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Rich Franklin, Dan Henderson mull over post-UFC 93 future

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Rich Franklin and Dan Henderson have both been around the mixed martial arts block. But the two former champions are a little unsure of just what a win at UFC 93 later this month means.

At this stage, it looks like the Franklin-Henderson winner Jan. 17 in Dublin can look forward to a TV gig - and a diet down the line.

Franklin started his UFC career at light-heavyweight (205 pounds), before moving down to middleweight (185 pounds) where he won the title. After losing his championship to Anderson Silva, the UFC asked him to move back to light-heavyweight.

Henderson won titles in Japan in the Pride equivalent to middleweight and light-heavyweight before moving over to the UFC. And he has fought for the title in both weight classes in the UFC.

The two men meet at light-heavyweight in Dublin. The winner gets a shot as coach of "The Ultimate Fighter" reality TV show. But it appears they will have to move down to middleweight to do it.

Confused? Well even Franklin is wondering what's going on.

Season 9 of "The Ultimate Fighter" is the root cause of the latest change. The UFC is mixing up the format this time, opting for a U.S. versus British team format. Popular English middleweight Michael (The Count) Bisping has been named coach of the Brits and the Henderson-Franklin winner will lead the American fighters.

But it seems the game plan is hardly carved in stone.

"To the best of my knowledge, I believe that's the way things are going to work," Franklin said in an interview Monday.

"That's what it's looking like ... I win, I'm the coach," Henderson echoed in a separate interview. "I have no idea beyond that."

Added Franklin: "What are the UFC's plans with myself if I do end up being the coach? My answer to that is I have no clue."

If recent tradition continues, Bisping will fight his rival coach after the show has run its course - which means Henderson or Franklin will return to middleweight.

Bisping won Season 3 of the TV show as a light-heavyweight but moved down to middleweight after losing to Rashad Evans at UFC 78. The face of mixed martial arts in the United Kingdom, Bisping is important to the UFC as it spreads to other parts of Europe. His star is on the rise and a high-profile test against the likes of Henderson or Franklin could be a springboard to a 185-pound title shot.

The middleweight division needs some excitement at the top, other than champion Anderson Silva administering butt-kickings.

The UFC insists its 185-pound ranks are filled with talent, saying that Silva's considerable skills makes the gap between champion and contenders look wider than it is.

But Silva has already beaten the elite of the division in stopping Franklin, Henderson and Nate Marquardt among his four title defences. Canadian Patrick Cote (who lost to Silva at UFC 90) and Thales Leites (expected to fight Silva at UFC 97 in Montreal in April) are living proof that a win streak that includes a victory over a name opponent (Ricardo Almeida for Cote and Marquardt for Leites) are the current gold standard to secure a title shot at 185 pounds.

Japan's Yushin Okami was seen as the No. 1 contender until he lost his place in the lineup through injury. He did little to advance his championship cause with a dull win over Dean Lister last time out at UFC 92.

There are other middleweights out there, but the timing isn't quite right. Demian Maia is perhaps the leading light among the middleweight contenders but could be a fight or two away from a title shot. Canadian Denis Kang, who makes his UFC debut in Dublin after a lengthy career elsewhere, could find himself at the top of the ladder with a couple of wins.

TUF producers and the UFC apparently looked at both Marquardt and Maia as possible coaches for the TV show. Maia got a longer look than Marquardt, who while well-spoken is quiet and shy. Maia, a Brazilian, speaks English, has spent time in the U.S. and has an engaging personality.

Ultimately the UFC has turned to a pair of familiar faces in the hunt for a suitable coach - and challenge for Bisping.

Should Franklin have to return to 185, one would hope he goes with a big IOU from the UFC in his back pocket. After all, he has just one light-heavyweight bout under his belt - a third-round TKO over Matt (The Hammer) Hamill at UFC 88 in September - since the UFC asked him to move up to light-heavyweight.

That request came in the wake of Franklin's second loss to Anderson Silva, who won the title from the former Cincinnati math teacher at UFC 64 and then beat him again at UFC 77.

The feeling from the UFC - and Silva and Franklin themselves - was that there was little appetite from any quarter for Silva-Franklin 3. And a move back to light-heavyweight where Franklin began his UFC career was thought to offer him new challenges.

Franklin, who meticulously tracks his training, spent months figuring out how to prepare his body for 205 pounds. Should he beat Henderson, it appears that light-heavyweight intel will be put on the back burner.

Light-heavyweight is nearer to the natural weight of both Franklin and Henderson, meaning the weight cut is far less severe.

Still Henderson is positive about the chance to coach and the move back to 185.

"I'm OK with all of that. I'm excited to be able to have that opportunity to do it. And I'm more excited about the format this time, it's a little bit different."

Franklin, less so.

"I'm not as excited to do the show this time as I was the first time," said Franklin, who joined Matt Hughes as a coach on Season 2. "I mean any time you do something the first, it's way more exciting.

"But this is what the UFC wanted. They've always treated me well and I'm always willing to do whatever they need me to do. ... And I don't want to paint the picture that I'm not excited to do this. It's just not as appealing to me as it was the first time."

The show is slated to start filming later this month.

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