Sometime soon, former UFC middleweight champion Rich Franklin will retire from the sport, passing as humbly and quietly as he entered.
As a man who helped carry the company on his shoulders into the next era, Franklin was a sterling example of what a fighter should be. He was poised, dedicated, passionate, upright, genuine and above all an honest competitor.
As a former school teacher, he transitioned into the sport as a serious student of MMA, learning as he went and teaching others by example. Franklin didn’t turn down fights nor did he make excuses—he owned his victories and defeats wholly and without regret.
He didn’t talk smack because he was a professional who had already signed his name and thus would fight to the very best of his ability, and for the fans of his time, that was all we needed to know.
There was a transparency about Franklin that made you feel good about being a fan of such a hard sport. There was an obvious dignity in him that was clear to all in his words and actions, both in and out of the cage.
As a foil for Matt Hughes in their coaching stint of the second season of The Ultimate Fighter, Franklin provided a stability and purpose to his fighters that at times made Hughes look like nothing more than a high school senior.
When his longtime friend and training partner, Jorge Gurgel, threw a water bottle in protest, Franklin was the first to confront him about it. He didn’t play favorites and had high expectations for everyone—they followed because he led by example.
In the role of spokesman for the sport, we really couldn’t have done any better than Franklin. Many felt that fighters in such a sport were simple, easily outwitted creatures who could be baited or confused. With Franklin, they discovered they were speaking to a lucid, learned man that represented the best qualities of competitive sport.
As a fighter, he was damn good. He came in shape and was willing to spend himself utterly toward an honest end and that end saw him beating some very good fighters.
Although his time as champion may have been short, he continued to fight with a champion’s desire and dignity long after he lost the title.
He was a gentleman in a rough sport that never let the trappings of success and growing fame go to his head. His honesty was as constant as his courage, his smile as reliable as his word and he was never false.
When he was knocked out by Cung Le in his last bout in November of 2012, the sight of him sprawled face-first on the canvas was shocking and heartbreaking. It’s not that he lost or got knocked out, it was simply a sign that his time in the sport was coming to an end.
While some expect professional fighters to linger in their sport far longer than their expiration date would advise, Franklin is not one of those men. For his fans, we knew he would take that loss, look at it critically and no doubt begin to prepare to exit the stage.
Everyone gets old, and this is not a sport for “old men.” However, Franklin proved it could be a sport for good men, and that is something that will be remembered for a very long time.