Obscure fighter of the week: Rich Crunkilton

UFC Fighter Portraits Photo by Jim Kemper/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

There’s not much to the story. Today’s just an excuse to talk about his performance at UFC 42 against Hermes Franca.

When I began this feature, I didn’t expect much. Honestly, I still don’t. There are better ways to attract people to this website, and highlighting names nobody remembers is not one of them. This feature is not for everyone, and that’s kind of the point — making subject matter that would otherwise be exclusive, inclusive. Nonetheless, I didn’t expect so much raw story to be packed inside these men’s lives.

Before writing about Jeff Joslin, I had no clue he struggled with concussions, and did a TED talk this year. Before writing about Remigijus Morkevicius, I had no clue how much violence followed him outside the ring. I just thought he was an exciting fighter that I happened to remember. For better and for worse, these details have made writing a lot easier. They give me a beginning, a middle, and an end. Just like Robert McKee taught me.

But that’s not the case with today’s fighter, Rich Crunkilton. I’m not here to talk his ‘Life and Times.’ As far as I know, he’s led his life the same way he led his career: out of the limelight. And that’s why I’d like to talk about his one moment in the limelight.

It was April 25, 2003. The event? UFC 42: Sudden Impact. Yes, this is back when UFC’s were named after subtitles for direct-to-video sequels of once-beloved action movies. The main event was Matt Hughes vs. Sean Sherk. Huhges vs. Sherk was a decent fight, all things considered. But it’d be hard to top what came before it when Hermes Franca defeated Rich Crunkilton via Decision. Although not for the reasons you might think.

Both fighters were undefeated going into the bout. Like Franca, nobody knew much about Crunkilton either. All they had were their names, and a spot on the card. They’d make the most of it.

The fight opened up with the best move of the night: Franca charged at Crunkilton in the center of the octagon. With both overhooks in, Crunkilton executed the single greatest lateral drop throw in the UFC I’ve ever seen. I’ll leave the technique nerds to argue over how whether or not it was influenced by the yoko otoshi, or hiza guruma, and what preceded what, but regardless, it was amazing.

If I’m already starting to sound whimsical, keep in mind, this was the lightweight limbo period. After being teased with the talents of Jens Pulver, B.J. Penn, and Caol Uno in the early 00’s, we didn’t get anything fun until 2006, when Sean Sherk would fight for the title of a suddenly reinstated division — ‘fun’ being a loose term.

That didn’t mean there wasn’t talent. Hermes Franca was a beast back then. Before he became an absolute scumbag, of course. He had vicious KO power, and dynamic jiu-jitsu. Guys like Josh Thomson and Yves Edwards couldn’t beat him cleanly (I personally thought he beat Thomson), and throughout his prime, he even squeezed in a submission win over Nate Diaz (still his only submission loss).

Where was I?

Crunkilton and Franca didn’t just exchange scrambles. They traded punches, with Franca getting the best of it. The fight itself was good, though not legendary or anything. I’m not even sure it was the best fight on the card. Despite their reputations, Hughes vs. Sherk was an exciting, technical, back-and-forth with Sherk rallying late (getting a takedown on Hughes was kind of a big deal back then). Duane Ludwig vs. Genki Sudo also had it all: technique, a comeback, and highway robbery. Plus, who can forget Pete Spratt upsetting Robbie Lawler by kicking his legs so hard, it turned Lawler’s pelvic bone into a G.I. Joe toy that popped its o-ring after one too many backyard reenactments of Predator?

No. The fight and Crunkilton in particular, never faded from memory because it was that rare instance of a fight making you squeamish. Franca was having success putting Crunkilton in danger with various submissions. Earlier in the fight, he even appeared to lock an armbar in, but Crunkilton escaped.

Or did he? With less than a minute remaining in the final round, Crunkilton is in Franca’s guard. Nothing special is happening. Seconds remain in the fight, and they’ve already given it their all. Then Crunkilton’s arm dislocates. Franca sees the injury before Crunkilton does. And he should — he’s got the best view of Crunkilton’s elbow joint trying to escape the flesh that’s hermetically sealing it. So Franca does the normal thing you do when you’re stuck inside a cage fighting for money, and starts bending Crunkilton’s arm at a 90 degree angle. Crunkilton screams. We’re not talking about the kind of scream you hear in a theatre, watching a horror film. This was a newborn’s wail — the kind of natural selection scream meant to assert its presence to protect itself from going back into the abyss it was pulled out of.

Crunkilton survived. Somehow. And that was that.

The UFC didn’t bring him back, but he’d go on to have a successful career (including a title shot in the WEC back when the division was mainly just Rob McCullough), fighting his last fight in 2013 with an extremely respectable record of 19-4.

Rich Crunkilton won’t ever have the name that echoes in eternity, but he’ll have that moment. When you think about it, that’s more than most.

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