UFC's Rich Franklin Discusses Career, Life and Fans Asking for His Underwear

Leon Horne@@Leon_HorneAnalyst IAugust 2, 2011

DALLAS - SEPTEMBER 19:  UFC fighter Vitor Belfort (R) battles UFC fighter Rich Franklin (L) during their Catch weight bout at UFC 103: Franklin vs. Belfort at the American Airlines Center on September 19, 2009 in Dallas, Texas.  (Photo by Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images)
Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images

Former UFC middleweight champion Rich Franklin had a chat with Bleacher Report prior to his scheduled fight at UFC 133: Evans vs. Ortiz on August 6 in Philadelphia. Unfortunately for Franklin he will not be fighting on the card any more since his opponent Antonio Rogerio Nogueira was forced to pull out of the fight with a shoulder injury.

Despite not fighting on August 6, the former champion had a lot to talk about besides the fight with Nogueira.

Franklin is a decorated veteran in mixed martial arts (MMA), he has 35 professional fights to his name and has defended the UFC middleweight title successfully on two occasions.

Part of remaining successful in MMA is being able evolve as a fighter and remain at the forefront in terms of cutting edge techniques and training programs. Franklin is no stranger to this and his recent visit to Evolve MMA in Singapore illustrates his dedication.

"Evolve is I tell you [pause], they have a great great MMA facility, the facility itself is top notch," Franklin told Bleacher Report. 

"Aside from that the instructors that they have are unbelievable they have a handful of Brazilian black belts down there and a handful of Muay Thai Lumpinee champs." He continued, "...You have such good quality guys to work with down there that it's really good training, so I walked away from there with a lot of stuff myself."

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MMA is a sport that has been picking up a lot of momentum over the last 10 years and Franklin has been around to see it develop and unfold since its very beginnings.

With the momentum that the UFC and MMA in general has picked up, new markets in different countries all around the world are being broken in to on a regular basis.

Having fought in five different countries over his career, Franklin has been placed in a position to get a feel for how global MMA has become and the former champion certainly isn't denying the sport's success.

"When you see the UFC starting to go to the UK, Ireland, we did a show in Germany, now Brazil, Canada which doesn't seem too far from the United States, but we had such a difficult time getting the ball rolling on the Vancouver fight and you know they've had problems with Toronto and all that kind of stuff, which they now have been able to overcome," Franklin said.

"Just to kind of tackle those obstacles shows that the sport is definitely moving global, not to mention they did the show in Abu Dhabi which completely flipped my mind."

Having fought all over the world and having seen so much success one has to ask the question: What does Franklin have left to prove? The answer from Franklin is "nothing," he is fighting for the love of the game.

"Really I don’t having anything to prove," Franklin said. "Proving something is one thing, I am still competing because I enjoy what I am doing. I don’t have any inner demons of bullies from when I was a kid to prove that I am tough to, my big brother or anything like that, it is what it is and I just enjoy doing what I do."

Despite having such a storied career, Franklin has had some issues stringing together victories. The former champion has traded each win for a loss over his last six fights going 3-3. He has been in some tough decisions and was making the transition to light heavyweight in the process.

Obviously, a change in weight class can take some time to get acclimated to and although Franklin doesn't disagree, he certainly isn't one to make excuses.

"Perhaps [the move affected me], you know it’s bigger opponents and things like that," Franklin said. "Then of course I’ve been asked by the organization to take fights on short notice or when I wasn’t planning on fighting and stuff like that and I had other things going on so you know it’s just a combination of things, but I’m not an excuse-maker."

One also has to question whether age is playing a factor for Franklin at 36 years old.

Bleacher Report spoke recently with another veteran of the sport, Denis Kang, who basically said, "I feel it on my body," when referring to the combination of his long fight career and the vigorous training required to remain competitive.

Franklin definitely doesn't feel the same now as how he felt in his 20s, but he certainly doesn't feel broken just yet.

"Let me say this, I am 36 years old and I can tell I'm not 20 anymore. With that being said, for a 36-year-old athlete, I feel like I am in great shape, that is what it is," Franklin said.

"I take good care of my body both when I'm training and when I'm not training. I spend a lot of time with nutrition and things like massages, hot tubs and ice baths and all these kind of things and that really kind of limits the wear and tear you put on your body."

Franklin who is known as an athlete that takes his training and nutrition very seriously seems to have figured out a way to still feel good despite his age and the miles he has put on his body both in the Octagon and in the gym.

Although 36 years old for a professional athlete isn't considered young anymore, in MMA a lot of guys experience their best years in their mid-30s.

Chuck Liddell's best years in the UFC were from 34 to 36 years old. Dan Henderson is the Strikeforce light heavyweight champion and just knocked out Fedor Emelianenko in the heavyweight division at the age of 40. Let's not forget about Randy Couture who remained competitive in the UFC well into his late-40s.

While on the subject of aging it was hard not to bring up Tito Ortiz and his dominant victory over a much younger Ryan Bader at UFC 132 last month. Ortiz is from the old guard just like Franklin and the two were pioneers of sorts that helped make MMA what it is today.

Ortiz had his back against the wall going into his fight with Bader and many felt he was done at 36 years old, but he proved the naysayers wrong with his victory and is now fighting Rashad Evans in a fight that could establish him as a No. 1 contender should he be the victor this Saturday at UFC 133.

When asked whether or not Ortiz's win helped his motivation or affected him in anyway Franklin had the following to say:

"It [Tito winning] doesn't affect me as far as motivation and all that kind of stuff. I like Ryan and I also like Tito. It's nice to see Tito get a win like that, not just because he's an older athlete, but after the fight when you saw how appreciative he was and how excited he was about winning that fight, that in itself was kind of moving."

Judging by his reaction, it appears as though Franklin doesn't really seem to let the performances of others impact his mindset for his own fights.

Despite being a professional fighter for many years now, Franklin had another career before his fighting days began. He holds a Bachelor's degree in mathematics and a Master's degree in secondary education and is a former high school math teacher.

Although teaching and mathematics are and always will be near and dear to his heart, the combination of the two is something Franklin struggles with and he provides some good reasons as to why it wasn't easy.

"I love teaching, teaching is a great job. To be real honest I prefer tutoring kids more than I do actually teaching in the classroom," Franklin said. "Teaching is one of those jobs that after a while it just got to the point where it was difficult to come in and talk about math with kids who hate math."

I liked math myself, but a lot of people can probably relate to what Franklin is saying here in that things like trigonometry and algebra weren't what most students were looking forward to most during the school day. Franklin elaborated on this a little further:

"It’s just difficult when you have 150 kids in a given school year and five of them genuinely like mathematics [and] that’s a pretty good percentage, it makes it difficult to come in and do on a daily basis."

Despite having issues with teaching mathematics, tutoring the subject is a whole other ball game.

"When you’re sitting down and tutoring a kid one on one and they’re really motivated to learn because they need to make the grade then it’s much more fulfilling," Franklin said.

Having been a teacher, Franklin was in a position of great influence on young developing minds. In fact, many people can remember certain teachers who made the difference in their academic career or helped them with the decisions that placed them on the right track.

Ironically, as a professional athlete, Franklin has once again placed himself in a position where he can be of influence and the fighter takes this position seriously.

"God has kind of put me in a position where I am able to reach more kids and all that kind of stuff, you know I just spoke at a Church recently," Franklin said. "I think that even though I’m not in the classroom, having that kind of influence on young children is something that I have done and will be able to do in the future."

Along with being able to influence young children as they grow up, Franklin is also active in being involved with humanitarian causes and giving back to society as much as possible.

Although he didn't have the toughest childhood, growing up certainly wasn't easy and he feels compelled to help out where he can because he is in a position where he can make a difference for kids growing up in difficult situations and for anybody going through a hard time in life.

"There’s this part of me that I feel compelled to give back as much as possible. With American Fighter, the clothing company that I own, we developed an organization called Keep it in the Ring and its original intention was basically to help kids in lower socio-economic areas with programs and materials needed to keep them off the streets," Franklin said.

"We, at one point in time, donated some money to some children who couldn't pay for football equipment at their school and stuff like that, we used it to build martial arts programs for kids who couldn’t otherwise afford to play a sport after school."

Although Keep it in the Ring was originally meant to help kids in a difficult spot, Franklin has used it to start up so many other initiatives.

"I am involved with so many different things, I do so much work with the disabled American veterans that I use the Keep it in the Ring organization to funnel money into their charities. I’ve used it for domestic violence cases and tons of stuff on cancer research and it makes sense for me because I fight in pink and all that so we’ve done a big play off of those kinds of things," Franklin said. 

"I get involved in as many things as I can when I’m not fighting, everything from children to the military to cancer, like I said I just feel the need to because of the history I’ve had."

Sometimes people new to MMA or with a limited knowledge of the sport are quick to judge and typecast fighters. After speaking to a guy like Franklin, it is easy to see that fighters are human beings just like everyone else and although the sport they compete in may be brutal at times, the fighters are anything but that outside of the cage.

Over a storied career, Franklin, like any other veteran athlete, has seen his share of good and bad. In closing up our chat with the former middleweight champion, Bleacher Report asked him to reflect on some of his best moments, worst moments and favorite place over his long career.

Having fought in so many cities across five different countries, there has to be a favorite place on his list besides his hometown, but no there isn't. Although, Franklin does have a certain criteria for what makes a city a good place to fight in.

"Really, my favorite city to fight in is the one that makes things the easiest on me," Franklin said. 

"Let me make this clear, I like fighting out of the country because you get to experience other cultures, I like to experience other cultures, but fighting out of the country is a very difficult thing to do."

Franklin continued, "One, there is a big discrepancy with your time zone that you are in, and two, for example, when I fought in Germany, finding the food that I need can be very problematic and I am very particular about what I eat and all that kind of stuff and whatever makes that the easiest on me is the best."

Tip to any cities hosting a Rich Franklin fight and wanting to see him make a return visit: Make it easy for him to be there.

Getting it easy in a city is a lot easier than getting an easy fight and Franklin has seen some tough battles. One would expect him to list his two battles with Anderson Silva because they are so recent, but Franklin thinks otherwise.

"When I am asked this question, the first fight that comes to mind is the Jorge Rivera fight," Franklin said. "The reason why is because prior to that fight, not all my fights were first-round victories, but most of my fights, even if they were third-round victories, I was in control most of the time, I didn’t get very beat up or banged up and all that kind of stuff."

Franklin continued, "The Rivera fight was the first real war of my career, we clashed heads, my head was all knotted up, I needed stitches, my cheek and eye was almost shut. I remember leaving that fight and my shins and everything were sore and thinking to myself this is what fighting is really like especially now that I am fighting guys in the upper echelon."

Franklin uses the Rivera fight as motivation now.

"I have a picture on my wall basically to remind me that bad things can happen even on good days," Franklin said.

Of course, you can't just talk about the bad without talking about the good, so Franklin chimed in on what he felt were the best performances of his career.

"People take fights like a Nate Quarry fight or something like that [as my best fight], but when you start thinking about it, the fights that come to mind are fights like the Chuck Liddell fight or the David Loiseau fight," Franklin said.

"It’s when you really kind of are in a no-win situation, like having a broken hand or a broken arm, and having to overcome that adversity to win a fight it shows what kind of character you’re made of."

It isn't the times one gets off easy that determine their character and legacy, it's the times where people are faced with adversity that the rest of the world passes their judgement and Franklin obviously abides by this principle.

Having been at the pinnacle of the sport before, Franklin told Bleacher Report who he thinks is the fastest rising athlete in MMA today and it doesn't really come as a surprise.

"Jon Jones, they are probably going to push him faster than they have pushed any other champ before," Franklin said. "He’s an exciting fighter and I think that if he keeps his head focused he is definitely a fighter that can go places in that weight class we’ll see what happens."

Of course, Jones is a phenomenon, but at only 24 years old, a lot can happen and Franklin makes reference to this when describing the current light heavyweight champion's future.

"He is a young guy so he is susceptible to a lot of things getting in his way, but Jon is very level-headed. I’ve spoken to him before and I really like him," Franklin said. "He’s a good dude, so I hope that he does really well and I think that he is like I said, the fastest rising star in MMA right now."

Franklin has never been one to shy away from the fans and it was interesting to hear the champion describe some of his more awkward fan interactions.

"Off the top of my head, I’ve been asked for my underwear. I had an autograph signing and a fan offered me ridiculous amounts of money just to get my underwear off of my body, stuff like that. I had a fan one time ask me to shave my autograph in his back hair, pretty disgusting," Franklin said. "Given some time, I’d have to think about it, but there are quite a few."

I'm sure that is a list that will keep growing, but hopefully, they don't get too awkward for his sake.

Although he didn't give up the underwear he was wearing, Franklin is definitely a fan favorite regardless.

That wraps up the time Bleacher Report had with Franklin.

It is a pity Franklin won't be fighting on the UFC 133 card this coming weekend, but things are looking good for him going forward regardless of the cancellation.

The Hollywood Reporter released the news last week that a movie based on Franklin's story is set to be made. So keep an eye out for it over the next little while and if you want to learn more about Rich Franklin's life, the upcoming movie American Fighter will most definitely help.