Franklin Takes Hamill in 205-Pound Return

Rich Franklin’s return to the light heavyweight division was a relatively smooth one, as the former UFC middleweight champion downed the game but still evolving wrestler Matt Hamill (Pictures) with a left body kick for the referee stoppage 39 seconds into the third round at UFC 88 “Breakthrough” in Atlanta.

A move made out of necessity after two brutal losses to titleholder Anderson Silva (Pictures) -- who continues to wreck havoc through the middleweight division with no signs of stopping -- a focused Franklin utilized his experience, patience and poise to keep “The Ultimate Fighter 3” alumnus at bay.

Franklin (24-3) paced himself through the first round with inside and outside kicks. Hamill, who switched to a southpaw stance early on, didn’t land often but opened a sizable gash underneath Franklin’s right eye by grazing him with his left glove. A three-time NCAA wrestling champion, Hamill (4-2) executed his only takedown near the end of the first five-minute spell with ease, but couldn’t take advantage as Franklin flowed to an armbar attempt, then escaped to his feet with little effort.

The senior fighter held onto his lead into the second round, continuing to score against Hamill with a steady diet of leg and body kicks. Every attempt the 31-year-old Hamill made to close the distance was met with Franklin’s uppercuts and body knees in the clinch. Franklin only seemed in danger when referee Mario Yamasaki halted the bout briefly for a doctor’s evaluation of his gaping cut. But the fight continued on, and Franklin managed to open Hamill’s face in reply with his constant charge forward.

Franklin grounded his fellow Cincinnati native less than a minute into the final round with a spot-on left body kick. Hamill, whose only loss to Michael Bisping (Pictures) at UFC 75 a year ago was one of the most controversial decisions in UFC history, folded to the mat. Gripping his right side, Hamill tapped out just as the referee intervened.

“I’m hoping he’s one of the strongest 205-pounders, because if not, this is going to be a long road if I stay here [in the light heavyweight division],” said the 33-year-old Franklin. “Hats off to Matt. He fought a great fight. He stood there and stuck with me. I had a feeling that he might tend to do that, and of course, I look worse for the wear right now.”

The former high school math teacher will now look to string together a few victories in the weight class where he first made his name and where the original winner of “The Ultimate Fighter,” Forrest Griffin (Pictures), now reigns.

“I don’t know how excited I am to push an extra 15 pounds around, so I’m going to continue to try and gain some weight if I’m going to stay here,” said Franklin.
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