Former UFC middleweight champion Rich Franklin (25-5) has reportedly agreed to return to the light heavyweight division to face Chuck Liddell (21-7) at UFC 115 in Vancouver after Tito Ortiz was forced to withdraw from the June 12 event for undisclosed reasons.
MMAWeekly confirmed the change in opponents based on an initial report by Fighter's Only earlier today.
Speculation had been mounting regarding the inclusion of Ortiz for the upcoming Canadian event after "The Huntington Beach Bad Boy" and wife Jenna Jameson continued to post discouraging tweets via their official Twitter accounts.
It's unclear at this time whether or not Ortiz was able to complete his duties as coach on the upcoming season of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 11 but "Ace" is expected to take his place opposite "The Iceman" in June.
Franklin has been on the sidelines ever since a first round technical knockout loss to Vitor Belfort at last November's UFC 103 event in Dallas. Despite a narrow victory over Wanderlei Silva at UFC 99, the former school teacher went 1-2 in his 2009 fight campaign after losing a close split decision to Dan Henderson to start the year.
While his star may have faded ever since he was obliterated by current division kingpin Anderson Silva in 2006 (and again in 2007), Franklin is still a top level competitor with good hands and an underrated ground game (Ace has never been submitted).
He should prove to be a much stiffer test for the icy one if they indeed square off this June.
Liddell hasn't competed since a technical knockout loss to Mauricio "Shogun" Rua at UFC 97: "Redemption" from the Bell Center in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, back in April 2009. In fact, since his last stoppage over Ortiz, he's only had one victory in five attempts, a gritty unanimous decision win over Wanderlei Silva at UFC 79 in Dec. 2007.
Company president Dana White tried to convince his good friend and big time money-making machine to hang up the gloves, saying he had made a ton of cash and had nothing left to prove. Liddell — who will be 40 years old by the time his Vancouver fight rolls around — was adamant that he's still got some fight left in him.
The two-time TUF coach just wanted a little time to "give his brain a rest" -- and tear up the dance floor on ABC's "Dancing with the Stars."
Now it's back to business for the former light heavyweight champion -- but he should consider himself on borrowed time if he's unable to put forth an impressive performance on June 12.
In addition to Liddell vs. Franklin, UFC 115 is expected to feature a heavyweight mash-up between Mirko Cro Cop and Pat Barry while welterweights Martin Kampmann and Paulo Thiago make their case for 170-pound contendership.
Stay tuned to MMAmania.com for future updates on this still-developing fight card.