For about the first two minutes of the Cung Le-Rich Franklin headliner on UFC on Fuel TV 6, the fight played out how I generally thought it would. The two felt each other out, with Franklin acting methodically and Le looking a bit flat. In the brief exchanges, Le looked about a split-second slow. And that was when things changed. Suddenly.
Just over two minutes into the first round, Le hit a thunderous right hand on Franklin’s jaw while countering a low kick, sending Franklin to the mat in a heap. The one punch knockout left Franklin face-first on the mat as Le celebrated in victory, and earned a spot on Sportscenter this morning.
Although it would be hard to say with a straight face that this fight had any implications in the UFC Middleweight Title picture, the win was extremely important for Le’s career in the octagon. After a loss to Wanderlei Silva and an uninspiring victory against Patrick Cote, Le needed a good showing to ensure that he maintained his status as a UFC “feature attraction.” Needless to say, with the spectacular knockout of Franklin, Le left little doubt that people will be interested to watch his next fight. While in no event do I want to see Le fight someone like Anderson Silva or even Chris Weidman, I would love to see him test Chris Leben’s iron jaw or try to spin kick Michael Bisping’s head off.
While Le has solidified his viability as a draw going forward, there are different questions for Franklin. Although “Ace” had previously avoided many of the cringe-worthy knockouts that some other veteran fighters encountered before people starting calling (and in some cases, begging) for retirement, where Franklin goes from here is unclear. Since losing the middleweight title to Anderson Silva, Franklin has been the standard-bearer in the “featured attraction” division, often fighting other veterans for the sake of an interesting main event. Losing to Le in such devastating fashion confirms that Franklin will not be able to rise above this situation into more “title relevant” fights going forward. The question then becomes how many 185-205 pounders are there left for Franklin before people start losing interest.
The bigger story, however, is Cung Le. This win gives Le the right to fight whenever and whoever he wants at this point. If he is willing to continue putting the time into his MMA career and put acting aside for the time being, there is no doubt that there are other interesting fights on the horizon for the former Strikeforce champion.