Mixed martial arts has hit the mainstream and there are gyms springing up all over the place, meaning that aspiring young fighters generally don’t have to look very far in order to find somewhere suitable to train.
When former UFC middleweight champion and current ONE FC vice president Rich Franklin was starting out things were very different and without an experienced trainer to teach him or YouTube videos to learn from was forced to take a DIY approach to studying the sport.
“We did not have a gym to train in so my friends and I trained in a shed in the back yard that was built for housing lawn equipment. We emptied out the shed, threw down some cheap carpet, and used that as our facility. There were days in the winter when the temp would be as cold as 3 or 4 degrees because our space heaters were not strong enough. We learned from watching instructional films and fight tapes, then practicing with a trial and error method,” he told Fightland.
The results were emphatic as Franklin went undefeated in his first 15 fights and the 39-year-old puts this success down to his willingness to embrace the diversity of mixed martial arts at a time when others were sticking stubbornly to a single style.
“I think I understood what the ‘mixed’ part of MMA was before most people and it put me ahead of the curve. As an athlete you can never be comfortable, you must always be reinventing yourself to stay ahead of the competition, but it also helped that I wasn’t fighting top five opponents back-to-back during the first four years of my career.”
Now one fight away from retirement, Franklin’s recent list of opponents reads like a who’s who of the sport’s all-time greats, as he has alternated wins with losses during a seven-fight spell which has seen him face Dan Henderson, Wanderlei Silva, Vitor Belfort, Chuck Liddell, Forrest Griffin, Wanderlei Silva, and Cung Le.
Although Franklin has stated that he intends to fulfill his UFC contract, which has one fight remaining, he has already begun the process of transitioning to a career away from competitive MMA.
While his days as a fighter are numbered, Franklin will still be involved with the sport on a day-to-day basis because he recently accepted a role with the fastest growing MMA promotion in the world.
As of last month Franklin has a new title, Vice President of ONE Fighting Championship, and having been involved with the MMA scene since its infancy in the U.S., he is excited to be playing a part in the sport’s dramatic recent growth in Asia.
“I am very excited to be working with ONE FC during this growth phase. I did the same thing in the U.S. when MMA had begun its growth spurt there and it is a privilege to be part of the organization at its infancy stage and witness its growth,” he said.
Having been involved in the sport during the days when shows were often held on Indian reservations to avoid regulators and there were frequent calls for it to be banned, Franklin has a wealth of experience that he plans to bring to his new role.
“MMA is a much newer concept in Asia and we are facing some of the same criticisms and misunderstandings that were experienced in the U.S. 10 to 15 years ago, but we will also experience the same growth pattern as well,” he said.
Franklin spent the majority of his career competing for the UFC, an organization which was already ten years old when he made his promotional debut against Evan Tanner in 2003 and is now valued in the billions.
In comparison, ONE FC, which was founded in 2011, is still in its infancy, but Franklin feels the Singapore-headquartered organization has the potential to become a multi-billion dollar property.
“ONE FC runs like a fine-tuned machine behind the scenes and I have never seen a promotion this organized at such early stages of being established. We have only had 15 shows to date and things will only get better. Today this is the largest MMA promotion in Asia, but wait until you see how large this company becomes.”
Franklin recently launched an organic juice company called Zelin and says he still trains regularly, although not with the same intensity as he would when preparing for an actual fight. Retirement might be looming, but the former UFC champion does not believe the lack of competitive action will leave a void in his life.
“There will be days when I am 60 or 70 that I will miss fighting and wish I could get back into the cage, but that does not supersede the fact that I am ready to move onto the next phase of life. I am blessed that I can still be an incremental part of the industry with ONE FC.”
So much has changed since the days that Franklin and a few friends decided to have a go at teaching themselves the techniques involved in a new sport called MMA. Now young men and women all over the world aspire to be professional mixed martial artists and the 37-fight veteran has a few words of wisdom for anyone starting out.
“First, I would encourage him or her to learn to swing a golf club; it is much easier on the body!” Franklin joked, but for those who are adamant they belong not on the golf course but inside the cage, he gives the following advice.
“I always tell people to find a reputable school capable of producing quality fighters. There are many fakers out there that just want to ride the ‘fad’ of MMA and make a few dollars. Once you are training at a good school, they can always find fights after you have been properly prepared, but treat fighting like a career if you want it to be a career and make good business decisions, otherwise your fight career will be short lived.”
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