Franklin Hangs On, UFC Title Shot Next

By Mike Sloan Jun 16, 2007
For two rounds it was as easy as a stroll in the park.

Former UFC middleweight champion Rich Franklin (Pictures) was having his way with Yushin Okami (Pictures), easily sweeping the tall Japanese mixed martial artist on all three scorecards during the fight's opening 10 minutes.

But just as it seemed the main event for UFC's debut in Northern Ireland was going to be an uneventful letdown for the crowd of 7,850 inside Belfast's Odyssey Arena, Okami turned the course of the fight.

Heading into Saturday's middleweight No. 1 contender clash, the 32-year-old Franklin knew he had to play it smart against Okami, winner in each of his four UFC bouts. The skilled Japanese veteran was likely going to be a passive adversary, and the Cincinnati, Ohio native refused to get sucked in by such shenanigans.

Okami, 25, did play it safe for the first two rounds -- too safe -- a decision that might have cost him the fight.

"I knew he was going to wait and be patient," said Franklin in a somewhat disappointed voice following his triumph. "I was just trying to pick him apart and keep him centered here on the logo on the canvas."

The resulting strategies made for a rather uneventful opening two rounds, as the only real action inside the octagon came in the form of sporadic leg kicks and scattered jabs from the former 185-pound king.

Okami's renowned clinch and ground-and-pound game was virtually nonexistent through two-thirds of the fight, and his passivity allowed Franklin to build what appeared to be an insurmountable lead.

Knowing that he needed to score some sort of stoppage or submission, Okami finally took Franklin off his feet in the last stanza when he ducked under an errant punch, clinched and scored a perfect foot sweep.

Okami (20-4-0) quickly passed the former champion's guard to mount and attempted to rain down strikes from the top, but Franklin was too alert and adept on his back to let that happen.

"Ace" was kept on his back for more than two minutes and he ate several Okami punches, however in his fifth UFC main event Franklin was not going to let his opponent's surge change the result of the fight.

The American eventually stood, though Okami threatened a guillotine choke before countering with a Kimura that contorted Franklin's left arm.

"He had it pretty deep and there was definitely some pressure on my shoulder," Franklin said.

From his back, Okami maneuvered his hips as he worked to find enough leverage, and for a moment it seemed like Franklin's arm could not bend any further without snapping at the shoulder. Yet with 25 seconds remaining in the fight, Franklin escaped.

"It was deep but I was able to get out of it and finish the fight," he said.

Going into the bout there was ample discussion about whether Okami was going to be too strong for Franklin, especially when it came to the takedown game. Franklin proved his doubters wrong, insisting afterwards that Okami wasn't as powerful as advertised.

"I knew to keep my position and press him along the fence that I'd be OK," Franklin said. "But he did get me with that trip, a move he's known for, and he got me down. It was a stupid move on my part and he capitalized."

Stupid move or not, Franklin still aced the test while scoring a unanimous decision via tallies of 29-28 on all three cards.

Franklin might have had a much more difficult time securing victory had Okami pressed the issue earlier than the third round. But as far as Franklin's concerned, he can now focus on facing the winner of the scheduled July UFC title fight between champion Anderson Silva and challenger Nathan Marquardt (Pictures).

"Hey if that's what [Zuffa] wants to do next, then that's what'll happen," he said.

In the co-featured bout, popular light heavyweight bruiser Forrest Griffin (Pictures) utilized an intelligent albeit cautious game plan to dissect Hector Ramirez (Pictures) en route to an easy three-round decision.

Ramirez (6-3-1) had no answer for Griffin's in-and-out style as the crowd eagerly anticipated some fireworks inside the cage. However the combination of Griffin's caution and Ramirez' inexperience resulted in a lackluster affair.

Ramirez tried to land haymakers, but the 31-year-old from East Los Angeles failed to catch the elusive Griffin (14-4-0), who now fights out of Las Vegas with current UFC heavyweight champion Randy Couture (Pictures).

"Hey, I got knocked out the last time I was in this cage and I didn't want to have that happen again," said Griffin, 27, immediately following his shutout win; each judge at ringside saw it the same: 30-27. "I know it's hard to fight someone when they are running away."

Middleweights Jason MacDonald (Pictures) and Rory Singer (Pictures) fought hard in a back-and-forth affair, but it was the Canadian MacDonald who wound up the better man, scoring an impressive second round stoppage.

MacDonald (19-8-0) scored full mount, from where he rained down elbows and punches. While nothing landed cleanly during the barrage, referee Yves Lavigne had no choice but to stop the contest because Singer (11-7-0), fighting out of Athens, Ga., did nothing to improve his position or avoid the accumulating blows.

The time of the stoppage came at 3:18 of the second round.

Twenty-three-year-old Tyson Griffin (Pictures) was awarded a three-round split decision victory over Clay Guida (Pictures), a verdict booed by the Northern Irish crowd.

The battle was easily the fight of the night as the lightweights electrified the packed arena with their superb grappling, submission escapes and vicious strikes.

Guida, 25, seemed to do more damage throughout the 15-minute clash and appeared on his way to a tight decision win, but two of the three judges favored Griffin (9-1-0) instead.

Official scores were 29-28 (twice) for Griffin and 29-28 for Guida, whose record dropped to 21-8-0.

Oregon middleweight Ed Herman (Pictures) was superb in his conquest of the gritty Scott Smith, scoring a slick rear-naked choke at the 2:25 mark of the second round.

Herman (13-5-0) dominated Smith (11-4-0) from the outset with takedowns and brutal ground-and-pound that shattered the Californian's nose with a devastating elbow in the first. Herman continued to press the pace, and in the second he seized Smith's back to sink in the choke.

In off-television bouts, welterweight Marcus Davis knocked out Jason Tan with a brutal right cross, followed by a series of strikes to the head of the fallen fighter.

The fight was immediately stopped once a dazed Tan (4-2-0) could no longer defend the onslaught. Davis (12-3-0) walked away with a sensational first round knockout, coming at just 1:15 of the opening stanza.

Eddie Sanchez (7-1-0) scored a stoppage win 32 seconds into the second round over Northern Ireland heavyweight Colin Robinson (8-3-0).

And Dustin Hazelett (Pictures) (9-3-0) used a D'Arce choke at the 2:50 mark of the first round to hand Steven Lynch, fighting in front of his countrymen, his first loss in five contests.
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