By James Goyder
When Rich Franklin finally decides to quit fighting, he will walk straight into the UFC Hall of Fame. He’ll be able to reflect back on a glorious career that has entrenched him as one of the finest middleweights in the history of the sport.
But he’s not done just yet.
The former UFC 185-pound champion knows that another title run is now beyond his reach, but before he hangs up his gloves there is at least one piece of business he would like to attend to.
“I look at my Twitter and a lot of people talk about (Michael) Bisping,” said Franklin. “That would be an exciting fight and something the fans would want to see. I’m an exciting fighter, he’s an exciting fighter, and we both like to throw down.”
Both Bisping and Franklin have alternated between wins and losses in their last few fights, so it is a match-up could make sense. Regardless of whether Franklin’s wish is granted, he knows his Octagon days are numbered.
“I wake up with bumps and bruises and aches and pains, but I feel pretty good at this age, and I know that if I train for another five years, it’s really going to tear into me,” said the 38-year-old former schoolteacher. “I can feel a difference now preparing for a fight as opposed to even three, four or five years ago. There’s a big difference.”
Franklin said that his next fight could well be his last, although he could stretch to one more after that depending on a number of factors.
“I’m not sure if I have one or two more fights left on my UFC contract, but do I fulfill the contract or just do one more fight and then retire?” he pondered. “I think about these things on a daily basis, but my intent at this point in time is to fight again. The uncertainty is more about the fact that I know I’m not going to put the time in to get all the way back to the title, not this late in the game.”
After being beaten not once but twice by Anderson Silva, it seemed Franklin’s middleweight career was at an end, as he moved up to 205 pounds at the urging of the UFC matchmakers. After competing regularly in catchweight bouts, he dropped back down to the division where he made his name to face Cung Le last year, headlining the UFC’s first event ever in China.
It was supposed to be the start of one last title run, but a first-round knockout at the hands of Le cast those plans aside. Franklin realizes that the middleweight belt is now out of his reach.
“After my last fight, the timetable for me to recapture the 185 title has been way set back. I’m at a point where I’m not going to put in two, two-and-a-half years to get back at a title shot. I know I don’t have that in me, so now I’m faced with a decision: ‘what do I do?’”
Something Franklin won’t be doing is fighting for an organization other than the UFC.
His recent appearance as a guest speaker at the One Asia MMA Summit raised some eyebrows, but he is a regular visitor to Singapore and says he was just doing a favor for a friend.
“I came down here as a personal favor to Chatri (Sityodtong, owner of Evolve MMA in Singapore) to speak at this thing and so there was no intent of coming over to One FC or anything like that,” said Franklin.
“I came down to Singapore with Matt Hume a couple of years ago to teach a seminar at Evolve and I was really impressed with the facility and the instructors. There’s a good atmosphere and they’ve got good talent, so sometime later I came down and did my camp for Wanderlei when I fought in Brazil and then I did the same thing for Cung.”
One FC organized the summit. It featured Franklin as one of the speakers, alongside Renzo Gracie, Matt Hume and Bruce Lee’s brother, Robert Lee. Franklin spoke about his journey from schoolteacher to mixed martial artist. He had some keen advice for any aspiring fighters looking to follow in his footsteps.
“If you want to make it to the big show in the U.S., there are so many different organizations that it’s almost necessary to have a dozen or a couple of dozen amateur fights because a ton of guys end up on TUF and you see their records are 3-1 or 4-0 and then they get in the UFC and they burn out after two fights because they don’t have the experience to move forward the way they need to once they get in that upper echelon.”
Franklin is not looking for fights at the moment, purely because his is on the verge of launching a new business venture and doesn’t have enough time to train properly.
“We are building this organic juice concept and a lot of my energy is focused on that. So the training that I’m doing is more recreational rather than specified fight training, and I know while I’m doing this for the next month or so I’m not going to be able to concentrate specifically on a fight.”
He made his professional MMA debut in 1999, although, at the time, he was still a full-time schoolteacher. Fighting soon became a full-time job. Franklin doesn’t intend to walk away from the sport altogether once his competitive career comes to an end, but he is looking at alternative means of making money
“(The juice business) will be my next phase,” he said. “In some capacity I’ll be involved in MMA. I’m not sure if I’ll end up commentating or analyzing or whatever way the UFC will end up using me in the future, but I don’t know how financially rewarding that will be. I don’t want to put all my eggs in one basket, so I need to make sure I diversify with my income.”
While selling organic fruit juice might not seem like an obvious choice of direction for a former fighter, Franklin feels that the expertise that has helped him continue to hold his own in the UFC until the age of 38 will serve him well in the next phase of his professional life.
“I’m very passionate about nutrition. I’m a fighter who’s very specific about nutrition and the way that I train and my work ethic. I could stand here and talk nutrition all day with you, so it’s a business that makes sense.”
These business commitments mean Franklin isn’t available to fight at present, but he does aim to be back in action by the end of the year for what could be the final fight of his career. With title talk off the agenda, Franklin has no worries about the rankings or where his next fight leads, but after almost a decade in the UFC’s employ, he’ll remain a loyal servant even in his swansong.
“Since my ultimate goal is not to go back and capture the 185-pound title, it doesn’t really matter to me if it’s at 185 or a catchweight or 205. Wherever the UFC needed me, I would fight, as long as the fight made sense.”