Former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Middleweight Champion Rich Franklin faces part-time movie star and Sanshou specialist Cung Le this Saturday (Nov. 10, 2012) in the main event of UFC on FUEL TV 6 at the CotaiArena in Macao, China.
This fight is an interesting style match-up in that features two of the top (and contrasting) ways fighters came into the sport of mixed martial arts (MMA). Cung represents the traditional martial artist who started in a striking art and expanded his game as he got into MMA, whereas Franklin watched tapes of UFC fights and began training out of his garage. Both eventually became champions and are on the tail end of their careers.
Does "Ace" have the skills to send Le back to Hollywood?
Let's take a closer look.
When Rich first came to UFC, his stand up consisted of mostly sloppy boxing. His head movement was non-existent and he made basic mistakes like crossing his feet. After years of refinement and training at famed camps like AMC Pankration, Miletich Fighting Systems, and Evolve MMA, Rich has become a dangerous counter striker.
His striking is still primarily boxing based. He likes to work the jab, before leaping in and throwing a straight left. Rich mostly throws three-punch combos; he likes to leap in, quickly attack and then circle away. Franklin rarely diverts from this pattern, only throwing straights and hooks.
To complement his boxing game, Rich has been working extensively on his kicks. He throws a high volume of inside leg kicks and likes to mix head kicks into his combinations when his opponent is hurt. One of his best kicks is his liver kick, which he used to crush Matt Hamill.
Rich is at his best when he is countering his opponents. His footwork is exceptional and he is quick enough to evade strikes and land his own. His fantastic counter striking is what allowed him to pick apart Wanderlei Silva twice, and knockout Chuck Liddell.
Franklin's love of lunging forward has its problems. When his opponents time it properly, they catch him coming in, which is how Wanderlei Silva nearly decapitated him in the second round of their most recent fight. Hendo also caught Rich as he jumped forward, hurting him badly.
Going forward always presents an opportunity for a takedown, and Forrest Griffin took advantage of this throughout the fight. Anderson Silva also benefited from Rich's over commitment, latching onto a Muay Thai clinch and delivering violent knees.
The other fault with his striking is that he is too aggressive with the liver kick. He doesn't protect himself when he throws it, and has been caught multiple times after he throws it.
Franklin never wrestled in high school or college, but has developed an impressive takedown game, even taking down skilled grapplers like Yushin Okami. Almost all of Rich's takedowns come from the clinch. He secures double under hooks and lifts them through the air, regardless of whether he is in front of them or behind them. When Rich does shoot for a takedown, he does a blast double leg in the center of the Octagon.
Rich has very good takedown defense, stuffing Olympian Dan Henderson and Matt Hamill multiple times. When he is taken down, he scrambles or wall walks back to his feet. The only fighter to successfully hold Franklin down for a win was Forrest Griffin, and he had a very significant strength advantage.
Franklin began his Jiu-Jitsu training by watching instructional videos of the "Gracie in Action" tapes. He later met up with his current BJJ trainer, Jorge Gurgel. Franklin has five career submission wins, all of them arm related (four arm bars and one Kimura). "Ace" hasn't had a submission win since 2004 against Jorge Rivera, at UFC 50.
Franklin has also never been submitted. This is mostly due to the fact that most of his fights stay standing, but on the rare occasions that his fights do go to the ground, he defends himself well. In his fight with Jason MacDonald, "The Athlete" went for a Kimura and switched to an armbar. Rich looked to be in trouble but defended beautifully. He pointed towards the mat with his thumb so that his arm wouldn't snap, then spun hard to his left, and got back to his knees.
Franklin is one of the very few fighters from his era that is still relevant. Despite his aggresive, lunging attacks, Rich has defended himself well enough that even after thirty fights, his chin holds up and he can recover from very powerful punches. "Ace" has only been knocked out by striking legends Anderson Silva, Lyoto Machida, and Belfort's vicious back of the head punches.
Even though Franklin is thirty-eight years old, he's never gassed. Franklin does an absurd strength and conditioning program, and goes into fights in better condition than his opponents. This was very apparent against Wanderlei, who was sucking wind after the third round. Cardio may be his biggest asset against Le, who has fatigued considerably in both of his UFC fights.
Best chance for success
Franklin has a very good chance against Le, and the odds makers agree, setting him as high as a -370 favorite. He is the superior grappler, so if he feels threatened standing he can go for a takedown. He is also active enough from his back to put Le in danger should Cung (a good wrestler) decide to take it to the mat. If the fight goes to the ground, Le could be in serious danger from every position.
Should Rich decide to keep it standing or be unable to take Le down, he is not outclassed on the feet. Rich's lunging style and excellent footwork should greatly benefit him, as Le absolutely needs this fight to stay at the kicking range. Franklin should stay too far away to be kicked, and try to cut angles until Le is close to the cage. From there, he should lung forward with heavy hooks and try to crush his foe.
If Franklin cannot get past Le's range, he is screwed. For the first couple rounds, anyway. After those, Le will tire and get sloppy. Unless Le has seriously revamped his training, his body isn't ready for a five-round fight. The longer the fight goes, the higher Rich's chance of success is.
Will Franklin's quest for a second UFC title reign end here, or will Le send him back to MMA purgatory?