Forty-year old Rich Franklin isn’t retired, but he’s not not retired, either. The now Vice President of the Singapore-based MMA promotion ONE Championship is spending time these day working on the other side of the ledger. He stays on the outside of the cage promoting fights. But he still trains like a fighter.
Though the former middleweight champion Franklin remains under contract with the UFC, it’s still up in the air as to whether he’ll get the urge to compete again. The last time "Ace" appeared in the UFC was in 2012, when he fought -- and lost to -- Cung Le in Macau.
Since that time he has become a bit of an entrepreneur, starting a raw juice company called ZeLin, and more recently, a brand called Armor Gel, a silver-based gel that helps treat MRSA and staph.
With so much going on in his life, it would appear that his days of fighting are over. Or, are they?
"It’s getting more and more difficult for me, if I want to take a fight again, it’s getting a little more difficult," he said during a visit to the MMA Hour on Monday. "I’m further and further out of the cage, and I realize it. I’m further from the last time that I fought, and so coming back from that stuff is not easy. I’m not ready to say I’m ready to retire because I don’t want to end up being one of those people who said, ‘yeah I’m going to retire’ and then all of a sudden, six months from now is like, ‘I’m coming out of retirement.’ Like, when I say I’m going to retire, then I’m done. And I’m just not ready yet."
Franklin gained fame in the UFC when he made the transition from being a math teacher in his native Ohio to becoming the 185-pound champion. He defeated Evan Tanner at UFC 53 to win the title, and defended the belt twice before losing it ultimately to Anderson Silva at UFC 64 in 2006.
In the UFC, Franklin has gone 14-6, with victories over Chuck Liddell, Wanderlei Silva, Ken Shamrock and Nate Quarry. Since a controversial 2009 split decision loss to Dan Henderson in Ireland at UFC 93, Franklin has traded wins and losses. Before losing to Le in his last fight, he and Wanderlei Silva had a memorable battle at UFC 147 in Brazil, which he won via unanimous decision.
Franklin admits that walking away from the sport he’s excelled at for so long is tough.
"This morning, I just got back from the gym," he said. "I did my strength and conditioning this morning as I normally do on Mondays -- even when I’m getting ready for a fight -- and I’m going back to the gym at 4 o’clock today to drill wrestling. And this is the way that I live, regardless of whether I fight again or not. I live like I’m basically still fighting professionally. So I’m not at a point where I’m completely ready to walk away from the sport yet, but I do understand that it’s becoming more and more difficult for me to take that last fight. While it’s not looking probable, it’s still possible."
Asked why he would leave the door open rather than just move on to his other ventures, Franklin said it’s ingrained in him to compete.
"Love of competition, man, this is what I’ve done for the last 20 years of my life," he said. "You got to realize, I wasn’t groomed in this sport. Like growing up, I wasn’t this prodigy athlete who knew he was going to be the next big thing professionally.
"Martial arts has always been a hobby of mine, it’s always been a part of my life. And fortunately it was just something I was good enough at to do professionally and I was able to pursue this as a career. I am one of those people in life who truly, truly has been blessed in doing the one thing that I’ve been passionate about my entire life. And that’s competition. Most people, they go to school and they major in whatever they major in, and they end up having some career, some profession in something. And some people enjoy their careers and some people not so much, but very few people in this world can really do the thing they are most passionate about doing in this world. I’ve been blessed to have been able to do that."
Franklin said that at the age when some people undergo identity crises for not having accomplished what they want, it’s difficult to surrender such a large part of his livelihood and vitality.
"At the age in life where most guys are buying sports cars and getting dumb tattoos and dating women half their age, I happen to be at that point where I say, okay I’m ready to walk away from the one thing that I love the most," he said. "That’s what keeps guys going, and keeps guys in the sport."
"But make no mistake about it. I’m not so enthralled that I couldn’t listen to an intelligent coach tell me like, ‘hey, you know what, your time has passed you by and you should walk away from this sport.’ So, the day that I have a coach tell me that, that it’s your time to walk away, I’m smart enough to listen. When that comes out of physical necessity, yeah, I will definitely, definitely announce my retirement at that point. But until then I still have one foot in the door."