Franklin’s Road To Gold Starts With Chuck Liddell

One Wednesday evening in late February, Rich Franklin received a call from UFC president Dana White.

White told Franklin that Tito Ortiz had pulled out of his scheduled fight with Chuck Liddell due to a neck injury. White asked Franklin if he would come to Las Vegas and replace Ortiz as a coach during the tapings for the 11th season of The Ultimate Fighter, a move that would culminate with Franklin facing off with Liddell in the season-ending coach’s fight.

Franklin asked White if he’d checked with Liddell to make sure the former light heavyweight champ was okay with the fight. He didn’t want to cause any problems with a long-time friend. White assured him that Liddell was a professional and would do what needed to be done. Franklin told White he would do whatever the UFC needed him to do.

Franklin spends a lot of time doing whatever the UFC needs him to do. He’s a company man, one of the few fighters who White can count on to deliver in a time of need. Franklin wanted some time off after beating Wanderlei Silva last summer, but when the UFC found themselves stretched thin on headliners after UFC 100 last year and needed Franklin to face Vitor Belfort at UFC 103, he agreed.

Franklin turned in a losing effort to Belfort. He says he wasn’t mentally prepared for the fight, that he may have been beaten before ever stepping in the cage.

“I think part of it was a moment where I got caught. I mean, looking back at the tapes of that fight, I didn’t fight well,” Franklin says. “Honestly, I think that fight may have been lost before it even began. When you start coming to the gym and you’re looking at the clock and mentally counting down the minutes until you can leave, that’s never a good thing.”

Franklin concedes that he was mentally burned out prior to the Belfort fight. The minor injuries he’d overlooked in the name of being a good company man were stacking up, and he needed to take some real time off. The UFC called him several months later with a fight proposal, but this time Franklin took a hard stance and said no.