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Rich Franklin unsure if he’d be a big star in today’s UFC

Rich Franklin
Rich Franklin
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Rich Franklin was one of the big early stars of the UFC’s Zuffa era. He had the incredible back story of being a former high-school math teacher, Hollywood good looks, Midwestern charm and an easy, natural charisma that made him relatable to fans.

That star quality — Franklin headlined several UFC pay-per-views from 2005 to 2012 — is what aided “Ace” in getting a nod for the UFC Hall of Fame. He’ll be inducted July 5 at the annual ceremony in Las Vegas. Franklin, of course, was a former UFC middleweight champion and has a sterling résumé, but he was a big name — and a tremendous ambassador — as the UFC took a turn for the mainstream in the mid-aughts.

If Franklin were coming into the UFC right now, though, he’s not entirely sure he’d be a big star, he told MMA Fighting in a recent interview. The current ONE Championship executive believes the landscape has changed over the last 10 to 15 years.

“The way I conducted myself then, no,” Franklin said when asked if he thought he’d be a star of his caliber in 2019. “I would have had to conduct myself in a different manner. I look at times when I could have done quote-unquote trash talk. And there’s a respectful way to create hype around a match. You don’t have to be disrespectful to people. You don’t have to talk about their families or be blatantly rude or whatever, shoving people on stage. There are ways to create hype around a match. I would have to reassess how I would market myself, I guess.”

Franklin, 44, was part of an era where there was trash talk — and there has always been in combat sports — but it wasn’t nearly as prevalent as it is today. In recent years, there have been multiple outside-the-cage events that have upped the ante even more, most notably in the long-running feud between Conor McGregor and Khabib Nurmagomedov.

When he talks to younger fighters, Franklin said he tells them that they should create a “unique persona for the public to see,” something that makes them stand out. The key, he said, is that it “has to stay true to your core.” Franklin said he’d love to give being a bad guy in WWE a try, because he’d get to be “terrible” and everyone will know he’s just playing a character and that’s not the real him.

MMA is not pro wrestling, though, and Franklin said a fighter’s outward image has to be representative of who they really are.

“I couldn’t imagine being a high-profile athlete that puts on this public persona that’s inconsistent with who I am and have to put my head on the pillow at night and have to reconcile with myself how that must feel,” Franklin said.

Franklin has not fought since 2012, a UFC loss to Cung Le in Macau. But he stays in extremely good shape and still trains in MMA on a regular basis. There was a time when Franklin said he would have liked to have done one more fight, but the window continues to close.

It has not closed completely, he said. Franklin said any kind of farewell fight is “not impossible, but improbable.” He would need to get back into the gym full time — there’s a difference between being in shape and being in fight shape, he said — and that would likely mean leaving his position with ONE for a period. He’s not sure how well that would go over.

ONE recently signed MMA legend Vitor Belfort, who beat Franklin at UFC 103 in 2009. Franklin said people have asked him if he’d be interested in that fight and he hasn’t outright said no, but there’s a better chance of it never happening than the other way, he said.

“The more I entertain this conversation, the more it’s going to start a whole bunch of chatter,” Franklin said with a laugh. “But everybody has talked about that with me being an executive with ONE and him being a fighter now in the organization.”

If it were to happen, Franklin said he’d have to get with his coaches and go through something of a trial training camp. He’d let his coaches decide if he should give it another go or not.

As of now, though, it’s not something he’s thinking about. But it’s also not completely out of the question.

“If the stars align,” Franklin said, “anything is possible.”

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