Arlovski Sets up Mir Showdown, Franklin Takes Belt from Tanner

Main Cards

By Josh Gross Jun 5, 2005
ATLANTIC CITY, New Jersey, June 4 — It may not have been the sort of finish that’s been his recent trademark, but UFC interim heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski (10-3-0) will take it.

The 26-year-old Belarusian champion, who trains and fights by way of Chicago, Ill., earned his first defense with a doctor’s stoppage over challenger Justin Eilers (9-4-1) Saturday night when the former Iowa St. University linebacker fell to the canvas after injuring his right knee 4:10 into the opening round.

Eilers, who earned a title shot tonight despite being knocked out by Paul Buentello in his last contest, left the Iowa gym of Pat Miletich to train with teammate Jeremy Horn in Utah. The extra work paid off with improved footwork and a calm demeanor in the ring, but it didn’t take long for Arlovski’s power and accuracy to take hold.

A series of kicks to the inside of Eilers’ lead leg opened the upstairs for Arlovski. “Inside kick, low kick — I like that,” Arlovski said after the fight. The interim champ took advantage, peppering Eilers’ face with jabs and straight rights that left a wide swath of blood from the challenger’s nose to chin.

With a near capacity crowd of 10,000 watching inside the Boardwalk Hall (the UFC would not give an official attendance number), Arlovski stalked Eilers around the Octagon. The two met head on several times, but Eilers failed to land the solid right hand he needed to have a chance against the heavily favored Arlovski.

Three feet from the cage fencing, Eilers planted hard on his right leg as he prepared to unleash a power shot. Instead, he immediately grabbed behind his right knee and collapsed to the canvas.

It took a moment for referee John McCarthy to decipher what happened, giving Arlovski a brief chance to again hit Eilers.

When asked if he was disappointed by the way in which the fight ended, Arlovski said he was not. “Justin promised me that our fight continues for five rounds,” he said. “I trained hard for the five rounds. It happened in the first round, the last minute of the first round. I’m very glad. I saved my energy for next fight.”

The victory sets up an October showdown between Arlovski and UFC heavyweight champion Frank Mir, who’s been out of action for a year a motorcycle accident shelved him with a career threatening broken leg.

“It’s up to the UFC,” Arlovski said. “If the UFC gives me fight against Frank Mir in October I’m ready with my pleasure. I want a fight with Frank Mir.”

The night’s sudden and disappointing finish should only give more fuel to those who argued against the main event worthiness of Arlovski-Eilers. That honor, many felt, should have belonged to the evening’s other title fight, which featured two of the most experienced fighters ever to vie for a UFC crown — middleweight champion Evan Tanner and his challenger Rich Franklin.

Making his first title defense after winning the vacated 185-pound title versus David Terrell in February, Tanner was tasked with not only becoming the first UFC middleweight to defend his belt since Murilo Bustamante submitted Matt Lindland three years ago but also defeat the last man to stop him.

Fresh off a nationally televised destruction of Ken Shamrock, Franklin returned to fight at 185 with some questions about whether he was better off at light heavyweight (where he beat Shamrock) or middleweight, where he struggled against Jorge Rivera.

Following tonight, Franklin doubters don’t have anything to complain about. The 30-year-old from Cincinnati, Ohio used excellent footwork and speed to dance circles around the champion, peppering his face with just about every weapon in his bag, before the ringside doctor stopped the contest 3:25 of round four.

“I don’t feel I [lost any power],” Franklin said of moving to 185. “There are going to be people out there say Franklin took out Shamrock in the first round and it took him to the fourth round to take out Tanner and he’s not strong in that weight class. But I feel good. I feel good in the clinch. The opponents don’t wear me down as quickly. Yeah, I feel fine there.”

The new middleweight champion (20-1-0) fought beautifully, expanding on a career that should be the model for all young fighters.

Tanner’s downfall came in large part from his inability to do anything more than throw a right hand straight against the southpaw. There was little else in the way of offense from Tanner, who wore down as Franklin landed shot after shot to his badly swollen face.

The opening round featured Tanner’s only good moment. After a good portion of the round where Franklin scored to the head and legs, Tanner reared back and launched a crushing counter right straight as period reach it’s final 30 seconds.

Franklin’s legs gave way and he crumbled to the canvas. Thirty-four-year-old Tanner (33-5-0) chased Franklin to the floor and the two smartly grappled in the fight’s best exchange on the ground.

“There are going to be parts of this fight that are forever not going to be a part of my permanent memory,” Franklin said of the punch that put him to the canvas.

That’s a shame, since past that point Franklin fought perfectly. Controlling the second round, Franklin opened the first of several cuts on the Tanner’s face, which by fight’s end looked like it had been put through meat grinder.

Tanner stayed on the outside, never making an attempt to put the new champion on his back for an extended period of time. It was a surprising game plan from a man that had first-hand knowledge of Franklin’s ability to hurt opponents with strikes.

“He said that’s what he was going to and, yeah, it kind of surprised me,” the new champion said of Tanner. “I’m glad he did.”

As action moved into the third period, Franklin really came on strong, using excellent footwork, speed and combinations to trump Tanner’s plodding right straights.

Heading into the fourth, Tanner’s right eye had virtually shut and blood streamed from multiple places on his increasingly swollen face.

More than halfway through what turned out to be the fight’s final round, Tanner was in serious trouble. Referee Herb Dean realized this and called time so the physician at ringside could look at the carnage on the champion’s face.

“I knew that fight was going to run in that direction,” Franklin said. “Tanner the first time said he didn’t know I was a southpaw. Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t. I don’t know. But, he wasn’t as prepared the first time and I knew that he was going to come in this time and be prepared. I figured in my head the fight was going to go roughly the same way, it was just going to be a tougher fight for me. And that’s exactly what happened.”

Franklin will enjoy a respite of several from the Octagon, as he starts filming the second season of the Ultimate Fighter this week in Las Vegas. With this win and April’s impressive effort versus Shamrock, Franklin has become one of the UFC’s biggest stars.
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