As the MMA world eagerly awaits the UFC welterweight title unification bout between Georges St. Pierre and Carlos Condit at UFC 154 next week, the promotion’s traveling Octagon tour still has one important stop to make on the way.
On Saturday, the UFC will plant its flag on Chinese soil for the first time ever when it invades the CotaiArena in Macau for UFC on Fuel TV 6.
Headlining the bill is a middleweight clash between company go-to guy Rich Franklin and former Strikeforce 185-pound champ Cung Le. While the card is filled with fighters from surrounding Asian nations, just one fighter of Chinese descent -- Tiequan Zhang -- will be competing in Macau. In its never-ending quest for global dominance, the UFC can only hope that its inaugural visit leads to more Chinese fighters on the roster and ultimately, more events in the world’s most populous nation. At the very least, it figures to be a good way to kill a few hours on a Saturday morning -- or evening, depending on your time zone. Here is a closer look at the UFC on Fuel TV 6 card, with analysis and picks.
MiddleweightsRich Franklin (29-6, 1 NC, 14-5 UFC) vs. Cung Le (8-2, 1-1 UFC)
The Matchup: After he defeated Wanderlei Silva for the second time in a catch-weight bout at UFC 147, Franklin suggested that he would like to make one final title run at 185 pounds before hanging up his gloves. Now 37 years old, “Ace” has not competed at middleweight since a victory over Travis Lutter in 2008. While Franklin has recognized that he is too small to be a serious contender in the current 205-pound climate, he will have to hope that Anderson Silva retires before he does -- because no one is clamoring for a third meeting between “The Spider” and the former high school math teacher.
Le was originally scheduled to lock horns with Franklin at UFC 148 before an injury to Vitor Belfort dictated that the Ohioan face “The Axe Murderer” at UFC 147. Instead, Le earned a three-round decision over former title challenger Patrick Cote, landing accurate kicks to the legs, body and head of his opponent throughout. Additionally, the sanshou specialist was able to counter Cote effectively and even scored a couple of takedowns in the bout’s final frame. While it was a positive sign to see Le go the distance, cardio has always been an issue for the 40-year-old, and his pace appeared to slow in the third round versus Cote as well.
Headlining the UFC’s first-ever event in China is especially significant for Le, who was born in Vietnam. While it is unclear as to what type of reception Le will receive from the crowd in Macau, the fighter has expressed an appreciation for the chance to compete in a place he considers a hub of martial arts. One point of concern for Le is a foot injury that has not had time to mend during his camp. During a recent interview with Ariel Helwani on “The MMA Hour,” Le revealed that the ailment was only about 80 percent healed.
If the injury significantly affects Le’s ability to kick and move, he will be in for an especially long night against Franklin. The former UFC champ has a better gas tank than Le, and Franklin is a master at adapting an approach best suited to maximize his strengths on fight night. That usually includes a steady diet of left hands and body kicks, and Franklin’s 6-inch reach advantage should allow him to stay away from Le’s flashy assortment of spinning strikes.
The advancing age of both fighters increase the chances for a stoppage. However, Franklin survived somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 unanswered strikes in the second round of his triumph over Silva in June. The Team Extreme representative is certainly susceptible to being caught but can also be extremely resourceful under heavy fire.
Le has a stellar 89-percent takedown defense rate, but the majority of his opposition have not been pressure-oriented wrestlers. Franklin does not fit into this category either, but if anyone is likely to score a takedown in this matchup, it is “Ace.” Once on top, Franklin has solid ground-and-pound, which could become even more of a factor as Le fatigues in later rounds.
The Pick: The UFC really wanted Le for the China card, but he has only been impressive in spurts thus far during his promotional tenure. Franklin has the gas tank, intelligence and skill set to make life difficult for the former Strikeforce middleweight champion. Franklin by third-round TKO.
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