Former UFC middleweight champion Rich Franklin has lately been a self-described "Ronin," competing all over the globe and at different weight classes as he searches out the best possible fights.
On June 13, he'll take on Brazilian slugger Wanderlei Silva in the main event of UFC 99.
Prior to leaving for Cologne, Germany, Franklin took some time to talk to FanHouse about his remaining career goals, training with former foe Anderson Silva, why he'll go to his grave believing he won the Dan Henderson fight, and more.
Mike Chiappetta: Obviously for most of your careers you and Wanderlei were in different organizations, but is this a fight you ever thought about prior to the UFC approaching you about it?
Rich Franklin: Not really. With him in PRIDE for a while, and even when UFC purchased PRIDE, the matchups between myself and the PRIDE guys never really crept in my head. It didn't seem like anything that would happen. But lo and behold here we are. Other than watching him fight as a fan, and asking myself, "What would it would be like to fight Wanderlei Silva?" Anything more than that never entered my mind.
Several of your last fights you've been all over the map. How do you adjust to the time differential when fighting across the globe?
I'll leave here June 5 and I'll arrive in Germany on June 6. I would say three days before I leave I'll start acclimating myself to the time zone change. Training in Seattle and the west coast for most of my camp, I purposely came home to Cincinnati for the last couple of weeks to put myself closer to where I'm fighting in Germany. That was the first step in acclimating myself to it. I'm not too concerned about it. It's a six-hour difference from here to there, and I arrive seven days early to give myself time to get used to it.
I'm sure you still have a desire to be a champion. Your last four fights have been at 205, then to 185, then 205 again and now a 195 catch weight. Are you a fighter without a home right now, or is it just about making the best fights for you?
A little bit of both. I'm a Ronin if you will. I think at this point the only option for me is to make a run at the 205-pound title. The 185-pound title is not there for me to take. The UFC was not interested in a third fight between Anderson and I. Since then, he and I have now trained together, so it's unlikely we'd fight anyway. So when I made the move to 205, it was a definite move.
Most fans by now have seen the photos of you training with Anderson Silva. How did that development come around?
He and I have been friends since the first fight. After the second fight, it became obvious we were never going to fight again. So on several occasions, we spoke to each other about training, but never had the opportunity before because of scheduling and other conflicts. Long story short, [Silva's manager] Ed Soares called and said, "Anderson would you like to help you prepare for the Wanderlei fight." Anderson was already in L.A., and I do a lot of my training in Seattle, so it all kind of came together. I trained with him for two weeks.
What were you able to learn from him in that time?
It's not like he showed me any secret techniques or anything like that. It's good to work with a different set of guys. It was a good experience to go down there. Other than that, there wasn't anything life-altering or that would give me an ace up my sleeve.
Was it difficult to communicate with him, or does he know more English than he lets on?
I don't think he's playing coy. The problem for him, I can understand it because I speak a bit of Portuguese, but I couldn't imagine speaking Portuguese in a public forum. Say I fought in Brazil and then afterwards I had to speak to a crowd. That's difficult. But when you get a person one-on-one, and they can slow down without the pressure of an audience, it makes a big difference.
Anderson's taken a lot of criticism for his last couple of fights against Patrick Cote and Thales Leites. Do you think it's warranted?
I don't know. I didn't train with him so I don't know what kind of game plan he developed and if he executed the way he wanted to. He kind of stood behind his performance himself. I don't have a whole lot of criticism for him. Was it the greatest fight you've ever seen? Not at all, but did he win? Yes.
There seems to be a feud brewing between Anderson and Wanderlei. Do you think maybe you might catch Wanderlei at a time he's distracted?
I'm not really sure if any of the internet chatter is much of a distraction to be real honest. If that's the biggest distraction he has right now – just a little feud between him and Anderson – then he's probably sitting well. At least for myself, I know there's times I've fought bigger stressors than that.
There's a feeling from some that Wanderlei is on the tail end of his career having lost four of his last five. What's your take on that?
I'm not buying it. He's had a couple tough breaks in UFC, a couple tough losses but also a spectacular knockout. He still has that knockout power and is still dangerous as fighter. He hasn't slowed down as far as hand speed or anything. So to me, he's just as much as a threat now as he was in PRIDE.
Your last fight was razor close with Dan Henderson. I'm sure you looked back at the tape by now to dissect your performance. Is it a fight you believe you won?
I believe I won that fight. I'll stand behind that for the rest of my life. On the feet, it's clear I dominated the fight. I didn't just win, I dominated on the feet. I did not get hit flush on the face or the body one time the whole fight. Dan took me down on several occasions, most of which I was able to stand back up. While I was on the ground, he was not capable of mounting any kind of damage. In the first round, he had me against the fence. He started throwing punches. I covered every single one. Not one of them broke through my defense. He had to resort to kneeing me on the back of my thigh because he had no other option and didn't know what else to do. On other occasions I was on the ground, it was the same thing. He threw punches, none of them landed. If his objective was to take me down to the ground, he couldn't really mount any offense while we were there.
Couple that with the fact I was head-butted twice and poked in the eye once. I would think that maybe the first one was incidental. I would assume that after you have a couple head-butts and then you poke me in the eye, perhaps as a referee you'd think about taking away a point. I don't see how a judge should give him that decision.
You and Wanderlei are both primarily standup fighters. Is it safe to assume this fight will be a standup battle?
We'll see. I would think so. I would assume he would want to keep the fight standing, but I would not at all be surprised if he tried something else.
Let's assume you win. What is the next step for you?
I don't know. After him, I'll see. This fight is at catch weight. I don't know what kind of run the UFC is going to have at 205 for me. I'll figure it out.
I talked to someone close to you a couple months back, and he said some things that seemed to indicate you are beginning to see the end of your career coming, maybe beginning to prepare for life after fighting. How much longer do you see yourself fighting?
I picture myself retiring at the age of 36 or 37, so maybe another two years. [Editor's Note: Franklin turns 35 in October]
You mentioned if you were going to make another title run it'd have to be at 205. As someone who fought Lyoto Machida, although it was very early in his career, are you surprised by his rise into the seemingly unbeatable force he's become?
No, not really. I fought him a while back. He was a sleeper at the time. We didn't know how much of a threat he was. Since then I've always kept an eye on him. I'm not at all surprised by his rise to glory. He's a focused athlete and he's at the top of his game right now.
How much would you love another crack at him?
You know what? If it happens great, if it doesn't, I won't lose any sleep. Right now I can only focus on my next fight, Wanderlei. He's dangerous, so he's got to be my focus. I'll work on Wanderlei now, but come June 14 or something like that, I'll start thinking about what's next for me.