UFC star Rich Franklin is back in action this Saturday at UFC 88 in Atlanta and will be moving up a weight class. Franklin will be facing a fellow Cincinnatian in light heavyweight Matt Hamill. I recently spoke with Franklin about the match and his career.
MMA Stomping Grounds: Why the move up to 205?
Rich Franklin: I was talking to the UFC after the second [Anderson] Silva loss and they encouraged me to move up to 205. They told me my position there would be more appealing to them from a business perspective. They weren’t interested in a third match between me and Silva and they didn’t want me fighting contenders because I could eliminate possible title fights, so I was stuck in that I was going to be fighting people on the back end of their losses to Silva and I didn’t care for that gatekeeper position. After the Travis Lutter fight, I said I would try my hand at 205 again.
MMA Stomping Grounds: What’s the toughest part of the transition in weight classes?
Rich Franklin: I think that’s a question better suited for September 7, but me giving up some pounds there is quite the adjustment. If I’m carrying an extra 20 pounds in this fight and it goes the full 15 minutes, that takes a toll on conditioning.
MMA Stomping Grounds: What do you think about Matt Hamill?
Rich Franklin: He’s looked great, his success doesn’t surprise me at all. Matt’s an accomplished wrestler and a competitor. The first time I met him it was before he was doing MMA and I said when you’re done wrestling and all that -- he was making run for Athens games -- you ought to give MMA a thought because you could be good at it ... and before I knew it he was in The Ultimate Fighter and his only loss is a controversial one. He’s looked strong.
MMA Stomping Grounds: What would be your ideal fight?
Rich Franklin: I don’t know, it doesn’t really matter to me, I’m really just all about competing and having fun, doing it and putting on good fights for the fans. I’m one of those guys where if fans said “we’d love to see Rich Franklin fight so and so” I’d be in to doing that.
MMA Stomping Grounds: What part of the sport's growth has you the most excited?
Rich Franklin: I would guess the international growth at this point. The international growth the UFC is experiencing is showing how solid the future is going to be for this sport. So that’s great for guys like myself, who 10 years from now, I won't be fighting anymore and having a job within the MMA profession will be a possibility, but it’s also exciting for up-and-coming athletes.
MMA Stomping Grounds: What do you think is the biggest misconception casual sports fans have about MMA?
Rich Franklin: It’s that there are no rules. It’s the funniest thing I hear people talk about. People say, “I’ve seen that you fight in cage and there’s no rules,” and I’m sitting there [thinking] “yeah, exactly.” Quite frankly, the rule book for this sport is complex, more so than for most sports probably.
MMA Stomping Grounds: What is one thing you would want people to know about you?
Rich Franklin: I just think that people see the TV persona that’s developed and although I’m a lot like my TV persona, things get amplified and magnified so to speak, and all that stuff gets taken out of proportion. One aspect of your life seems to overwhelm public perception and they forget about other things. From what they read in newspapers they think they know you, but what it boils down to is they don’t.
MMA Stomping Grounds: Have you ever had any weird requests from fans?
Rich Franklin: Yeah, requests like “can you shave your autograph into my back hair” or stuff like that, it’s really not that bad though. I don’t get, like, women’s panties in the mail or weird fan mail or anything. I have had threatening phone calls to my house on numerous occasions. People call to threaten to kill me or beat me up when I’m not looking. My wife has also had threatening phone calls, which is odd because I’m a fairly well-liked fighter, so its weird. It’s weird having that kind of stuff happen because I come from a normal small town here in Ohio and suddenly my life is blown up and I’m perceived to be way more important than I am.
MMA Stomping Grounds: Do people call you a lot like that?
Rich Franklin: It’s kind of out of the blue, it will be three or four in the morning. I had a string of these calls occur over a couple months where they came semi-frequently. Then when I was out of town my wife was getting them. I had a fan who one time did some research and got my home number and called my house. My wife picked up and he said “This is Bob, I’m calling Rich about an interview,” and she said, “OK, who are you with?” He just said, “Oh, with no one, I just wanted to interview him.”
MMA Stomping Grounds: Do you have to contact the authorities when you get calls like that or do you just shrug them off?
Rich Franklin: At this point I’ve shrugged them off. It irritates me more than anything else. I don’t know, I guess being a fighter you feel you can take care of yourself anyway, but it’s never gotten to a point where I feel the need to call the police.
MMA Stomping Grounds: Looking on the upside of your fame, what are some of the cooler experiences you’ve been able to have during your time as a fighter?
Rich Franklin:That’s the thing with fame -- there’s the good side and the bad side. The bad side is when you’re out in public you get recognized, I couldn’t go to a club down here in Cincinnati without expecting to take 100 pictures with people on phones so they can put that crap on MySpace. I understand that goes on when I go out. The cool side of it is I’ve been able to do a lot of things most people haven’t. I got to go visit the troops in Iraq in 2006 and I’m getting ready to go back to the Middle East again. I’ve done tons of cool stuff around the military, like going on aircraft carriers and on a basic level I get invited to nice restaurants and people pay for dinner occasionally. You rarely have to wait in line for clubs and stuff like that. As you’re sitting there signing autographs in a club and by time you hit the 50th picture it’s like “at least we didn’t have to wait in line for this place.” Your friends think its more cool than [I do] but it has some perks.
MMA Stomping Grounds: Does the fame ever feel surreal to you?
Rich Franklin: No, as far as I’m concerned, fame is a fickle thing. One minute people love you, the next they hate you. You always have loyal fans that think you’re the greatest thing since sliced bread, but really, 99 percent of my life I’m just your average guy. I’m sitting at my home today wondering if I’m going to have to cut my grass before the fight again. I’m not wanting to have to sit on my tractor for a couple hours in the sun doing it but that’s my typical life. It’s pretty normal and things will be more that way once I’m out of limelight and retire. For most part people will forget about you. I sign autographs not because it does anything for my ego but because the people that ask you for it wouldn’t understand if you didn’t sign it, and I want fans to have a good experience when they meet me.
MMA Stomping Grounds: What’s the toughest part about being Rich Franklin?
Rich Franklin: Juggling all the aspects of my life. So many people want your time. Once you gain some notoriety or perceived importance everyone wants or needs you. You have appearances for this charity or sign autographs for this or make appearances at this fight. I need to go visit the troops and I need to train and I need to do PR work for my fights but on top of everything else I need to make time for everything else -- family, friends and training and its difficult to juggle all of that.
MMA Stomping Grounds: Do you follow MMA much when you aren’t training/fighting?
Rich Franklin:Yes and no. I watch the bigger fights but there’s so much stuff. MMA has exploded so much that you could sit down and you got your Versus channel and your HDnet and the UFC and the WEC and all these other shows and acronyms. If you DVR’d everything on MMA on TV you could watch fights nonstop in your waking hours. I spend so much time in the gym training that sometimes the last thing I want to do is come home and watch more fights. I do watch some fights and anytime there’s a WEC and Jens Pulver or one of my friends fighting I’ll catch the show, but I’m always definitely making sure I pay attention to UFC events and major fights. Honestly, my wife probably keeps up with that way more than I do.
MMA Stomping Grounds: What do you like to do away from fighting?
Rich Franklin: Well, when I’m training, I’m an athlete and an athletic kind of guy so I like to do anything active, but I don’t have the energy when I’m training. I will do things like play my drums, practice my Portuguese. I do often times spend a lot of time reading my bible and stuff like that.
MMA Stomping Grounds: Finally, what do you need to do against Hamill to be successful?
Rich Franklin: I think I gotta be quick on my feet. I’m giving up some weight so he might be giving up some speed. I need to use my footwork to confuse him and stick and move and stick and move and avoid takedowns. Once he does take me down, I can’t let him lay on top of me. I need to stay active on the ground.