BELFAST, Northern Ireland – Rich Franklin hardly put on a dominant performance on Saturday, but what he gave was enough to earn him another shot at the UFC's middleweight championship.
Franklin survived a late submission attempt from Yushin Okami and went on to score a unanimous decision in UFC 72 before a sellout crowd of 7,850 at Odyssey Arena. All three judges had it 29-28, or two rounds to one, for Franklin.
Franklin will fight the winner of the July 7 title match in Sacramento, Calif., between Anderson Silva and Nate Marquardt for the belt later this year.
It was, though, hardly a spectacular performance and it left many in the crowd booing throughout. After a card filled with drama and high-energy bouts, the main event was a major letdown.
But Franklin, now 24-2, didn’t mind. All he wanted was the win, and he nearly didn’t get it when Okami slapped on a kimura late in the round.
“It was pretty close,” Franklin said of a decision to tap out. “There was a lot of pressure on my shoulder.
I was a little nervous.”
Franklin said the mat was slippery and he was having trouble keeping his footing, which he said limited his striking ability. "I kept trying to fight for center control,” he said, because he said the logo on the mat in the center of the ring was the only place providing stable footing.
Franklin didn’t land anything significant, but Okami landed next to nothing, particularly in the first two rounds.
At the start of the third, Okami raced from the corner and threw a flying knee at Franklin, who was preparing to touch gloves in a gesture of sportsmanship.
Franklin dodged the knee and then grinned, wagging his finger at Okami.
Okami, who is a ground-and-pound expert, got Franklin down only once, in the third round. When he did, he nearly got the finish, but Franklin managed to fight free.
That sets up his chance to regain the title he lost to Silva last year on a stunning first-round knockout.
“If that’s what’s next, then that’s what’s next,” Franklin said.
HAZELETT BEATS HOMETOWN FAVORITE
The sellout crowd at Odyssey Arena was at a fever pitch from the opening moments of UFC 72, when one of their own made his UFC debut.
Stevie Lynch received an overwhelming ovation from the raucous home crowd for his bout with Dustin Hazelett, but they went dead silent less than three minutes when Lynch was forced to tap his submission to a choke in their welterweight bout.
Hazelett slipped on a D'Arce choke, which he transitioned to a gator roll, forcing Lynch to tap at 2:50. The fans, who had been roaring for Lynch and chanting, "Stevie! Stevie! Stevie!" only seconds before went eerily silent.
Hazelett, a jiu-jitsu expert, got the edge in striking, opening a cut on Lynch's left eye in the first exchange just 30 seconds into the bout. When the fight was over, Hazelett's stomach was covered with Lynch's blood.
"Every time I fight, I watch it over and over, because I'm my own worst critic," Hazelett said. "I find my weakest point and just work and work and work on it."
Heavyweight Colin Robinson of nearby Antrim, Northern Ireland, sent the crowd into a near-frenzy when he took Eddie Sanchez down and was pummeling him in a ground and pound. Referee Herb Dean appeared on the verge of stopping it.
Robinson then transitioned into an armbar and it appeared the fight was over as the crowd roared its approval. But Sanchez survived and managed to get into full mount and pound Robinson.
The bell rang, though, and Robinson survived. But the fight didn’t go for long, as Sanchez landed an overhand right in the early seconds of the second round. He took Robinson down and finished him with a brutal ground and pound. Referee Herb Dean stopped it at 32 seconds of the second round.
"Colin is a tough son of a gun,” Sanchez said. “He is a tough, tough character."
Robinson was helped from the ring, with an oxygen mask over his mouth.
DAVIS SCORES A TKO
Marcus Davis, who had a 17-1-2 record as a pro boxer, displayed his punching power by knocking Jason Tan down with a right hand to the chin and then pounding away until referee Yves Lavigne rescued Tan by stopping the fight at 1:15 of the first.
Tan was so out of it that after the fight was over he grabbed Davis' leg in an attempt to take him down.
Davis, who is from Bangor, Maine, but whose family is from Waterford, Ireland, was jubilant after the bout.
"As a pro boxer, my dream was to fight in Ireland," Davis said. "That was my dream. But when I quit boxing, that dream went away. I thought, 'What would MMA ever go to Ireland? It’s too small.' But thanks to Zuffa and the UFC and all they've done, I just lived my dream. I lived my dream."
The fight was slow with little happening until the finishing sequence. Tan and Davis threw at the same time, but Davis was quicker and his right landed square on the chin, sending Tan down and, essentially, out.
Davis hopped on him and pounded mercilessly until Lavigne tore him away.
"I hit him once and I knew he was hurt, so I hit him again and then I came back with the hook, boom, right on button," Davis said. "I went down and finished him off with some jackhammers."
HERMAN THRASHES SMITH
Ed Herman dominated Scott Smith from start to finish in their middleweight bout, ultimately winning by a submission when he slapped on a rear naked choke and forced Smith to tap at 2:25 of the second round.
Herman took Smith down just 10 seconds into the fight, got into his guard and battered him with elbows. It was pretty much that way until the end.
An elbow from Herman midway through the first round opened a large gash on the bridge of Smith’s nose that left blood flowing freely into his left eye, reducing his visibility. Smith barely survived the first, and couldn’t make it through the second. After he put a guillotine choke on Herman, Herman worked free of it and managed to get Smith’s back. He slapped on the rear naked choke and got the win by tap.
"I told you guys I'd take him down, hit him and make him quit," Herman said. "He took more than I thought he would. He kept fighting. He’s a tough guy. I give him props."
GRIFFIN TOPS GUIDA IN CLASSIC
Tyson Griffin lost an early candidate for Fight of the Year in February when he dropped a close decision to Frank Edgar. He won one on Saturday by topping Clay Guida in a high-paced fight that had the crowd on its feet roaring its approval.
At least twice during the bout, in which the fighters traded submission attempts, hard punches and never stopped moving, the crowd rose and cheered lustily.
When it was over, all three judges scored it 29-28, or two rounds to one. Doug Crosby and Andy Roberts scored it for Griffin, while Jeff Mullen had it for Guida. Yahoo! Sports scored it 29-28 for Guida.
The crowd booed the result, but there was nothing to boo about the way the fighters fought.
"That is what a mixed martial arts fight should be," Guida said.
Each man had several submission attempts and each landed hard punches and slams. Griffin thought he did enough while he was on the bottom to win, but he was philosophical about the result.
"When you don't finish the bout, you put it in the hands of the judges and it's up to them," Griffin said. "I lost a real close one last time I could have won and I won a real close one tonight I could have lost. That's how decisions go."
MACDONALD STOPS SINGER
Rory Singer was teasing Jason MacDonald about his skinny legs at Thursday's news conference, which MacDonald didn't care much for.
On Saturday, he got his revenge by stopping Singer at 3:18 of the second round during a fight in which the crowd was repeatedly singing "Old McDonald."
MacDonald managed to get a full mount where he was seated on top of Singer. He laid a a series of elbows to the face, causing referee Yves Lavigne to stop it.
"Rory was being a bit of a wise guy at the press conference, so I was smacking the sense of humor out of him," MacDonald said.
Singer was trying to hook his legs under MacDonald's arms and then pull his way out of the problem, but he left his face open and he paid the price for it.
GRIFFIN TOPS RAMIREZ
With the crowd roaring at his every move, Forrest Griffin put the nightmare of his knockout loss to Keith Jardine behind him, punching and kicking his way to a unanimous decision over Hector Ramirez in a light heavyweight bout. Griffin has one of the game's sturdiest chins, but was clipped by Jardine and stopped on Dec. 30.
He used more movement on Saturday, but Ramirez had little offense other than a few early flurries.
"I get knocked out in my last fight and I was afraid I'd get kayoed again, so I played a little hide and go seek," said Griffin, who said he battled several undisclosed injuries that limited his training.