my energy or time trying to knock him out or trying to submit him. In studying his game I see there are some mistakes so I want to take advantage. Not a lot. Just a couple mistakes and I want to go looking for them.

Derek Bolender (MMAmania.com): To me it seems like you will have a significant advantage on the ground with your jiu-jitsu against Griffin. Is that a weakness of his you will look to hone in on?

Hermes Franca: He’s a great fighter. I think in studying my game he knows I’m a good jiu-jitsu guy. Actually he fought against good Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belts like Marcus Aurelio, Gleison Tibau, and Thiago Tavares and he didn’t have any problems. I have seen him defend well against those guys, that is what I’m saying. I’m studying his game and I want to take advantage. I see mistakes. I can catch him.

Derek Bolender (MMAmania.com): Do you have an official prediction for the fight?

Hermes Franca: There are going to raise my hand. That’s my prediction. I do believe that. I wake up everyday and I say, "I’m going to win! I’m going to win! I’m a winner!" I’m there for six years and I train hard. Fighters come and go and come and go and I’m still there. I want to put on a great show and I want them to raise my hand.

Derek Bolender (MMAmania.com): Now for the most important question. Will you be coloring your hair for UFC 103?

Hermes Franca: (laughs) I’m not sure man. I think so. I’m going to dye my hair. That’s what I like to do. The UFC right now is a big show. Everyone is watching on TV. My fans are so excited to see me fighting, my family too. I am excited. I am so excited to step into the octagon again. I have missed it a lot.

Derek Bolender (MMAmania.com): So what’s it going to be? Pink or purple this time?

Hermes Franca: (laughs) I don’t know. We’ll see. I’m going to ask my son. I have some fans who texted me and said I need green hair. I’m not sure yet.

Derek Bolender (MMAmania.com): That’s all I had for you Hermes. Is there anything you would like to pass along to your fans out there or any sponsors you would like to thank?

Hermes Franca: I would like to say thank you to Tapout and Affliction. Big thanks to the UFC. I just want to put on a good show. If I put on a good show all my fans are going to be happy. I do it for my family and my fans. They are the best.

Derek Bolender (MMAmania.com): We appreciate the time. Best of luck.

Hermes Franca: Thank you very much.

Derek Bolender is a contributor to MMAmania.com and InsideFights.com. He is also syndicated to CBSSports.com and CNNSI.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/DerekMMAwriter and Facebook.com/Derek.Bolender.

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