He was never quite as popular as peers like Randy Couture, Matt Hughes and Chuck Liddell, but as a coach on the second season of The Ultimate Fighter, he did something important for public perception of MMA: He made it seem normal, and maybe even a little bit boring.
The very things that kept him from connecting with the public the way some others have, his reserve and patent decency, also did a lot to counter perceived notions about what sort of person might want to fight in a cage for money. It's easy to hold up a guy with a Mohawk and a tattooed skull as an atavism, less so to do it to a quiet former math teacher from Ohio.
For the past several years, Franklin, working both at 205 and 195 pounds, has been exclusively fighting icons like Liddell and Wanderlei Silva in bouts that nearly always stay standing and are always intense. In his way, he defines what UFC wants in a fighter, a reliable man who takes the matches he's offered and goes for a finish every time out. Whatever else they have to worry about going into their Aug. 6 card in Philadelphia, which has now run through about 84 different main events, UFC toppers can be quite sure that Franklin will deliver in his bout with Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, and you can't ask much more of a fighter than that.
Recently I talked to Franklin, who is in training in Cincinnati, about his upcoming fight, the future of coaching, his views on retirement and various other subjects. What follows is a transcription of that conversation, lightly edited for clarity.
SI.com: What do you make of the matchup with Nogueira?
Rich Franklin: He's an exciting fighter, he's a mentally tough guy. Great ground game, really good boxing skills, so this is the kind of fight that could be a really exciting fight. He's not a slow-paced, boring fighter, necessarily, either. He likes to get things done in the Octagon, as do I, so it could make for a really good fight.
SI.com: Where are you in your training?
Franklin: We're four weeks out. I usually do an eight-week camp, but this time I started a week early. I'm not really sure why I did that, but I did. This is probably, just for peaking reasons, my most rigorous week, and then we'll start to back it off this week. Two weeks more of prep, and then we have fight week. As far as my camp goes, everything is good. I'm in good shape. I haven't had any injuries or dings or major bruises or any of that kind of stuff as of now, so I'm feeling good.
SI.com: Do you feel you have your camp down to a science at this point?
Franklin: Here's what I'll say. When you take sports that have been around for ages, like professional football or professional basketball or something like that, they have camp down to a science. This is a new sport, relatively speaking. And I think that it's our generation of fighters that are basically figuring out how to get these camps down to a science, so that the later generation of fighters are going to know how to go do this kind of stuff.
For me, for example, I'm doing a camp and I deal with probably -- well, I have five different coaches that I deal with. I have a jiu jitsu coach, a boxing coach, a kickboxing coach, a wrestling coach and a strength and conditioning coach. And I think that it hasn't been until maybe the last fight or two of my career that I've really, really gotten everybody, all these coaches on the same page.
When you look at coaches for a football team or something like that, even though you have head coaches and offensive coordinators and defensive coordinators, your D-line coach, your O-line coach and all this kind of stuff, these guys, they're always on the same page because they're all under one organization. And I think that's how this sport will end up developing.
SI.com: Does that take a lot of your energy being the guy who has to bring those guys together?
Franklin: Normally it does, but for this camp I hired a new wrestling coach, and he is basically taking on the spot of my head coaching position. He takes care of a ton of stuff like that for me, so he's the one who's calling all the coaches, making sure everybody's on the same page. If there are any kind of issues with somebody showing up late to a practice or something by chance, he takes care of all that middle stuff, and it alleviates a lot of the stress that I have dealt with in the past. This is the first time I've really, really had someone like this in my camp, and it makes a big difference.
SI.com: What have you learned that you wish you'd known when you were younger?
Franklin: One thing that you deal with is overtraining. I was just at a meeting with Randy Couture. We were out at this meeting with Affliction, because Affliction handles both his brand and my brand, Extreme Couture and American Fighter, and I was talking to Randy and we just started talking about how you -- one of the things we deal with practically is overtraining.
Whether or not you're overtraining, undertraining, getting enough training. Because often times, as the athlete, you're the one making the call. And it's difficult to, a lot of times, make the calls on certain things, whether you should do another round or not, because you're the one doing this stuff. And that's why these professional sports organization have coaches.
The coaches come in, and they have a plan as to what's going to happen for the day before the day even begins. They know what they're going to work, how much of it they're going to do and so on and so forth. And so athletes across the board, I know they struggle with this, and it will get to the point where camps start to develop that way, but I can guarantee you that that kind of stuff is across the board.
There are some camps that have standout head coaches, like when I was up at AMC with Matt Hume, he's one that oversees all the training and all that kind of stuff. And you've got other guys like a Greg Jackson or a Mark DellaGrotte, and I'm sure that these guys run their camps all the same. But these head coaching jobs for MMA is something that's going to have to -- will, it will -- develop in the future for these athletes.
SI.com: Do you think part of that is athletes from your generation moving on to the next stage of their career where they pass down the knowledge?
Franklin: I think that, one, it's a learning process. Two, with my generation, I've been referred to when I'm fighting as one of the first true mixed martial artists, one of the first fighters that's capable of putting basically everything together. [Joe] Rogan has said that a few times. It's my generation of fighters.
The generation of fighters that were before me were the jiu jitsu guys versus the kickboxers and so on and so forth. It was one art versus another, basically. And then you had a couple of shootfighters, but it was my generation of fighters where you really started seeing mixed martial arts become mixed martial arts. Perhaps my generation of fighters will produce the first true mixed martial arts coaches.
SI.com: One impressive thing about watching your career evolve has been the way you've been able to stay as basically a stand up guy. When you look over your fights, you've never gone to the ground a lot, never tried a lot of submissions. There's obviously a lot of wrestling and jiu jitsu training that goes into not getting put into a position you don't want to get put into, but how do you think you've been able to keep that style working?
Franklin: In mixed martial arts, a lot of the most effective stand up fighters are the guys who really aren't afraid to be on the ground. I'm confident in my jiu jitsu game, so it doesn't bother me to end up on my back in a fight.
You take my last fight, even though I lost, the Forrest Griffin fight. Forrest was on top of me for the entire first round, and at no point in time was I in any kind of bad situation. As a matter of fact, I just tied him up looking for the stand up, because I didn't want to waste a whole bunch of energy since I have a guy that's probably 25 pounds heavier on top of me.
The ref didn't stand things up, and as things go, I ended up losing that first round, but the point is that that gives me the ability to throw punches and kicks and do whatever I want to do and not even have to worry about hitting the ground, necessarily, because I'm going to be in trouble with a good jiu jitsu guy. So it makes my stand up effective.
SI.com: What are your goals right now?
Franklin: I don't know. I think I'm at a point where I need to look at what my long terms goals are, because losing the last fight with Forrest knocked me down a couple of notches, so I have to figure out where I need to be and all that kind of stuff. My immediate goal right now, my attention is focused on Nog.
SI.com: Longer term, you have anything in particular you're keying in on right now?
Franklin: Other than looking at your next fight -- the long term goal is always that I would love to get to the 205-pound belt. But to make statements like that after losing my last fight, it's too cliché and not even something that I would even really want to talk about. I have to worry about winning my next fight, and then I'll see where that leaves me in the 205-pound class, and then formulate a game plan.
SI.com: Do you actually like fighting at this point? Because there are guys I've talked to who are pretty upfront that they don't. It's something they do and something they love in a big sense, but fighting...
Franklin: I do. I'll say it like this. Almost every fight, when I'm sitting there in my locker room, I'm asking myself, "Why did I put myself in this situation. Why am I doing this again, and again and again?" But for whatever reason, as soon as the fight's over, there's this part of me that's like, "All right, man, let's go do this again." And so, yeah, I do. I love competing.
Sometimes -- I'm getting older -- sometimes that daily grind gets old. Yesterday is a perfect example. It was 99 degrees outside and we did our strength and conditioning outside. We were running some sprints with a weighted sled, and there were a couple of sprints where my heart rate went up into the 180s. And it was so hot, and it's humid here in Cincinnati, it was so hot and humid that when I was trying to get my breath back, there were a couple of times where it felt like I was going to pass out because the air wasn't there to breathe.
And sometimes when I'm driving to these workouts, I'm like, "Why do I do this to myself every day?" Because I love training, but training to that level, you know, it gets harder and harder to motivate yourself for that. But it's what I love doing. I can't think of anything else I'd rather do. So I do it.
SI.com: You were talking about overtraining before, and then you were talking about your heart rate going into the 180s. What do you think the key is to not overtraining?
Franklin: The best way to avoid it is for you not to monitor --you should have a coach monitoring your training, so that they're the one that says, "You've done enough today." There have been a couple of days where we've gone into the gym and perhaps we planned on doing seven rounds of sparring, and we cut it off at four just because my previous workout ran me down into the ground and we didn't realize it. Those days happen. The thing is that I'm the kind of person that if I planned on going into the gym and sparring seven rounds, regardless of how I felt I would go into the gym and spar seven rounds, when I'm probably going to do myself more damage than good.
SI.com: So it's just taking the decision out of your own hands?
Franklin: Mm hmm. That's how life is in every aspect. If you get sick, you don't monitor your own sickness. If you're truly sick, you go to a doctor and find out what's wrong with you. You have physicians to oversee your health. This is across the board in many facets of life, and then when it comes to your job, at work, whatever it is that you do -- you're a writer for Sports Illustrated, but there are people that oversee what you do. Maybe you have an editor that's looking at your writing, because you can't do everything. It's much the same in this job. You've got to have somebody that will oversee the things that you're doing, because you can't make all the decisions. It's impossible.
SI.com: It kind of freaks me out that there are guys in 2011 who just run everything themselves.
Franklin: There are a lot of guys. I just started working with Matt Mitrione for the camp. He's been coming down and helping me get ready. He just started. Some of those guys from that camp in Indianapolis may end up coming down here to do some training with some of the coaches we have. He was telling us that they still don't have a good MMA facility, that they do some of their workouts and hop from gym to gym, and I'm like, "Man, that's crazy." He said, "We have five UFC fighters out of our camp that have either been in the UFC or have been in The Ultimate Fighter."
SI.com: So, you've fought everyone. Who are some of the guys you've fought who don't get enough credit for how tough they are?
Franklin: It's probably the guys that I've had convincing wins against. You take a guy like David Loiseau. I don't think people give him credit for how tough he is. For five rounds, that guy stood in there and fought a fight, and he was losing in the fight, and at no point in time was there quit in his system, or in his corner's system, to say, "Listen, dude, you're just getting worked. We're going to have to call this fight."
SI.com: I'm not going to ask you to name any names, but have you fought guys where you just felt them quitting on the fight?
Franklin: Not necessarily, but you can see, not quitting on the fight, but you can see when you take somebody's heart. When you take the fight out of them, you can see it in their facial expression. You can see it in my facial expression, like when I was fighting Anderson Silva the first time and he clinched me up and threw a couple of knees and caught me in the face and then we step back and back away and you can see me take this deep breath and exhale. The look on my face, that's a fighter going, "What did I just get myself into?" And I've seen it before, when I'm fighting and I'm winning, I've seen other fighters do it.
SI.com: So another tough guy you've fought is Dan Henderson, and that was obviously a pretty controversial decision. He's back under the Zuffa banner, so would you be looking to rematch?
Franklin: I would definitely be up for talking about that to UFC, for sure. I know that in the past I've talked about wanting to rematch Dan, and I'm kind of at a point where I'm like, "Eh, whatever." I really don't care about that loss anymore. I'm not losing any sleep over the fact that I lost a decision that I didn't feel like I lost. So if the UFC wanted to put that fight on, great. If it never came around, I'm going to die happy, still.
SI.com: What do you think of him and Fedor Emelianenko, who do you like there?
Franklin: Well, I'll say this. My mind immediately goes to Fedor, just because of the weight class difference and all that kind of stuff, but Dan has historically fought men that are bigger than him and proven that he can handle himself in those kind of fights, so really I don't know. I don't think Dan's ever been knocked out in his career, so it's certainly an interesting fight.
SI.com: In the past, you've said that at 36, 37, that might be the time when you would start thinking about retirement. So I'm wondering if that still holds, or if you've changed your mind.
Franklin: I'll say this, I'm not ready to retire yet, but I can definitely tell that I'm closer to the end of the road than I was when I was 29 years old, or 30 years old, making those statements. Fortunately, my body is in pretty good shape. Everybody has their bumps and bruises and stuff like that, but overall I feel good, especially for a 36-year-old athlete, and I feel I'm capable of performing at the top level. So retirement isn't something that's at the forefront of my mind, but it's something I think about from time to time, and I know that it's in the future. I will not be one of those people that fight until I'm 40, I know that much.
SI.com: A lot of guys -- and not just fighters, obviously, but all athletes -- seem to have trouble letting go, and it sounds like something you're more analytical about.
Franklin: God has blessed me with the ability to do this still at this age, and I love doing what I do. But I've had a 12-year career. So if I knew in the next two years of my life that that would be pretty much all that I was going to do, it would be something I would be okay with. I'm in the situation where I'm fortunate that probably mentally I'll be ready to hang up the gloves, so to speak, before I'm physically incapable of competing.
SI.com: That's a good situation to be in. So what do you want to do after your career is over?
Franklin: I'm not 100 percent sure. We've done some film work, and I really enjoy doing film. And that's something that I'd like to dive into a little bit, see where that would take me, perhaps. I've done some stuff as a commentator, an analyst, and those are okay. I don't enjoy doing them as much as film.
I have a group of friends that are really pushing me and encouraging me to do public speaking. I've never been much of a public speaker, and that's not something that I have ever wanted to pursue, for sure, but it seems that I'm probably not going to get through my lifetime without at least doing a little bit of some public speaking. So we'll see.
Fortunately for me, I have a college degree and that helps me with my communication skills. I do fairly well in front of a camera, so I have some options for sure. I haven't really given thought as to if -- if, for example, if today I found out that I could never ever fight again, I'm not sure what I would do. I'm not sure what I would do tomorrow for a job.
SI.com: Are there any outside projects that you have right now?
Franklin: I just did a cameo appearance in Here Comes the Boom, the Kevin James film that's coming out next year. He plays a schoolteacher that ends up doing some MMA fighting and raising money to save a program at his school. It's a comedy. I did a little cameo appearance in that. There are some possible films on the horizon for the future, but it's a tricky situation for me planning a film schedule and all that PR with my lifestyle the way that it is, with what I do, you know.
Going to fan expos and going to fights and preparing for fights and all that kind of stuff and then building in time to film in between that, it can be very tricky to manage all that kind of stuff. We've had some opportunities in the past on things that we've had to basically pass up on due to some conflicts, schedules and all those kind of things, but yeah, there are possibilities for things that we have in the future.
SI.com: Finally, if you're going to call it, how do you think the Nogueira fight is going to go?
Franklin: I don't know, I've never wanted to call fights or anything like that. I'll say this much -- I'm preparing for a stand up battle with him, but it really wouldn't surprise me if for this camp he decided to take it to the ground. So really I'm kind of on my toes as to how this is going to end up being for this fight, I really don't know. It's going to be a tough fight for sure. The Nogueira brothers, these guys are definitely difficult to knock out for sure, so I don't see this being something that's going to end in the first round. This has potential war written all over it.