Rich Franklin has already fought 30 times in his professional mixed martial arts career, but he doesn't seem to be slowing down. As Franklin prepares to fight Vitor Belfort in the main event at UFC 103, he sounds excited about the opportunity to fight for a third time this year, and ready to keep fighting for a long time to come -- even though he's less than a month shy of his 35th birthday.
In an interview with FanHouse, Franklin discussed his preparation for Belfort, his thoughts on UFC light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida (who handed him his first career loss in 2003), meeting one of his favorite athletes and his part in an upcoming movie. The full interview is below.
Michael David Smith: What do you think of Vitor Belfort as an opponent?
Rich Franklin: He's tough. I don't think people here in the States realize how tough he is because he's been out of the UFC for so many years. But he's evolved as a fighter and he's more dangerous as a fighter now than he was five or six years ago. He's very well rounded and definitely a tough challenge.
Have you been watching tape of his fights?
Yes. Typically what we do with an opponent is examine his most recent fights, just to get a feel of how he performs in the ring or the Octagon, and we've been watching a lot of recent tape on him.
His last two fights, both knockout wins in Affliction, would seem to indicate that you need to be ready for his punching power.
Yeah, but it's more than that. He's had that punching power for many years and he definitely hasn't lost that, but now he's combined that punching power with a more intelligent approach to his fights.
This is your third fight this year. Ideally, how often do you like to fight?
Typically, three or four times in a year is right for me. After a fight I like some down time, then some light training, and then back to training in full. If you're fighting more than three or four times, you can't give your body enough recovery time.
You're fighting Vitor at a catchweight of 195 pounds. Do you think the sport should have more weight classes? You, Dan Henderson, Wanderlei Silva and Vitor all seem to like the midway point between middleweight and light heavyweight. Do you think there should be a 195-pound class? And would you like to see more weight classes above you, like another weight class between 205 and 265?
I think if they made a 195-pound class they would have to restructure the entire weight class system and do one weight class for every 10 pounds: 155, 165, 175, 185, 195, 205 and so on. But the problem is, once you start creating weight classes like that, the same thing can happen that has happened in boxing, which is that fans have a hard time keeping track of things. I don't know if adding more weight classes is the smartest thing to do or not.
You mentioned boxing. UFC 103 is going on at the same time as the Floyd Mayweather-Juan Manuel Marquez fight. Do you think boxing and MMA are competitors?
The fact that we have our fight the same night makes us competitors that night because people have to choose one or the other. They're either going to pay for one or pay for the other, or maybe they'll go out and watch one and DVR the other or something, but in that respect we are competitors. But I don't feel like I'm competing with Floyd. Honestly, I'm planning on going home after my fight and watching the Mayweather fight myself. I want to see that. For me, it's unfortunate I'm fighting the same night because I'd like to watch it. Just because you're a fan of one doesn't mean you can't be a fan of the other.
I know you're on Twitter, and you've got web sites like RichFranklin.com and AmericanFighter.com. What do you like about having that presence online?
Honestly, I don't particularly like it. I'm really the kind of person who likes to keep my private life private. But I know people want to see what's going on, so I try to do that. Often I'll go to tweet something and I don't even know what to say. I'd much rather sit down and have a conversation with a fan, but I'll do things like Twitter because it's good for business.
I'm on Twitter, and I asked my followers to tweet questions for you. One question, from Joel McLaughlin, was, how do you think a rematch with Machida would go and do you see any weaknesses in Lyoto?
Well, I get questions like that a lot because fans and interviewers ask them, but first and foremost, I want to make clear that I'm preparing for Vitor Belfort. I can't even think about fighting Lyoto because I've got to get through Vitor first.
But since I do get asked, I remember about a year ago I was doing a fan Q&A before a UFC weigh-in and someone asked me about Lyoto. At the time I said I had a lot of respect for Lyoto and he beat me in a tough fight, but that it wasn't really a fight I wanted because Lyoto wasn't an exciting fighter. Of course, as soon as I said that, he's now had two absolutely devastating finishes in the Octagon. So he made a liar out of me there.
He's tough, man. He's a lot like Anderson Silva in that he doesn't take a lot of damage but he can inflict a lot himself. And Lyoto also has great takedowns and great takedown defense. The way he leans back to avoid punches he gets people off balance, and then he capitalizes with his striking, and he can take you down. But how would a rematch with him go? I'd have to really analyze tape of his fights before I could say how I'd fight him again.
At the time you fought Lyoto Machida, you were 12-0 and had never even gone to a decision. He was only 2-0. Were you surprised by how good he was?
I didn't know he was that good, honestly. I was over in Japan cornering Jorge Gurgel and my manager, Monte Cox, and I talked to a promoter and they said they wanted me to fight in Japan. At the time I had a contract with the UFC, but then I went home and my next fight with the UFC fell through because of some contractual issues, and we ended up taking that fight in Japan on like three weeks' notice. I was 12-0, and I never thought I'd lose. It wasn't even an option for me. So I made a mental error in overlooking him and not giving him the credit he deserved. The combination of being unprepared and meeting a really good fighter is not a good combination.
It sounds like you're not giving a lot of thought to earning a title shot against Machida right now, though.
No, I really don't think along those lines. People ask me if I want a title shot at 205 pounds, and of course I'd love a title shot, but I'm not the No. 1 contender yet, I'm a couple wins away from that, and right now Vitor is in my way. If I don't beat Vitor I'm that much further back, so I have to be focusing on Vitor.
I understand you and I have something in common: Both of us are huge Barry Sanders fans.
Barry Sanders was my sports hero as a kid. And recently I was at this event in Cleveland where there were tons of great players, like Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Marcus Allen. And someone asked me, who's the best running back ever, and I said Barry Sanders. And then they brought me back into this room and introduced me to Barry Sanders. I didn't know what to say. For the first time in my life I just didn't know what to say. I've met fans who didn't know what to say to me, and that's exactly how I was with Barry.
What I loved about Barry is that he wasn't a showman, he didn't feel the need to celebrate or spike the ball, you never heard about him getting in trouble off the field. I try to act the same way. He's a great role model.
You were a high school math teacher before you were a fighter. Do you ever miss teaching?
From time to time I do, but what I miss about it is working with young people. There's also so much about that job I don't miss: I don't miss grading homework, I don't miss parent-teacher conferences, I don't miss faculty meetings, I don't miss standardized tests, I don't miss filling out forms. There are so many things like that I don't miss.
Tell me about the movie you're going to be in, Genesis Code.
I filmed for two days, it's about a hockey player who doesn't believe in God, and he meets a writer for the college paper who's a Christian, and it's about what he goes through and her talking to him about God and the Bible. I play a small part as the hockey coach.
Do you think it's good or bad for MMA that so many fighters are turning to acting? Is there a risk that we'll see more cases of guys like Rampage Jackson delaying their fights so they can take movie roles?
I don't know. I don't know the ins and outs of Rampage and what his contract is, but I do think that if I fight in September and then sign up for a movie role in December, and then the UFC asks me to fight and I've already committed to a movie, that could be a problem. But I will say that if I'm sitting down and I'm looking at offers to be in a movie or to fight, I would never do a movie before I'd do a fight. First and foremost, the UFC is what I'm committed to, and then beyond that I do things here and there, where I can. When I decide to retire from fighting I might pursue an acting career. We'll see.
But for now I know Vitor Belfort is really all that's on your mind. Do you have any predictions for how that's going to go?
I'm not a predicting kind of guy, but I feel good, I've finished my medicals, everything is on track and I'm ready to go.