In the past I have been very guilty of underestimating the abilities of Matt “The Hammer” Hamill. For far too long I viewed him as nothing more than a one-dimensional wrestler relying heavily on his grappling and athletic ability. But over the course of the last year I have gained a lot more respect for him as a true mixed martial artist.
CBSSports.com has its staff members offer predictions prior to every major UFC event and tonight’s UFC 88 was no different. When it came time to offer a prognostication for the light heavyweight attraction between Hamill and former UFC middleweight champion Rich Franklin, it was not an easy call to make.
After some deliberation, I ultimately chose to go with Franklin as my pick. That being said, it would not shock me entirely to see an upset. For a man going up in weight for the first time in a long time, Franklin has accepted an ambitious challenge against Hamill.
The last time Franklin competed at 205 pounds was against 41-year old Ken Shamrock in the main event of the live season finale of the inaugural season of “The Ultimate Fighter.” Shamrock struggled just to keep his balance in that fight and was a shadow of the man who was once known as “The World’s Dangerous Man.” Franklin would go on to TKO him at 2:42 of round 1.
Franklin fought in another high profile non-middleweight fight prior to the Shamrock win where he wasn’t anywhere near as successful. He made his UFC debut in 2003 at UFC 42, where he was victorious via first round TKO over Evan Tanner (which was a win that meant something at the time). However, because the UFC wasn’t running monthly shows at the time, it was common for younger fighters to compete outside the promotion in order to accumulate as much fighting experience as possible. Franklin moved up in weight for an Antonio Inoki New Year’s Eve show in Japan later that year and dropped a second round TKO to Lyoto Machida.
While Franklin has no desire to be a gate keeper at middleweight, the reality is that 185 pounds is his best competitive division. Moving back up to 205 pounds might prove to be the challenge he’s looking for, but the light heavyweight division in the UFC is a shark tank. Many of his attributes at 185 such as his punching power and size evaporate once he makes the move up.
Shamrock is really Franklin’s only notable win at 205 and against Hamill, Franklin is fighting a true light heavyweight who is not on the decline, but who is working his way up. Hamill’s cardio is still a question but it has improved since his stint on the third season of “The Ultimate Fighter.” He has also appeared to be in much better condition for his recent fights, showing more definition in his physique. But Hamill’s greatest attributes are his wrestling and his raw strength. The guy is as strong as an ox and that strength has made his hands more of a threat than many had predicted.
While Hamill will never be confused with a K-1 caliber striker, he compensates for a lack of technique with a lot of punching power. He rocked Michael Bisping several times during their controversial fight last September at UFC 75. And at UFC Fight Night 13, it was against Hamill’s fists that did the talking as he ground and pounded his way to a TKO victory over Tim Boetsch in the second round.
It’s Hamill’s ground and pound that Franklin must be the most concerned with. Franklin’s sprawl is good, but if Hamill gets on top of him, his size and strength advantage coupled with his wrestling technique could put Franklin in no-man’s land if he winds up on his back. It won’t be easy for Hamill to get the fight to the floor but he only needs to hit one takedown attempt in order to put Franklin in a dangerous spot.
Franklin was a knockout artist at times at middleweight, but his punching power will not have the same impact moving up a class in weight and Hamill has a strong chin. While Franklin is a good combination puncher, combinations could be what opens him up to a takedown from Hamill.
Despite my new-found respect for Hamill, I still predicted Franklin to win the fight. One major question I have about Hamill that has yet to be addressed is his jiu-jitsu. Franklin is a brown belt under Jorge Gurgel and his submissions are really underrated. In a new weight class and against a fighter with a different style than he’s accustomed to facing, I believe we’re going to see a different Rich Franklin tonight.
While I expect Franklin’s face to be battered and bruised at the conclusion of the fight, I still expect him to walk away victorious thanks in large part to the size-able advantage he’ll have when it comes to his jiu-jitsu.