Saturday, March 3, 2007

MacDonald's UFC opponent boasts a Rich history


COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Like many fight fans, Canadian Jason MacDonald wonders which Rich Franklin the world will see tonight at UFC 68: The Uprising.

The 31-year-old mixed martial arts fighter from Red Deer will get the best view. He'll be in the ring facing Franklin.

Last time out, Franklin entered the ring as UFC middleweight champion, riding an eight-fight win streak. Two minutes 59 seconds later, he was on his back, stunned with a badly broken nose while Brazilian hard man Anderson Silva was celebrating. Surgery followed in the wake of the October loss, Franklin's second in 24 fights.

MacDonald (19-7) has won his last six bouts but knows how a loss can play on a fighter's mind.

"You start to question what you're doing and what you've done in the past. And is this really what you want to do?" he told The Canadian Press.

"I guess the big question is how is (Franklin) going to bounce back from not only a devastating loss but a loss where he was injured fairly badly?"

Franklin, 32, has had plenty of time to sift through the wreckage of the Silva fight.

"I don't think you can go through a loss like that and not re-evaluate things," Franklin said. "You start re-evaluating every aspect of your life: Your focus inside your career, your focus outside your career. Your training, your coaches. . . . You make the necessary changes you need to make and hope it corrects the problem."

In contrast, MacDonald has the right kind of momentum after impressive submission wins in his two UFC fights to date: Ed Herman and Chris Leben. The Canadian rendered Leben unconscious at UFC 66.

But Franklin is a step up in class from those two: a well-rounded, well-conditioned pro.

He is also a gentleman. Asked about a video clip on the card's official website in which he talked of a first-round knockout Saturday night, Franklin was quick to note the clip was taken out of context. He had been responding to a best-case scenario question and not disrespecting his opponent.

"From the brief encounters that we've had, he seems a very respectful, standup guy," said MacDonald. "I think you see a lot of that in the sport today. We're professional athletes. We don't have to hate each other. We're going to fight regardless on Saturday night and we're going to leave it all in the ring Saturday night."

The fight (available on pay-per-view) is on the undercard of the Tim Sylvia-Randy Couture heavyweight title fight. Former welterweight champion Matt Hughes is also on the card, facing Chris Lytle.

A big crowd was on hand at the Nationwide Arena to boo Sylvia at Friday's weigh-in. The six-foot-eight champion tipped the scales as 263 pounds, two below the heavyweight limit, compared to 2221/2 for the ever-popular Couture.

Hughes weighed in at 171, compared to 169 for Lytle.

MacDonald was 1831/2 while Franklin was 185 on the button. A Cincinnati resident, the former champion was well-received at the weigh-in.

For MacDonald, Saturday's fight represents another chance to make his mark on the UFC. He had to wait a long time to get his shot, a stretch that included just missing making the cast of Season 1 of The Ultimate Fighter reality TV show.

For Franklin, it's a chance to get back on track after the painful Silva detour.

The ex-champion would seem to have more to lose on the night. Another loss would compound the Silva debacle. And Franklin is the overwhelming favourite.

MacDonald is the underdog, a role he relishes.

Both MacDonald and Franklin are big middleweights, who will weigh considerably more than the 185-pound weight limit Saturday night after regaining some of the pounds lost for Friday's weigh-in.

They are each lean and long, with an ability to take punishment and dish it out.

Expect Franklin to try to keep the fight standing, while MacDonald looks to take it to the ground where he can manipulate his opponent into position to set up a submission. MacDonald is a master at it, twisting his way around the other fighter like a boa constrictor.

"I'm going to go out there and be aggressive and force the fight on Rich Franklin and try and make him fight my fight," MacDonald said.

The Canadian will have to avoid slugging it out with Franklin, a mistake he made with Leben before returning to his game plan.

The two agree it will come down to who can impose their will on the other.

"This fight's one of those fights where you have two well-conditioned athletes coming on and each of them coming with an agenda," Franklin said. "It is really going to come down to who can pull that agenda off."

There is plenty at stake, with UFC president Dana White promising a title shot to the winner. He may have to wait, however, with Nate Marquardt widely expected to get first crack at Silva.

MacDonald's success in the UFC has enabled him to train full time. He had been on paternity leave from his job as a correction officer at a federal medium-security institution in Bowden, Alta. The UFC has allowed him to extend that leave.

While continuing to train with Mark Pavelich Pro Camp in Edmonton and Josh Russell at Gracie Barra Calgary, MacDonald went to Albuquerque, N.M., to work with renowned trainer Greg Jackson for this fight.

The Jackson camp includes Marquardt, Keith Jardine, Joey Villasenor and Diego Sanchez. All are excelling there and the camp has drawn the likes of welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre, who entertained several Jackson fighters in his native Montreal while preparing for his November title bout against Hughes.

"At this level you're not really learning so much new skills, you're just learning better ways to do the things you already know," MacDonald said. "I was able to go down there and train with some great fighters and learn some new tricks. And even more than that, I was able to separate myself from the day-to-day hustle and bustle of life."

It's not like he spent a month at a spa. He lived in a dorm and trained every day, joining other Jackson fighters in regular runs through trails or up mountain faces.

Married with three kids, MacDonald knows he faces some payback when he returns home.

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