Rich Franklin Returns vs. Cung Le at July’s UFC 148 Card in Las Vegas

Cung Le (James Law/HeavyMMA)

Franklin returns to middleweight for July fight

A pair of former middleweight champions has agreed to fight on the UFC’s mid-summer card in Las Vegas.

Former UFC champ Rich Franklin will face former Strikeforce champ Cung Le in a middleweight fight on the main card at UFC 148. UFC officials announced the fight on Sunday.

UFC 148 is scheduled for July 7 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas and will be preceded by a UFC Fan Expo, which will take place just a few properties down Las Vegas Boulevard at Mandalay Bay. A UFC bantamweight title fight between Dominick Cruz and top contender Urijah Faber has been targeted for the card following the two fighters’ coaching stints on the current season of “The Ultimate Fighter LIVE” on FX.

Franklin (28-6, 1 NC, 13-5 UFC) has not competed since a UFC 126 unanimous decision loss to Forrest Griffin in February 2011. Franklin was expected to return at UFC 133 last August against Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, but a shoulder injury forced Nogueira out of the fight. The UFC attempted to keep Franklin on the card, but ultimately removed him when no agreement could be reached on an opponent. Franklin subsequently underwent surgery on his own shoulder, which has kept him shelved.

Franklin started his UFC career 7-0, including a win over the late Evan Tanner to take the middleweight title. He defended the belt twice with wins over Nate Quarry and David Loiseau before losing it to Anderson Silva at UFC 64 in October 2006 – and Silva has held the belt ever since. Franklin picked up two more wins after the first Silva fight, earning a rematch. But he again fell victim to Silva’s knees.

He has gone 4-3 since then with four fights at light heavyweight – including a knockout of Chuck Liddell that sent “The Iceman” into retirement – and a pair at 195-pound catch weights. The fight against Le will be Franklin’s first at middleweight since a win over Travis Lutter at UFC 83.

Le (7-2, 0-1 UFC) made his UFC debut in November in a homecoming fight at UFC 139 in San Jose, Calif. And despite looking strong in the striking department against Wanderlei Silva, Silva stayed in the pocket and delivered some big shots of his own, ultimately putting Le away with just 11 seconds left in the second round. Despite an instant classic five-round war between Dan Henderson and Mauricio “Shogun” Rua that was Fight of the Night honors right after it, Le and Silva also earned bonuses for Fight of the Night. After the bout, UFC president Dana White said he was unsure if Le would return for another fight with the promotion, but that question was answered Sunday with the announcement of the Franklin booking.

Prior to signing with the UFC, Le went 7-1 in Strikeforce, including a TKO victory over Frank Shamrock, breaking Shamrock’s arm, to win the promotion’s 185-pound belt in October 2008. But when a budding film career, including a roll in the Channing Tatum major release “Fighting,” took priority, he vacated his Strikeforce title. He returned in December 2009, but suffered the first loss of his career – a knockout against Scott Smith. He avenged the loss the next year in his last fight with Strikeforce before joining the UFC. Le has fought just once each year starting in 2008, and though he has seen the third round in four of his nine fights, he has never been to a decision (not counting a 17-0 kickboxing record).