You’re UFC president Dana White, and you just got off the phone with one half of your next pay-per-view main event. He’s out of the fight. Now what? What are you going to do with the event just a few weeks away and a bunch of fans who already paid their hard-earned cash to watch a quality main event fight?
Well, you don’t panic. And you don’t panic because you know you have Rich “Ace” Franklin’s phone number, and you know the UFC’s company man will do anything to help you out in a pinch. He always does.
Franklin, who fights Cung Le in the five-round main event of UFC on FUEL TV 6 this Saturday in Macau, China, is the most under-appreciated star in the UFC. Let’s start with the fact he’s an exciting fighter who once held the UFC middleweight championship, successfully defending the title twice. His record is 29-6 (1 NC) over fights at four weights (185, 190, 195, and 205 pounds) in the UFC, and he holds notable career victories over former UFC light-heavyweight champion Chuck Liddell, former PRIDE middleweight champion Wanderlei Silva, former UFC middleweight champion Evan Tanner, and contender Yushin Okami. And if you look at his six losses they’re all to top competition – including two losses to UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva – the cream of the crop in mixed martial arts at both middleweight and light heavyweight.
He always does the UFC favours. When Tito Ortiz pulled out of his UFC 115 trilogy bout against Chuck Liddell, Franklin filled in. Not only that, but because Ortiz and Liddell were coaching on “The Ultimate Fighter,” Franklin actually ended up coaching a few episodes of season 11. He was also a coach on season two. As well, he filled in on short notice against Wanderlei Silva at UFC 147 after Vitor Belfort broke his hand, despite the fact he had a fight booked against Le for UFC 148, and despite the fact he had already defeated Silva at UFC 99. But to help out the UFC when they needed it, he did it.
As a person, Franklin’s all class. You never have to worry about Franklin missing weight or not showing up in shape ready to fight five hard rounds. He’s willing to sacrifice his nose to Anderson Silva’s knees for our pleasure and enjoyment. He’s willing to sacrifice his arm to keep fighting in the hopes of KOing Liddell. He never asks for anything in return, other than the opportunity to toy his trade in the Octagon. And unlike Nick Diaz, you can always count on him to show up to the press conferences.
But most importantly—at least when talking about his star power—is that he’s a legitimate main or co-main event fighter, someone who’s both a ratings and pay-per-view draw.
Franklin has headlined or co-headlined the following UFC events (with PPV buy rate listed next to it where applicable):
- The Ultimate Fighter Finale 1 (main event vs. Ken Shamrock; 1.9 million viewers)
- UFC 53 (co-main event vs. Evan Tanner; 90,000 buys)
- UFC 56 (main event vs. Nate Quarry; 200,000 buys)
- UFC 58 (main event vs. David Loiseau; 300,000 buys)
- UFC 64 (main event vs. Anderson Silva; 300,000 buys)
- UFC 72 (main event vs. Yushin Okami; 200,000 buys)
- UFC 77 (main event vs. Anderson Silva; 325,000 buys)
- UFC 83 (co-main event vs. Travis Lutter; 530,000 buys)
- UFC 88 (co-main event vs. Matt Hamill; 480,000 buys)
- UFC 93 (main event vs. Dan Henderson; 350,000 buys)
- UFC 99 (main event vs. Wanderlei Silva; 360,000 buys)
- UFC 103 (main event vs. Vitor Belfort; 375,000 buys)
- UFC 115 (main event vs. Chuck Liddell; 520,000 buys)
- UFC 126 (co-main event vs. Forrest Griffin; 725,000 buys)
- UFC 147 (main event vs. Wanderlei Silva; 140,000 buys)
- UFC on FUEL TV 6 (main event vs. Cung Le)
The only UFC events Franklin fought in that he wasn’t the main or co-main event in were UFC 42, UFC 44, UFC 50, and UFC 68. That means he’s been in one of the headlining slots in over 80 percent of his UFC contests. The UFC has been counting on Franklin to sell their cards for the last seven years, and he’s delivered for them nearly every single time with solid PPV numbers and television ratings (although that will change with UFC on FUEL TV 6 because of the time difference forcing the show to be shown in the early morning in North America). And the reason is he’s an exciting fighter who the fans are willing to pay to see compete.
And yet, when we think about the UFC’s stars, Franklin isn’t a name that immediately comes to mind. Anderson Silva does. Georges St-Pierre does. Jon Jones does. But Franklin wouldn’t be mentioned in the same breath as those fighters, even though the numbers show that he’s been the star power on big UFC cards for just as long—and if not longer—than any of them.
I don’t know why we all under-appreciate Franklin, but we do. And when I mean all, I’m talking about both the UFC and the fans. He does so much for the sport and for the company, and yet we all just seem to take it for granted.
It will be a sad day for both the UFC and sport of mixed martial arts when Franklin retires from MMA, and at 38-years old and having dealt with injuries the last few years, that day may come sooner rather than later.
When you watch Franklin vs. Le on Saturday, remember that this man we’ve all come to take for granted as the utility headliner we just plug in to save events is one of the last pioneers of the sport still standing, and there won’t be many like him once he’s gone.
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