Former Middleweight Champion Rich Franklin returned to Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) last weekend (June 23, 2012) at UFC 147 in Brazil after a 16-month absence, taking a dramatic, come-from-behind victory from hometown hero Wanderlei Silva.
Following the bout, he wasted little time in declaring his ambitions.
"I would like to make a title run before I retire. I don't know who I will be fighting next, but I believe if Wanderlei had beaten me, they would have given him a title shot against the winner of Silva and Sonnen."
After being forced out of the middleweight division by the back-to-back losses to Anderson Silva, "Ace" has been competing in higher weight classes but Franklin feels he is back where he belongs and is not content to cruise through the final fights of his career as a gatekeeper.
He wants to be a title contender.
The road to that final title shot began in Belo Horizonte when he fought "The Axe Murderer" at a catchweight of 190 pounds. Franklin had originally been preparing for a fight against Cung Le at UFC 148 the following month, but when Vitor Belfort got injured, he answered the matchmaker's call.
"Fortunately I started my camp for Cung a little over a week early, so conditioning was not a question. I was more worried about making weight, which is why the fight was set at a catchweight. I did have some reservations about accepting the fight because there were a number of factors against me: I hadn't fought since February of 2011 and I had shoulder surgery in that time, my fight preparation time was cut short by two weeks, I was dropping to almost 185 for the first time in four years, my fight was switched from three to five rounds and we believed Wanderlei was a tougher fight."
The fight seemed close to being stopped toward the end of the second round when Franklin found himself covering up as Silva rained down punches and hammer fists. The referee was taking a very close look at the action and the former champion believes the instincts he had honed during his 13 year professional career probably kicked in and saved him.
"I don't even remember the second round...or the third, or the fourth. That was my body moving on auto pilot to do what it has been trained to do. You can see I attempted an armbar, sloppy as it was, and stood up to take him down. Mario Yamasaki is a great referee, and I am glad I had someone in there with his experience."
For the first time in his career Franklin based his training camp outside of the US, spending six weeks at Evolve MMA in Singapore in preparation for what he thought would be a fight against Cung Le.
"I did a seminar down there with Matt Hume at Evolve last year, and was very impressed with the school, from both the instructor and facility perspectives and most of the trainers are world champions, be it in boxing, Muay Thai or BJJ. It's definitely the number one camp in Asia and after speaking with Chatri about putting my camp together, I was convinced we could conduct a good camp."
Franklin feels the training in Singapore has made him into a much better fighter and enjoyed being able to work with trainers who have a slightly different skill set from the ones in the US.
"I worked on my striking with a guy called Namsaknoi who was a champion in Thailand. I don't think there is a Muay Thai trainer with his credentials anywhere in America and he showed me some new things. Not only did I work with the champions who were already there, but Evolve brought in Wushu guys to help me get ready for Cung. I am sure it will not be my last time there because I had a great time training, got in great quality training and we put a great game plan together for Cung."
Franklin is now 37 and it is six years since he last had the UFC middleweight title around his waist and the fight with Silva was also the first time he had gone the full five rounds since 2006. He says he had no problems fighting for 25 minutes, but admits that training is not as easy as it once was.
"Conditioning has never been a problem for me because I am one of the hardest working fighters in the business. I am getting older and I need to train smarter. Your body will remind you of that, and mine did several times while I was at Evolve. We made adjustments in the training, though."
Franklin is back were he belongs at 185 pounds and another title shot would be a fitting reward for the years of service he's given the UFC. He will probably have to win at least another fight first, but after beating Silva in Brazil, he is on track for a storybook finish to what has been a stellar career.