Franklin vs. Henderson: Dream Match Made Real

By Mike Harris Jan 17, 2009
Better late than never.

For 14 months beginning in mid-2005, MMA fans dreamed about a marquee matchup between Rich Franklin, the then-reigning champion of the UFC’s 185-pound middleweight division, and Dan Henderson, the champion of Pride’s 183-pound welterweight division.

The fans’ dream remained just that, a dream, since the two fought for rival promotions.

Oh, but how things have changed.

In 2007, the UFC bought Pride and signed Henderson, enabling the two heavy-handed knockout artists to finally square off in the main event at UFC 93, entitled appropriately enough, “Franklin vs. Henderson,” in Dublin, Ireland on Saturday.

Both are no longer champions. Henderson lost his Pride titles (the second was at 205 pounds) in unification bouts between Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Anderson Silva in 2007 and early 2008. Franklin has fallen to middleweight kingpin Silva two times as well.

Even so, the fans appear to be more than happy to have their highly anticipated dream match at last become reality, diminished stakes notwithstanding.

Both fighters said they too never thought their much hoped-for match would materialize.

“I knew it was something that wouldn’t happen anytime soon,” Henderson (23-7) told the media during a recent UFC conference call. “I always had a fighter in front of me to focus on, but it’s one matchup I know the fans have wanted to see for a while.”

Franklin (24-3, 1 NC) agreed.

“At the time, Dan was fighting in Pride,” he said. “The matchup seemed so unlikely. It’s funny how things change.”

Franklin lost his middleweight belt at UFC 64 in October 2006 to current UFC champion Silva, who brutally KO’ed him with devastating knees to his face. The Cincinnati native didn’t fare better in the rematch at UFC 77, where Silva again stopped Franklin, this time in the second round. Henderson, too, has lost to Silva since coming over to the UFC. At UFC 82 in March 2008, Silva successfully defended his title against Henderson by submitting him with a rear-naked choke in the second round.

Even though Franklin is ranked the No. 2 middleweight in the world to Henderson’s No. 7 ranking, Henderson is favored by oddsmakers to win the fight.

Henderson, 38, a former Olympic wrestler, is widely seen as being a better-rounded fighter than Franklin, equally comfortable on his feet or the ground, although Henderson has only one career submission victory. The younger Franklin, 34, is primarily known as a striker, though he has nine career submission wins.

Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com

Henderson is favored by
oddsmakers to win the fight.
The two fighters have competed at both the 205 pound and 183-185 pound divisions throughout their careers and said they feel at ease at either weight.

“I’m comfortable at 205 pounds,” Franklin said, noting that most of his 205-pound fights came prior to his fighting in the UFC starting in 2003. “I feel like the same fighter. I’m just moving into a new weight class.

“I don’t feel like I have to make any adjustments at 205,” he continued. “Obviously, adding some muscle to my frame is definitely not going to hurt me. It didn’t appear to me that carrying the extra weight made much of a difference,” in his last fight, a TKO victory over Matt Hamill at UFC 88 last Sept. 6.

Henderson too is coming off a win, also at UFC 88 -- a unanimous decision over Brazilian jiu-jitsu ace Rousimar Palhares.

Franklin said there are pluses and minuses for him at both weight divisions.

“It was hard for me to make 185, but I’m a smaller fighter at 205,” he said. “When I cut to 185, I feel a little more lethargic, but I was going up against smaller opponents. I feel much better at 205 the week of the fight. The tradeoff is I’m fighting guys who are bigger than me.”

Henderson said being able to fight in the UFC’s middleweight division, as well as light heavyweight division, “gives me a better opportunity for more matchups. Opportunities for fans to see matchups that if I was stuck in one weight class, they wouldn’t be able to see.

“I don’t like to cut weight if I don’t have to,” he continued, “but I’m going to go out there and beat them up all the same. I’m not a big guy, but I never felt weak or like I couldn’t do what I wanted to do in there [at 205].”

Henderson said he would eventually like to get a title shot again in both UFC divisions.

Franklin said he doesn’t look at his bout with Henderson as being a career make-or-break fight.

“I’ve never looked at a fight as an elimination fight in either weight class,” Franklin said. “Win or lose, it’s just another fight to me. Each fight that’s presented to me is a fight in itself. It’s its own separate entity.”

Henderson concurred.

“It’s not one of those fights where one of us has to retire if we lose kind of thing,” he said.

While Franklin and Henderson are two of the most likeable fighters in the game and respect each other on a personal level, both said none of that will matter once they step into the Octagon.

“I don’t need to generate any anger or dislike,” Henderson said. “Even if I didn’t like him, I’ve never focused on that. It’s a sport. That’s the way it is.”

Franklin is also a man who leaves his personal feelings out of the cage.

“I have a lot of respect for Dan,” he said. “I like him as a person, but we’ve got 15 minutes scheduled where we’re going to be throwing punches at each other. In training, at the gym, I punch some of my best friends in the head. I’m not going to have any trouble doing it to somebody I just like.”

Art Santore, a training partner of Henderson’s Team Quest facility in rural Murrieta, Calif., said that after over-training for consecutive fights against Jackson and Silva in 2007 and 2008, both of which he lost, Henderson turned it down a notch for his last match against Palhares. The result was a win. Henderson took that same approach in training for Franklin, said Santore.

“I think he’s been training smarter instead of harder,” Santore said. Like the oddsmakers, the obviously biased Santore predicted that Henderson will dominate the fight wherever it goes.

“Style-wise, Dan is just one-up on everything on him –- standing, ground, in the clinch,” Santore said. “I think he’s got what it takes to beat the crap out of Rich on this one. But Rich has heart and that’s what makes somebody really dangerous.”

Franklin spent about half his camp training at Matt Hume’s AMC Kickboxing & Pankration facility in Kirkland, Wash.

“Matt’s the guy who puts the game plan together,” Franklin said. Hume will be in Franklin’s corner as well.

Adding somewhat to the drama of the fight is that the winner will be named one of two coaches for the ninth season of the UFC’s popular reality show “The Ultimate Fighter,” which airs on Spike TV. This installment will take on a “USA vs. UK” theme, with Brit Michael Bisping already relegated to lead the other squad.

Franklin, who coached the second season of the show, said the prospect of coaching again doesn’t really rock his world.

“It’s time away from my family, it’s time away from the things I like to do,” he said. “But anything the UFC asks me to do, I’m always on board for it, because they’ve always been good to me.”
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