Rich Franklin and Cung Le throw down this Saturday in a clash of MMA legends – and a meeting of past-their-moment fighters that has some fans saying “meh”. FanSided.com’s Elton Hobson makes the case that the UFC’s first ever main event in China still has relevance, and could be the sleeper fight of 2012.
The latest installment of the wildly popular (ok, maybe not so much) UFC on Fuel TV experiment marks a historic first for the promotion, as the Octagon touches down in China this Saturday night for the very first time.
And the UFC has topped off this history-making card with two fighters who have made MMA history, as former UFC champion Rich Franklin takes on former Strikeforce world champion Cung Le.
So yes, this main event will be contested in the “just for the hell of it” division, as both these guys are likely past their primes in MMA. The fact that they both have healthy acting careers outside of MMA should tell you all you need to know, really.
But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t tune in (you should). It doesn’t mean the fight won’t be exciting from start to finish (it probably will). And it doesn’t mean there’s nothing on the line for the winner (this is a UFC main event, after all).
This fight is being billed as a clash between two legends of MMA – though there is a segment of MMA fandom who will dispute that claim. Cung Le only has ten professional MMA bouts, after all, and is coming off a crushing KO losses to Scott Smith and the ghost of Wanderlei Silva.
And Franklin? Well it doesn’t matter how many legends he’s faced in his career (it’s a lot, by the way) nor how many wins he’s picked up in the last several years (he’s 7-4 in the UFC since losing his middleweight title). For some fans, you simply never bounce back once Anderson Silva devours your soul (just ask Forrest Griffin).
Luckily for you, that’s all nonsense.
Cung Le may not be a legend of MMA, but he’s exactly the kind of martial arts badass this sport was built on. The kickboxing world champion has drawn incredible interest from the moment he debuted in MMA, and all his fights have been “event” fights to varying extents.
He has also managed to find championship gold in his short MMA tenure, for whatever the Strikeforce world championship (won from an aging Frank Shamrock) is worth.
And Rich Franklin? He’s a bad, bad man, and I’ll fight anyone who says different. And what I mean by that of course is Rich will fight any man that says different – cause that’s what he does.
The ultimate company man, Rich has defined the latter half of his career by being the UFC’s short notice replacement guy, fighting whoever is put in front of him. Vitor Belfort at a catchweight? Check. An eliminator fight for a TUF coaching gig he didn’t even want? Check. A rematch, on short notice, with Wanderlei Silva in his backyard? Where do I sign?
That’s the sort of professionalism and pride that more fans should applaud.
So this fight won’t determine any title challengers – well, it might, but certainly not right away. Still, this fight is an intriguing clash between two savvy martial artists with a penchant for putting on fun fights. It will also determine which cowboy gets to stay sheriff ‘round these parts, and who has to ride off into the sunset.
Expect this fight to be played out almost entirely on the feet, where it should provide an interesting clash of styles.
Cung Le has some of the most unorthodox stand-up skills in MMA thanks to his deep background in San Shou kickboxing. Rarely do you see a fighter incorporate spinning kicks, foot sweeps, and backfists into their arsenal. Even more rarely do you see a fighter do it effectively.
Le has won two fights via TKO-inducing kicks to the body. A roundhouse kick that broke Frank Shamrock’s arm won Le the Strikeforce middleweight championship. In fact, every single win of Le’s career save his last one has come via KO or TKO – and his last opponent is Patrick Cote, who even Anderson Silva had trouble hurting on the feet, so you can cut him some slack there.
Rich Franklin is a much more traditional – though no less effective – MMA striker. Like Le, Franklin has picked up a win via body shot TKO, as well as the famous KO of Chuck Liddell (with a broken arm, no less) that drove “The Iceman” out of MMA forever. Franklin doesn’t have the flashiness of Le’s San Shou style, but he has undeniable power, excellent movement and poise, and a wealth of big fight experience.
Both guys also have excellent ground games. Le has a wrestling pedigree, and the word from his trainers is that his ground game is legit. Rich Franklin is a BJJ black belt with the most underrated submission defense in the game.
None of this matters, of course, since I see this fight starting and ending on the feet.
This fight won’t determine the next red-hot title challenger. Le has one foot out the door of combat sports as it is, and while Franklin has talked about putting together one more title run, his career trajectory over the last 5 years hasn’t really supported this. There’s no reason either man couldn’t go on a big run after this fight, of course, but it’s not very likely.
In all likelihood, the winner gets put in more big fights – maybe even title eliminators – while the loser may be facing the end of his time as an elite-level fighter.
But until then, this fight is shaping up to be that rare clash of excitement and technical skill, a war of both brains and fists between two fighters who have more than earned MMA fans’ respect.