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Rich Franklin reflects on hanging up the gloves and his contributions to MMA

Esther Lin, Sportsfile

On Monday, the UFC former middleweight champion Rich Franklin published a poignant farewell article on The Players Tribune. Though he didn’t say he was retiring in the article, it was a matter of semantics — the 40-year-old Franklin wrote that he was closing one chapter of his life and beginning another.

Franklin, who is currently the vice president of the Asia-based promotion, ONE Championship, was instrumental in helping the UFC — and the sport of MMA — get over to the masses. The former math teacher-turned-cagefighter was exactly the right spokesman the UFC needed to change opinions on what kinds of people fight in the cage.

He appeared on Monday’s edition of The MMA Hour to talk about his decision to hang up the gloves.

"Well, it’s been a couple of years since I was in the cage, and I’ve been saying all along that I planned on fulfilling that contract by doing that last fight, but I guess the timing now really came up," he told Ariel Helwani. "I turn 41 in a week, and you start looking at things and realize like — in the time I’ve been out of the cage and I’ve turned 41, maybe it is time to actually hang up the gloves and move onto something else. Which is what I said when I was writing it.

"I’m not announcing my retirement, I’m just announcing that I’ve closing one chapter of my life and starting another."

Franklin, who defended the 185-pound championship twice between 2005-2006 against Nate Quarry and David Loiseau, has ever been expanding on his career in the martial arts. He has been involved in a couple of different companies, the latest — Armor Gel — which helps heal wounds and soothe irritated skin.

During his run in the sport, the UFC skyrocketed into the spotlight. Franklin’s fighters with Anderson Silva at UFC 64 and UFC 77 were right at a time when the UFC was tipping over into broader heights. He lost his belt to Silva and the subsequent rematch, but still put on a number of memorable fights in the twilight of his career. Namely a pair of fights against Wanderlei Silva, his last bout with Cung Le and his battle with Chuck Liddell at UFC 115, where he knocked "The Iceman" out after breaking his strong hand.

With his last fight having occurred in Nov. 2012, Franklin said that there were times he was tempted to finish out that UFC contract when certain names were dangled in front of him.

"There were a couple of things that were talked about that kind of had me excited," he said. "At one point there was some talk of me and [Michael] Bisping, and then something was mentioned to me about a rematch with Dan Henderson. Those two things got me excited. They’re both excellent fighters, but more importantly they would have made for exciting fights. But just some of my duties with the ONE Championship and the things I have going on with Armor Gel and all the other work I’m doing is proving to be a bit too busy for me."

Franklin walks away with a record of 29-7-1, having traded wins and losses over his last eight fights at middleweight, light heavyweight and 195 pound catchweights.

Having come from a breakthrough era — rather than the era of broadcast television and global sponsors — Franklin says he has mixed feelings about what his career was and what it could have been.

"I think about the possibilities of today and you see the sport…like, I was part of the era that helped the sport go mainstream," he said. "And like I wrote in the article, we went from state to state and we were talking to associated press everywhere and really were spreading the word of MMA. They really were using me to debunk the stereotypes that went with all the fighters. And I really do enjoy that time frame in which I fought.

"But when you look today and you start seeing more mainstream sponsors getting involved and the numbers show what they’re doing and stuff like that, you’re like man, I was just part of that first wave and missed those paydays when decimal places started increasing. Yeah, you think about that stuff. But I really am blessed to be part of the era that I was part of."

Asked if he considers himself a pioneer in this sport, Franklin said that depends on how you look at the relatively young sport of MMA.

"I don’t know, because I don’t want to discount the things the original guys did, like Royce [Gracie] and Ken [Shamrock] and Dan Severn and Mark Coleman, of what all those guys of the UFC of yesteryear did. But I think that when you start looking at how MMA transitioned from the way it was perceived to the modern day MMA, then yeah, I’m a pioneer of the sport."

Throughout his run in the UFC — which began at UFC 42 against Evan Tanner, whom he would later take the belt from — Franklin scored nine different TKO/KO finishes.

When pressed on his greatest moment, "Ace" said he’ll always remember UFC 53 in 2005, when everything he’d put into the sport began to really pay off.

"One of the things that happened to me that I’ll probably never forget, it was the night of my title fight," he said. "I had beaten Evan Tanner for the title in Atlantic City and the next day we had to get on the plane, and I was pretty banged up and it was a long flight. And when we were getting on the plane, we we’re going from Atlantic City and I had to go straight to the taping of The Ultimate Fighter Season Two. As we’re heading to the airport, we were leaving the hotel, Dana looks at me and says, ‘you ready to be a rock star?’

"And MMA at the time was just kind of breaking out of that niche, it was just starting to become mainstream, and I just kind in my mind chuckled. MMA wasn’t anything like a sport like football or basketball at the time, and just…I just remember that. And then the next three or four years of my career, I mean it just, the whole sport, myself, everything, it just blew up.

"The whole thing was surreal from start to finish."

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