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Rich Franklin reminisces on favorite UFC moments ahead of Hall of Fame induction: ‘I truly did get to live out a childhood dream’

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Gallery Photo: UFC on FUEL 6: Rich Franklin vs. Cung Le Open Workout Photos

Rich Franklin will be celebrated as one of the newest members of the UFC Hall of Fame class of 2019, and as the former middleweight champion, “Ace” has a lot of pride in what he accomplished when looking back at his career.

Perhaps the thing that stands out most to him above all others is that he was able to make mixed martial arts his full-time job when the sport was still struggling to survive much less provide sustainable, long term income to athletes.

“I truly did get to live out a childhood dream [as a professional athlete],” Franklin told MMA Fighting. “To live out that dream, to have the kind of career that I had, I completed professionally for 15 years and I was able to make a career out of it where the odds for you make it in a professional sport are very slim but then to produce the career that’s beyond a year or two, is astronomically impossible.”

When asked to highlight the favorite moment from his years fighting in the UFC, Franklin barely needs any time to point to two specific fights that defined his career and it wasn’t winning a UFC title or even his thunderous knockout to finish fellow Hall of Famer Chuck Liddell.

The first moment came in 2005 when Franklin was making the first defense of his middleweight title against former “Ultimate Fighter” season one competitor Nate Quarry.

That fight ended with one of the most devastating knockouts in the promotion’s history. However, the method of victory wasn’t what stood out most in Franklin’s mind when reminiscing about that night. Instead, the 44-year-old Ohio native remembers his father sitting in the front row watching his performance and his reaction afterwards.

“You’ve got to remember the landscape of MMA when I decided to give up teaching and go into mixed martial arts as a professional career. It wasn’t an established sport at the time and I was my father’s only child to graduate from a university and he saw university as a means to escape poverty,” Franklin said. “My dad went back to college late in life and he ended up earning his nursing degree.

“So he was very proud that I was a college graduate and then I came to him one day and said ‘hey dad, by the way, I’m going to just pretty much throw away this career that I’ve worked the last five years for and try my hand at this sport and see how that pays off’. When I came to my dad with this news, he was completely shattered by it.”

A parent being disappointed in a child might be one of the worst feelings in the world but Franklin forged ahead to pursue his career in the UFC. As impressive as it was to win the title, Franklin says it was the aftermath of that first title defense against Quarry when his father approached him following the knockout win that he’ll never forget.

“When you fast forward to my first title defense in Las Vegas and my dad was there that week and he just pulled me aside and he said ‘I’m really proud of you, I’m proud you followed your dreams and didn’t let anybody discourage you’,” Franklin said. “For him to say he was really proud of me, that means more to me than any title belt that could have been strapped around my waist.”

The other moment that stands out most in Franklin’s mind comes from a win in 2008 just after he dropped the UFC middleweight title to Anderson Silva.

The significance of this fight had nothing to do with bouncing back from a loss but rather the way Franklin had to fight through adversity to earn the win that night.

“The one that stands out the most in my career is my Travis Lutter match,” Franklin explained. “We laid out a game plan for this entire match and it was exactly as predicted.

“My coaching staff put on a plan, here’s what’s going to happen, step one, step two, all the way down and I talked about this match in my TED Talk because it was my worst winning performance.”

Franklin knew he was going up against a high level Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt in Lutter so the last place he wanted to find himself was locked in a grappling battle on the ground.

Unfortunately despite a picture perfect game plan to avoid it, Franklin found himself on the mat defending an armbar attempt from Lutter.

“Travis had me in an armbar and that’s definitely not the position you want to be in with somebody with that kind of jiu-jitsu and I had failed with failure after failure after failure in that match and we got prepped. We were prepared for everything he did in that match,” Franklin said. “There were no surprises. I just did not execute the way I was supposed to and for a moment in that match, I mentally broke internally.

“There was a moment in time where I questioned myself and I had never done that before. I broke. I was like I’m done, I lost and then it was this moment that I needed to get myself back on track. I was able to come through that. That match taught me more as an athlete than any other match, any win or loss that I’ve ever had because I really had to work some adversity there.”

Even in fights where he ultimately lost in the past, Franklin had never broken to the point where he felt there was no escape and no chance to comeback. Somehow, some way, Franklin found the will to fight on and earn the victory and that will always stand out to him first and foremost when thinking about the moments that defined his career.

“To see yourself mentally break like that and then to have to pick yourself up and say ‘no, I can do this’ means more than being in a match where you have a highlight reel knockout a minute into the match or something or where you’re in control the whole time,” Franklin said.

“You don’t learn anything from that stuff but when you start questioning yourself and you work your way through it, that’s where you really learn something about yourself.”