EXCLUSIVE | Hall of Fame inductee Rich Franklin reflects on highs and lows of UFC career

Rich Franklin
Image: Onefc.com

This July, amid the buzz of the UFC’s International Fight Week in Las Vegas, Rich Franklin will be inducted into the Pioneer Era wing of the UFC Hall of Fame.

The former UFC middleweight champion, who now serves as the Vice President of ONE Championship and CEO of ONE Warrior Series in Singapore, learned of this incredible honor on a phone call with UFC President Dana White.

“I got the news just a couple of weeks before the announcement was made,” Franklin said on the latest episode of BJPenn.com Radio. “Dana actually called me. We chatted, and he just said, ‘Hey, we’re inducting you in the Hall of Fame this year.’ I was surprised because it’s been a few years since I retired from the organization. I’ve been over on this side of the planet doing my own thing. I have friends that talk about Hall of Fame induction all the time, but you get so caught up in what it is that you’re doing that you forget; things are just out of sight, out of mind. And so something like that wasn’t necessarily on my radar.

“But lo and behold, I get this phone call, and I’m not sure the gravity of this induction has really set in for me yet,” he added. “I’ve had a lot of good, loyal fans that have been outspoken about my induction in the Hall of Fame.”

While Rich Franklin didn’t anticipate being inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame, his induction is well deserved. The former math teacher competed inside the UFC’s Octagon a whopping 20 times. In that span, he bested opposition such as Evan Tanner (twice), Ken Shamrock, Nate Quarry, David Loiseau, Yushin Okami, Wanderlei Silva (twice), and Chuck Liddell, headlined numerous cards, and of course, captured and defended the UFC middleweight strap.

Of all the incredible moments of his career, however, there is one memory that really stands out.

“I think my favorite memory — I’ve told this story a number of times before — is a memory of my dad,” he said. “I remind myself to the day that I told my father that I was going to quit teaching to pursue a career as a professional athlete in mixed martial arts.

“The landscape of the industry at that time was very, very unstable. The thought of actually being able to support yourself and make a payday or a living off of competing professionally was nearly impossible. I was my father’s only child that graduated from college, had a career in teaching. In his eyes, I was just throwing a career away.

“The day that I told him that I wanted to leave my career to pursue this, he really looked like he wanted to punch me in the face. And I think that he may have if I was maybe trained in a different sport like Badminton or something like that.

“A little note on that: my dad was a guy who went back to school late in life, and he and I ended up graduating the University of Cincinnati right around the same time. He had earned his degree in nursing. So for him, his education was just that was kind of the pinnacle; like ‘this is your escape from growing up the way that I grew up in poverty.’ Education was the key. I chose a different path.

“Then when you fast-forward, my dad came to my first title defense in Las Vegas. We were eating together… Actually, he was eating. I was cutting weight, and I was eating ice chips. And my dad looked to me, and he said, ‘Man, I’m really, really proud of you for the decisions that you made to pursue a dream, even when other people didn’t believe in you or believe in that something like this was possible.’ He said, ‘Myself included. I thought it was a crazy, crazy decision at the time. So I’m really proud of you for what you’ve done.’ And that memory trumps any belt being strapped around my waist or any time my hand was ever raised or anything like that.”

While this memory stands out as the most important of his career, Rich Franklin does look back proudly on several of his victories as well. He ranks his 2008 win over Travis Lutter — in which he had to fight out of a bone-bending armbar — as his personal favorite.

“If you want to talk about favorite fights, I’ll just say this: My favorite fight is the Travis Lutter fight,” he said. “That match taught me more about myself than any other match that I had because it was a winning performance, but it was probably my worst winning performance that I’ve ever had.

“I had done half of my camp with Matt Hume, I’d been working with Matt at the time,” he continued. “Matt had laid out a game plan for this match. And we trained, we did everything we were supposed to do. When Travis came out into the middle of the cage, he did everything that we predicted in camp, everything I had laid out — and I talked about this match in my TED Talk — but I failed. Every step of the way, I failed. I was in the worst possible situation you could be in. Travis had me in an armbar, which is nearly impossible to escape with somebody like that. But I somehow managed, and then I end up winning the match.

“It just was one of those matches that when I actually lost faith in myself at one point in that match, just for a brief moment and had to recover from that. And so it really taught me a lot about who I was and how to overcome things, how to overcome setbacks, and losses. It taught me a lot about myself. That would be my personal favorite match of my entire career.

“You can take a match where you had a clean knock out where you were in control the whole time, and it’s great for a highlight reel, but what did you learn about yourself in that match, really?”

While Rich Franklin is happy to pick out some of the best moments and memories of his career, he believes that his career is best viewed as a whole. Yet if there was one fight that he thinks sums up his legacy as a fighter, he believes it’s his second victory over PRIDE legend Wanderlei Silva, which occurred at UFC 147 in 2012. In that fight, he was able to showcase all of the toughness, tenacity and savvy for which he was so beloved.

“I would say if you were to watch one and it kind of embodied that career, I would say it’s probably the second Wanderlei match because he’s a tough opponent,” Franklin said. “He dropped me in the second round, and I spent two rounds on autopilot, figuring out where I was, and came back, right back out in the third round and established my jab right away. And the average fan wouldn’t know that I didn’t have my wits about me at the time and was doing what I needed to do and ended up winning that match.

“I think that that would probably kind of embody the entire career that you and I were talking about,” he added.

When scanning Franklin’s jam-packed resume, it’s the victories that stand out. Yet the ONE Championship executive had to endure some tough losses in the Octagon too. He says his first loss to middleweight legend Anderson Silva, which spelled the end of his title reign, was a particularly tough pill to swallow. So too was the final loss of his career, a brutal knockout at the hands of Cung Le.

“Losing my title was pretty tough,” he began. “Losing to Anderson the first time was definitely tougher than the second time.

“Probably my toughest loss was the Cung loss,” he added. “I just had a really good camp. Prep went really well. I didn’t see myself as ever losing that match. Even in the match, I got to a point where I started to settle in and get my timing and was feeling really comfortable. And the next thing I know, I woke up in the locker room.”

Rich Franklin acknowledges that, after this devastating loss, he had the impulse to fight again and attempt to bookend his career with a victory. After meditating on the situation, however, he decided that another fight — even another win — wouldn’t change anything.

“Even if I go out on a win, it doesn’t erase that loss,” he said. “It’s this false sense of… like this false ego boost is really what it is.

“I could’ve competed another time and won a match, and it doesn’t erase that loss,” he added. “It doesn’t change who I am as an individual. It doesn’t change the impact that I made or any of that kind of stuff. So it’s why push the boundary? I’m set back. I’m not going to make a title run. And so at that point in time, unless something was offered to me that really piqued my interest, there’s no sense in doing it. Then you just become ego-motivated and/or money-motivated. And that’s a dangerous combination, man.”

In the end, Rich Franklin hung up the gloves and accepted a position with ONE Championship in Singapore. Yet this July, he’ll make another trip to Las Vegas — the site of so many of his biggest fights — where he’ll be immortalized for his incredible accomplishments in the UFC’s Octagon.

This article first appeared on BJPENN.COM on 4/23/2019.