Rich Franklin has lost to four men in his career: Anderson Silva, Lyoto Machida, Vitor Belfort, and Dan Henderson. The loss to Dan Henderson, in my view, was one of the worst decisions of 2009, but we'll leave that for another day. Rich Franklin is intelligent, well-spoken, highly skilled, and exactly the type of spokesman that MMA's diehard fans should respect.
So why don't they? Because he's the UFC's "company man."
Distaste for Franklin can be traced back to the UFC's firing of Matt Lindland. For whatever reason, a number of fans latched onto the idea that the UFC terminated Lindland to protect Franklin. The charge is absurd, but for whatever reason a lot of fans subconsciously blamed Franklin. Fans who dislike Dana and the UFC see Rich as some sort of extension of the company, and refuse to give him the respect he deserves.
All week I read that the real question going into UFC 115 was whether Rich Franklin could avoid Chuck's right hand for 15 minutes, as if he would melt upon impact. There's a meme that goes around that Rich Franklin can be "broken." Lurking behind that assertion is the idea that he does not have a strong will to fight. That he's some pretty boy, hoisted to a position of prominence by sneaky promoters trying to make a quick buck. If you just press him, he'll fold.
Recent history strongly suggests otherwise.
Very few fighters would fight through a broken hand all the way to the end of a five round fight. For most fighters, that one instance of courage would be enough to carry a career. But for Franklin, fighting through pain is part of the gig. Against Yushin Okami, he found himself in a deep kimura that would have elicited a submission from a majority of top middleweights. Instead of quitting, he gritted through the pain and kept on fighting. When Franklin fought Travis Lutter, he found himself in an armbar that would have elicited a tap out from most of his peers. He grimaced in pain, but found a way out.
Rich took a huge shot from Dan Henderson in the first round. It was the kind of right hand that sends guys to the floor upon impact. He recovered and came back to put on a thrilling comeback performance, only to lose a decision that should have been his. He took big shots from Wanderlei Silva in the second round of their fight, weathered the storm, and kept on fighting. And last night, after breaking his left arm, he stayed in the pocket with Liddell and found a way to win, despite eating a whole bunch of those killer right hands that people said would end his night.
Rich Franklin deserves the respect of MMA's hardcore fans. Hopefully he gets it while he's still fighting.
Note: For those wondering (all 2 of you), I'm absent from writing at the moment while I study to take the California Bar Exam. I'd complain about the process, but I know Rich Franklin would fight through it and pass, so I'll try to do the same.