Bummed but not broken, Rich Franklin eying UFC return before end of year

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Former UFC middleweight champion Rich Franklin has accomplished quite a bit in his mixed martial arts career. He's earned and defended a UFC title, coached on a reality show, fought elite opposition in two weight classes all over the world, earned the admiration of adoring fans and the list goes on. At 38 years of age, however, and acknowledging his time in the sport in 'limited', what's really left for him to do?

Truthfully, Franklin isn't entirely sure about what his fighting future's going to look like. What he does know, however, is that no one should be perceiving his silence since his loss to Cung Le at UFC on FUEL TV 6 in November as proof he's mulling over retirement.

"I haven't been sitting on my end thinking about retirement," Franklin told Ariel Helwani on The MMA Hour Monday. "I don't want any of the fans out there to think, 'Oh, Rich is just out there contemplating retiring.'"

Fair enough, but what has he been doing?

As he explained, he's not done fighting, but knows he needs to at least begin planning for what's next. He's in the process of opening two juice bars in the Los Angeles area at the moment, realizing he'll need to set up avenues of income when the UFC checks stop coming in.

"The loss to Cung was a big setback for me. Unexpected in my camp," Franklin said. "I'm kind of sitting here thinking what's my next move going to be. And I realized I'm 38 years old and my time is limited in the sport. I know that I'm not going to be fighting another 10 years. I have to start think about the things that I'm doing outside of MMA.

"At this point in time, I'm actually out in L.A. currently. I'm looking at some retail locations for an organic juice business that I'm opening up. We were looking at some possible opening dates and things like that and the opening dates got shifted back a little bit," he said.

The UFC was happy to give him the time off and as Franklin explained, they told him to call them when he was ready to be scheduled for another fight.

"I'd have to check my contract. I have at least one more fight, possibly two more fights left on my contract. I always said I would definitely like to fulfill my contract, so, looking at that, I at least have that much.

"I'm not saying I'm only planning on fighting once or twice more," Franklin clarified, " but as soon as I get this stuff going on my end with this juice business and things are kind of moving in the direction that they should be moving, then I am going to be focused more on, instead of recreationally training, back on specific fight training. And I'll look at taking another fight at that point in time, which could possibly be before the end of the year."

While the juice business plans might be in full swing, Franklin has been reluctant to talk about that loss that caused him to take free time to open the juice business to begin with: the devastating knockout loss to Le. As Franklin explained, it was a particularly difficult defeat to accept.

"Every loss is unique," he lamented. "This one kind of took a while. I'd moved back down to 185 [pounds]. I had a great performance prior to that against Wanderlei [Silva] in Brazil and was feeling really good. My body was in great shape. I'd conducted at least half my camp down in Singapore at Evolve for that fight. Things were going really well. I did everything I needed to do, made all the sacrifices that I needed to make for that fight.

"I think going into that, because camps had gone well and I made the sacrifices I needed to make, I could never see how I would've lost that fight. And then when you come up on the short end of the stick, you're stuck wondering," Franklin said.

He continued: "Often times when you lose a fight, you can at least sit in your locker room or when you go back to the drawing board, you can look and say, 'Here's where I messed up. There was a day where maybe I cut this practice short or I should've spent more time doing this or should've been doing that.'

"When that happens, you kind of leave that situation scratching your head saying 'what more could I have possibly done?' And the answer to that question really is nothing. It's just, things happen the way they do sometimes."

Franklin isn't ruling out another title run, although he's the first to acknowledge the Le loss was particularly bad for him in terms of his divisional placement. He also contends he isn't delusional about his age. While he knows he's not at his peak as an athlete, his coaches around him state he hasn't lost a step yet. Even former UFC welterweight champion Matt Hughes called him to say retiring after the loss to Le would be a premature move.

That's why Franklin's staying busy. While he mulls his next move and figures out his calendar, he's planting the seeds for his post-fight career. It's just time off, time away and maybe the chance to reflect on what happened and what's next.

Whatever it is, it isn't retirement.

"I haven't really begun talking about retirement or anything like that," Franklin insists. "I'm just kind of laser focused onto something else for the time being."

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