In 2005, they met again -- albeit at Middleweight -- and with much higher stakes.
Tanner had recently won the vacant Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Middleweight title by overcoming an early onslaught from David Terrell and capping off his performance with an amazing comeback.
Franklin had returned to the UFC two months before and knocked out Ken Shamrock on live television in a brief respite at light heavyweight. The impressive win, coupled with his then 19-1 record and his previous win over Tanner, made "Ace" an obvious challenger to the Texan's recently-won crown.
Seven years have passed since the rematch ... although it seems like a lifetime. Tanner passed away in 2008 and Franklin finds himself in mixed martial arts (MMA) limbo -- too small to compete with the upper echelon at 205 pounds and he was decimated by Anderson Silva twice before at middleweight, options at that weight are slim.
Despite this, he faces off against Wanderlei Silva this Saturday (June 23, 2012) in Brazil in the main event of UFC 147, a rematch of his bout with "The Axe Murderer" from UFC 99. He is a late replacement for original opponent, Vitor Belfort, who bowed out with a broken hand.
Before he does, let's take a look at the bout where "Ace" got his taste of UFC gold: His rematch with Tanner in the co-main event of UFC 53.
The champion immediately unloads with two rights and bullies his challenger against the cage, clinching up and angling for a takedown attempt. The math teacher-turned Octagon warrior fights off the attempt and separates from Tanner, scoring a couple of kicks in the process.
In a humorous moment, Franklin throws a high kick and slips, mimicking the exact sequence that spelled the end for his previous opponent, Shamrock.
Tanner is unable to capitalize, however, and the fight continues.
"Ace" is using his reach and kicks to keep Tanner at bay and midway through the opening round, it doesn't seem as if the champion has any answer for it. His game is based around getting inside and landing devastating knees and elbows in the clinch, but if he can't get close enough to grab Franklin, his gameplan goes out the window.
Franklin continues to pummel Tanner with kicks and even seems to rock him momentarily with punches as the seconds tick away in the first. Light on his feet and constantly moving, Franklin looks aptly prepared for what the champion has to offer and has adjusted his game accordingly.
That is, until the 4:25 mark when a perfectly placed cross from the champion drops "Ace" to his back. It seems all over for the challenger, but he recovers with almost superhuman-like speed and finishes the round on top of Tanner, raining down ground and pound.
Tanner opens the second round aggressively, but ends up paying for it as Franklin is able to counter well and back up the champion against the cage. A takedown ensues and the two tumble to the mat with the champion on top. Franklin is able to avoid any damage, however, and quickly regains a vertical position.
Once on their feet, Tanner continues to pressure his challenger while Franklin is content to counter. The name of the game for "Ace" continues to be kicks, centered around the legs and body of the champion. Still, Tanner presses forward, landing good strikes.
If Franklin thought the rematch would be a repeat of their first bout, he was in for a rude awakening.
A solid punch from Franklin opens up the champion and "Ace" follows it up with a well-placed knee in the clinch. Knowing his opponent is staggered, Franklin aims to land more punishment and nails Tanner with a beautiful flying knee which he follows up with a stiff jab.
By the end of the second, the champion is bloody and beginning to swell.
In contrast to the first two rounds, Franklin opens up the third as the aggressor. He's landing more kicks and eventually snags Tanner into a plum clinch, landing a big knee that serves to bust the champion open even more.
Nearly 90 seconds into the round, Franklin connects with Tanner and rocks him, unleashing a flurry against the cage. As time passes on and the champion's face swells up, it's becoming obvious the fight isn't a sprint but a marathon and Franklin is more than prepared for the long haul.
"Ace" rocks Tanner and forces the champion to go for a last-ditch effort takedown which the challenger shrugs off easily. He evens threatens with a guillotine choke before they get back to their feet.
By the end of the third round, Franklin is almost landing at will and the end -- of both the fight and Tanner's reign as middleweight kingpin -- seems to be coming sooner rather than later.
At the beginning of the fourth -- and what would be the final -- round, Tanner's face is slathered in Vaseline to keep the blood from pouring out of multiple cuts. The champion attempts a takedown early on, but the challenger is too well-equipped to get put on his back.
The death knell for the Texan rings out soon after Franklin captures Tanner in a Thai clinch and lands a brutal knee, following it up with several punches. Less than one minute later, he backs the champion against the cage and unleashes a flurry of punches.
Tanner's face, beaten to a pulp, forces the referee to call a stoppage and bring in the ringside doctor. He immediately waves off the fight.
Franklin would go on to enjoy a decent run as champion until he ran into Anderson Silva. Since then, he's been a man without a home, floating between middleweight and light heavyweight and sometimes in between.
Can a second win over Silva this Saturday give Franklin a place to belong?