by Mick Hammond – MMAWeekly.com
I could have been easy to count out Hermes Franca heading into this past Friday’s WEC 19 event. He had lost three in a row and five of his last seven and was going up against a fighter that had won nine straight in Gabe Ruediger.

Last year as well Hermes had a long drawn out split from his longtime American Top Team teammates and was starting off on his own with a new gym and team, The Armory. Yet with all this against him, he rose up and showed he’s still one of the best in the 155lb division.

Looking in tremendous shape, Franca asserted himself on Ruediger, quickly landing a right hand which sent Gabe down to the mat. As if he hadn’t missed a beat in his nearly six months away from fighting, Hermes swooped in for the kill and finished the fight.

Just like that all the doubt, uncertainty, and perhaps loss of respect went right out the window as Franca captured the WEC Lightweight Championship. The man who had always been a consummate contender and then seemingly lost his way had returned.

Next up for Hermes is anyone’s guess. Should he decide to stay in the WEC there’s a possible showdown with “Razor” Rob McCullough who won earlier in the night. With Hermes’ willingness to stand and trade if need be and Rob’s unrelenting striking style, it could make for a very entertaining match-up.

Other possibilities include a return to Japan to fight in K-1. Franca had been one of the signature fighters entered into the company’s Middleweight GP before losing a majority decision to Koutetsu Boku. With a deeper schedule this year, the Hero’s circuit could provide entertaining fights with Genki Sudo or even possibly Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto.

Then there is Hermes’ old company, the UFC. With their reassertion to the lightweight division and the losses of Josh Thomson and Yves Edwards in recent weeks, the company needs a solid veteran to oppose the young talent projected to enter the company this year.

Franca could quickly establish himself as a contender for the UFC 155lb Championship if he goes back to the company and puts together a win or two. That could later set up a showdown with Thomson or Edwards if they re-enter the company, both to whom Franca lost tough fights in the past and would seek to even the score with.

Whichever promotion or direction Hermes decides to head; his options are a lot more open than they were last year. 2005 is over; all the turmoil, strife, and losing are behind him for the time being. It’s a new year and a multitude of possibilities lay at his doorstep.

He went into a must-win fight and won, something a lot of veteran fighters in the division haven’t been doing. He refused to let his past determine his present and future. With a renewed vigor and balance in his life this could just be the year that Franca goes from being a fighter on the verge of greatness, to finally achieving it.