Franklin looks to ace another test at UFC 64

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Dave Doyle

Rich "Ace" Franklin knew early on in his mixed martial arts career he wouldn't be an anonymous high school math teacher for long. One day, when he made it, it would be his turn to step into the spotlight and handle both the glory and responsibilities that go with it. "I had an inkling I should get ready for this when I first started fighting in the UFC," said the 32-year-old Franklin, who holds both a master's degree in education and UFC middleweight championship. "Before anyone really knew who I was, I'd go to the shows and see how the stars went about their business. Now that everyone from eight-year old girls to 80-year old grandmas recognize me, I'm used to it."

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  • So as Franklin prepares to defend his title against at UFC 64 on Saturday night at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas against the dangerous Anderson "Spider" Silva, he's dealing with more than just his fight preparation. With his headline status comes the promotional appearances, TV spots, first-class treatment and the adulation of the people. "It's a part of the job. I'm still the same person I always was," said Franklin. "That keeps you focused and keeps you from getting a big head. When I go to parties and things like that I actually get kind of bored. Everyone wants to talk about me and I'm not like that, I'd rather talk about them, so I end up telling the same stories over and over. I still hang out with the same people I hung around with before I became famous. To them, I'm still just Rich." Such a level-headed response to sudden success might explain why Franklin has achieved so much in the sport. His career has been on a steady trajectory since his 2001 debut, as he takes a 20-1 record into Saturday's fight. Franklin made his UFC debut with a first-round TKO of Evan Tanner at UFC 42 in 2003. He won seven of his next eight fights before meeting with Tanner again and this time relieving him of the middleweight title with a fourth-round TKO at UFC 53 in 2005. Since then, Franklin has been working at creating a legacy as champion. He went a long way towards establishing himself at UFC 58 in March, with one of the most talked-about fights of the year. Franklin took on David "The Crow" Loiseau at UFC 58 in a five-round slugfest — with Loiseau on the receiving end of most of the damage It was the first time Franklin, who won by unanimous decision, went a full 25 minutes in his MMA career. Did he learn anything about himself? "I think you're trying to lead me to an answer, and that answer is that I found out I can go the distance," he said. "But I don't look at it that way. I've always had confidence in myself and I've always believed in myself and I've always gone all-out. I don't feel like I learned anything really big or important about myself." Despite dominating the fight, Franklin suffered a broken hand and a hamstring injury. Between rounds, his cornermen could be heard yelling at him to keep punching on the hand so it would go numb and stop hurting for the time being. "I hurt my hand early, so it was going to be tough to put him away punching on a broken hand," he said. "I did what I had to do. He said he saw two of me most of the fight. Don't get me wrong, David's a warrior, but I did what I had to do." The well-rounded Franklin had plenty of time to heal, which is good for him, because he is going to need two healthy hands to keep up with Silva. Silva, a 31-year old native of Curitibia, Brazil, is a Muay Thai specialist and punishing striker who has been working on his ground game and takes a 16-4 career record into the title fight. Silva, who has fought all over the world (including a 3-2 record in PRIDE), made a memorable impression in his UFC debut when he demolished Chris Leben with a 49-second KO at an Ultimate Fight Night special over the summer. Among the list of victories for Silva, who previously fought as a welterweight, are Lee Murray, Jeremy Horn, and Carlos Newton. Nine of Silva's wins are by KO or TKO and he's never been knocked out. Is Franklin ready to bang with him? "We'll see," said Franklin, who has 10 KO/TKOs and nine submissions to his credit. "I have no secrets in my game. I have confidence in my standup. It would be easy for me to say I'll come out and bang with him. I know what he can do. I'm just going to treat this like any other fight where I'll go out there and see if I can attack the way I want to attack and if not, I'll adjust based on what I see out there."' Earlier in his career, Franklin fought as a light heavyweight, and he cuts a considerable amount of weight to defend his 185-lb. title. Because of his status, Franklin is the champion most often mentioned when MMA insiders speculate on UFC champs who could potentially fight up or down a division — whether it be a potential challenge from welterweight champ Matt Hughes, or a Franklin bump up to take on Chuck Liddell. "I really only think about this if reporters ask me about it," Franklin said. "Right now I'm concerned about defending my middleweight title. I'm not in a position Matt is, where he's defended his title like six or seven times and might be looking for new challenges. Now, down the road, if Chuck Liddell is still the champ, we've talked about it, we're friends, but if he's still the champ and the money was right, then yeah, sure, if everything was right I'd fight him.
    That door remains open, but Franklin is adamant about never fighting Hughes, a sentiment Hughes shares. Hughes and Franklin are good friends and Franklin was in Hughes' corner for his defense against BJ Penn at UFC 63, "Matt has said he wouldn't fight me, and I feel the same," Franklin said. "We're good enough friends that I don't think either of us would be comfortable with it. Right now I am trying to focus on building the same type of legacy in the middleweight division he's made in his division. That's not a match I see happening."

    Other matches at UFC 64

    Franklin-Silva is one of two title matches at UFC 64. In the other, "The Muscle Shark" Sean Sherk will take on Kenny Florian for the vacant lightweight championship. UFC had a championship in the 155-lb. weight class (not to be confused with the current welterweight title, which was originally called the lightweight title) from 2001-02. Jens "L'il Evil" Pulver won a five-round unanimous decision over Caol Uno at UFC 30 to take the gold. Pulver successfully defended the title with decisions over Dennis Hallman and B.J. Penn before leaving the UFC in a contract dispute. At the time, UFC was running anywhere between 4-6 shows per year, and main event matches were at a premium, so the lightweight belt went unfilled for four years. "There were only so many matches we could schedule at the time," said UFC president Dana White. "We love the lightweight division. These guys are so fast, they bring fans some of the most exciting action you're going to see anywhere. Now that we're doing a show or two every month and have a ton of good young fighters, the time was right to bring the lightweight belt back. We're really excited about this." With the roster of potential lightweight standouts UFC has amassed in recent months, it isn't hard to see why. Pulver returned to the fold, and lost to tenacious youngster Joe Lauzon in his return. Spencer Fisher has made an impression as one of the most exciting young fighters in the game. Hermes Franca is streaky, but exciting. Melvin Guillard, Roger Huerta, and Tyson Griffin, though all still needing experience, are loaded with potential. And who knows, maybe B.J. Penn, who clocked in for his welterweight title fight with Matt Hughes at 166.5 pounds, will drop down a class. That's what Minneapolis native Sherk is doing. The Muscle Shark is 30-2-1 on his career and has mainly competed as a welterweight, where he's gone toe-to-toe with the best and not backed down. Sherk became the only fighter ever to take Matt Hughes a full five rounds before dropping a unanimous decision at UFC 42. That defeat, and a second-round loss last year to Georges St. Pierre, pushed Sherk to the back of the line for a title shot, making his decision to fight at 155 at this stage a sound one.
    Who do you think will win at UFC 64? Drop us a line right here and let us know.

    Florian (4-2) comes into the fight as a decided underdog. This is the Dover, MA native's first appearance in a main pay-per-view card. Florian lost to Diego Sanchez in the middleweight finals of The Ultimate Fighter 1. Florian has won three consecutive fights since, including an impressive rear naked choke submission victory at 1:42 of the first round over Sam Stout in June to earn the title shot.
  • In other fights of note on the undercard, hot heavyweight Cheick Kongo, who used his lethal knees to plow his way to victories at UFC 61 and 62 with first-round knockouts over Gilbert Aldana and Christian Wellisch, takes on Pennsylvania 's Carmelo Marrero, who makes his UFC debut. If the Parisian Kongo puts on another explosive performance, it is probably time to move him up the ranks. ¿ Fisher makes his return, taking on Dan Lauzon. Fisher had two of the most exciting UFC fights of the year, first when he took a match with Stout on short notice at UFC 58 and lost a close decision; then when he took out Matt Wiman with an awesome flying knee at UFC 60. The Miletich fighter was scheduled to compete at UFC 62, but pulled out with a back injury. Lauzon, at 18, is the youngest competitor in UFC history. He's the younger brother of Joe Lauzon, who pulled one of the biggest upsets in UFC history last month when he TKO'd Pulver in 48 seconds. On paper, the younger Lauzon, known as "The Upgrade," appears too young and inexperienced to take out the wily Fisher, but considering what his big bro pulled off, it would seem foolish to count him out. Dave Doyle is an editor for Check out the MMA blog on Saturday for a live blog of UFC 64 from Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas.
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