This Saturday at UFC 115 as Rich Franklin stands across the Octagon from Chuck Liddell he stands as the man with the most to lose and the least to gain in the fight. A loss to Liddell will speak more to where Franklin stands in his career than The Iceman. Both men are undoubtedly two of the greatest champions the UFC has known and their reigns helped to usher in the current level of mainstream acceptance of MMA. While neither man has been able to display the dominance that brought them success of just a few years ago, it is Liddell that openly has come under scrutiny losing four out of his last five fights, with three of those losses by devastating knock outs. Because of this Chuck Liddell is working harder than he has in years to retain his former glory and assert his position in the light heavyweight division. If Chuck should pull off the victory, what does it say about Franklin to lose to a man who hasn’t had two back to back victories since the end of 2006? The only way a loss doesn’t seriously hurt Franklin’s standings at 205 is if Chuck goes on the greatest Cinderella title run in MMA history.
This isn’t to say that Chuck Liddell’s career should be written off at this point but the facts are the facts. And those facts are that Chuck Liddell is 40 years old, in the twilight of his career, and Rich isn‘t getting any younger at 35 years old and is re-entering the light heavyweight division at the time when it is full of the most talented fighters MMA has ever seen. A loss to Liddell would not only dash any immediate consideration for title contention, it could drop Ace to below gate-keeper status. It could send him to a level of fighter who is trotted out as a test for young up and coming fighters. A position that he is no stranger to, although in the past, he was the rising young star coming up against the likes of Ken Shamrock and Evan Tanner.
In the more likely event that Rich takes home the victory this weekend it raises the question of who he takes on next. The last two men to beat Chuck were immediately rewarded with title fights. This is a highly unlikely outcome for Franklin as beating The Iceman is no longer the claim to fame it once was. With a shot against the eventual winner of Rua/Evans out the window Rich still faces a level of competition that he hasn’t seen since his last bout against Anderson Silva. The chances of Rich making a successful run at the belt against the younger men in their prime such as Forrest Griffin, Thiago Silva, John Jones and Lyoto Machida are slim. Unlike many of the new breed of fighters in the division, Rich brings along with him years of experience and the marketability that is only gained by becoming an icon in the sport. A series of dominant wins could pave the way towards a title run. There’s a window of opportunity for success at light heavyweight but as time goes by, that window closes more and more. A loss to Liddell would all but seal it shut.