The more I’ve thought about Rich Franklin and his main event bout against Chuck Liddell on this Saturday’s UFC 115 event, the more I feel that this match makes sense. In fact, I think that there’s a reasonable argument to support Franklin v. Liddell as a main event as opposed to the originally scheduled Liddell v. Ortiz match.
Sure, there are obvious considerations, like the fact that Liddell is coming off of a retirement imposed by UFC president Dana White to face Ortiz, whom Liddell has twice knocked out and, despite his claims otherwise, cannot stay healthy. The latter certainly played out in the form of Ortiz’s neck injury that forced him off of the current season of The Ultimate Fighter. However, it’s not just the detriments of a third match between Liddell and Ortiz that make Franklin’s inclusion in the main event so appealing; Franklin v. Liddell stands on its own merits as well.
It’s funny how the careers or Liddell and Franklin paralleled one another, but with Franklin being just a bit less than Liddell in most aspects. Liddell was, at one point, the UFC’s biggest star, and while Franklin legitimized the Middleweight division and became a star of some significance, never did Franklin reach the level of stardom enjoyed by Liddell. Liddell has headline 10 UFC events compared to Franklin’s nine. After Saturday’s main event, each will add a tally to their headlining totals, but Franklin will remain just behind Liddell.
While Liddell was dominating the UFC’s Light Heavyweight division, so too was Franklin at Middleweight. However, whereas Liddell defended his title four times against top competition (Ortiz, Renato Sobral, Randy Couture, and Jeremy Horn), Franklin was only able to defend his title twice, and against mediocre competition (Nate Quarry, David Loiseau), before being supplanted by Anderson Silva. History will remember Liddell as the greatest Light Heavyweight of his era, while Franklin will, at best, be remembered as the second best Middleweight of his.
Of course, both Franklin and Liddell’s era’s overlap. The difference is that the Liddell era appears to have reached its conclusion, while the Franklin era presses on with reasonable success. Eric Temple Bell once said that “time makes fools of us all,” and indeed, it’s unending march forward is a key reason why, despite his superior credentials, Liddell, 40, will enter Saturday’s main event against Franklin, 34, as the underdog. The betting line is entirely reasonable, but this history of both men don’t make the fact that Franklin, who fled the Middleweight division to escape the crushing dominance of Silva, being listed as the underdog any less ironic from a historical perspective.
Dana White has confirmed that a loss on Saturday will mark the end of Chuck Liddell’s UFC career. While that is difficult to believe without some qualification, it would be fascinating to witness Franklin, who for so long was in Liddell’s shadow, be the UFC Hall-of-Fame inductees comeuppance. Such a victory for Franklin would go a long way toward cementing his own place in the UFC’s Hall-of-Fame.