Franca was 0-for-2005, dropping three consecutive fights that year -- decisions to Yves Edwards (Pictures) and Koutetsu Boku (Pictures) along with a knockout loss to Ray Cooper (Pictures) sandwiched in between. It was at this point when most people began to write Franca off.
That was, of course, until the Ruediger fight.
Ruediger had won nine fights in a row and many picked him to beat up Franca and move on to stardom. Franca had other plans and tentatively thwarted any such looming glory for young Gabe.
Franca has never looked back while clobbering everyone in his path, including most recently the tough and talented Spencer Fisher (Pictures). In all, Franca has won eight straight fights, putting him in position to realize a lifelong dream.
"Sometimes I sit in my room and cry about this," Franca told Sherdog.com. "For those who know me know how in 2001 I came to this country and worked at the car wash. Then in 2003 I got into the UFC. Then in 2005 I got my ass kicked three times and now to finally get my chance, it's a dream. It's everything to me and it's like I am a true warrior. It's a dream come true and I just wish to do my best this Saturday and get the title."
In turning his fighting career around, Franca has pulled off a great comeback. Yet the 32-year-old lightweight, who fights out of Jupiter, Fla., remains humble in the face of success.
Franca has worked hard to revamp his arsenal and realizes the importance of fighting for Sherk's title, especially considering the blood, sweat and tears he poured into landing the chance.
"I don't want to sound cocky or say any s--t, but what makes me confident is my hard work," he said. "I have to do hard work everyday. … So day-by-day, fight-by-fight, I just gain more confidence and I know I can fight anybody in my weight division. I really don't care who I fight because I believe in myself and I believe in my hard work and that's why I have so much confidence. I really can't wait to step into the cage July 7 and fight."
Some have tabbed Sherk as that next great lightweight, a man considered to be almost unbeatable now that he dropped down to 155 pounds. And that makes sense considering he's only tasted defeat twice during his eight-year 34-fight career. But Franca is undeterred and believes that he will prevail under any circumstances.
"I think I can beat him," Franca stated. "I've been training very hard. I have very good fighters with me who train with me every day. You know, I've fought against some great fighters. I've fought against wrestlers, I've fought against strikers (and) I've fought against jiu-jitsu guys. I think I can beat Sean Sherk (Pictures). He's tough, he's professional but I think I can beat him -- he's not unbeatable."
Sherk is a solid striker, though he doesn't possess crippling punching power. Rather, the champion from Minnesota features a bread-and-butter game plan that makes use of his tremendous wrestling ability, strength and ground-and-pound.
"If he wants to exchange with me, he's gonna feel my pressure (and) if he takes me down, he's gonna see my jiu-jitsu," Franca said confidently. "If I sweep him, he's gonna feel a lot of pressure from the top. He's got no guard. You saw his fight against Georges St. Pierre (Pictures) and he did nothing on the bottom. And when he fought Nick Diaz (Pictures), Nick Diaz (Pictures) stopped a lot of takedowns or he pulled guard. In the second round he took Nick Diaz (Pictures) down but Diaz pulled an omoplata but there was only like five seconds to go in the round. He went to the omoplata so easily and I think can beat him with my jiu-jitsu. Each way (I can win), you know? If he wants to stand up I will knock him out, and if he wants to take me down I will submit him."
Though Sherk has only lost to Matt Hughes (Pictures) and most recently to St. Pierre, Franca said he knows in his heart that he has Sherk figured out.
"I think his guard is his weakness," the challenger revealed. "Georges St. Pierre (Pictures) took him down and (Sean) couldn't do nothing, you know? He was trying to strike from the stand-up. He has no guard and he has no submissions from the bottom. I think I can take him down, too. I train with wrestlers and I fought wrestlers and I take those guys down. I think I can take him down, too, and finish him. I think that's his weakness."
Franca-Sherk is one of the co-main events to Saturday's UFC 73 at the Arco Arena in Sacramento, Calif., which has been billed as "Stacked." He has dreamt about a UFC world title shot and in just a few days that will come true.
Franca remains a slight underdog coming into the bout, but he said he prefers it that way. This is his dream he's living out, and he finally landed his coveted title shot … but just getting there isn't enough.