Former UFC middleweight champion Rich Franklin is in Singapore this week for ONE FC: Honor & Glory in his official capacity as Vice President of the ONE Fighting Championship (ONE FC).
Reports ran last month about the 39-year-old American being in talks with Asia’s largest mixed martial arts (MMA) organization regarding a job offer.
There was not much to talk about really, as it was not difficult to get him on board.
“The offer was definitely something that appealed to me and I like the people at ONE FC, so it was a no-brainer decision. There is no convincing needed for me to join the team. I’m a ONE FC member and I’m here this week to discuss how I can optimise my expertise and experience.
“I am here to learn the culture of the organisation; how it operates, how it functions. They have an aggressive growth plan over the next couple of years and it will be about me learning how that growth plan is going to execute,” he said in an exclusvie interview today.
ONE FC chief executive officer Victor Cui is proud to have Franklin on the team. He said, “Every aspect of ONE FC is about bringing together the best people in the industry from around the world, such as Jason Chambers and Matt Hume, as well as top fighter Ben Askren. That’s what I’m always looking for when I built this company and why we had so much success the past couple of years.
“Rich Franklin is another perfect example – he is an icon in this industry. Everybody loves him, he is well-respected, and he will a fantastic addition to the team in terms of experience and helping the sport grow in Asia from ground up awareness.”
In his role as Vice President, Franklin will be doing extensive work in media (broadcast and television) when moving into new territories for example, and also in fighter development in the future.
Cui added, “We will continue to define his role but to me now what’s most important is finding the best people. I am aggressively hiring in all positions and looking to add another 200 staff in the near future as we grow. At the moment, we are a young company still and Rich will do a lot of different things for us, from talent management to fighter recruitment and giving seminars.”
Franklin will not be moving out to Singapore or Asia, and will still be based in the United States.
The arrangement for now is for him to work remotely from home and fly out to Asia for a week or a few months whenever needed.
“I have the flexibility to travel so I can move around. I’m a never-say-never guy though; maybe one day in the future I might move out to Asia. All these will take better shape once I get more involved with the company,” he explained.
“MMA in Asia right now is at the tip of the iceberg. If you were to rewind the clock, it’s like MMA in the States back in 2003. I think MMA is going to take off like wild fire here in Asia and I will be part of it.”
The idea of working for ONE FC first came four years ago when Franklin came to Singapore with Matt Hume (his trainer then and also Vice President of Operations at ONE FC) to give a seminar and conduct some camps at Evolve MMA.
Possibility became real after he came down for the ONE Asia MMA Summit last May and the deal was sealed last month.
What about that last fight on his contract with the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC)?
“I went to speak to Dana White and Lorenzo Fertitta of the UFC at the end of last year, to tell them that ONE FC was offering me a job. They told me it sounds like a really good offer and they were completely supportive, unlike what others might have thought."
After 15 years of fighting in professional MMA, Franklin feels he has enough in the tank for one last fight.
“According to the UFC, taking a position in ONE FC does not force me into retiring from fighting. It is my intention to fight my last fight and it will be my retirement fight. But I have to sit down and discuss this with everybody (at ONE FC) as well. Will it be at 185 or 205 pounds? It doesn’t matter as long as the opponent they pick makes sense to me. It must be something exciting for the fans to see.”
Since his last fight in November 2012 where he was defeated by Cung Le, he has been busy setting up and running Ze/Lin, a juice bar in Beverly Hills, with his business partner.
Having been involved in every aspect of it since the opening late last year, Franklin is not letting go of it but will probably hire someone to take over his place after realizing how much time he will be spending in Asia.
Knowing that he would be doing something different after he retires from professional MMA – such as opening a juice bar – Franklin never expected to land this role with ONE FC though.
“I never imagined that I would be working for an MMA promotion one day. I was a high school math teacher and then I got into fighting. It makes sense to start Ze/Lin as I’m very passionate about nutrition and it’s something I can talk about all day long. I guess I’ve spent so much time developing myself within this industry that fortunately this door opened and I can stay in the industry doing a different role,” he elaborated.
He is aware that there will be different kinds of challenges on the other side of the fence, but he is ready for this new path in life.
“I’m at an age where I have to contemplate my retirement as an athlete. I’m in my twilight years and not performing at my peak. Some people can do their jobs until they are 70, but as an athlete you have to accept the fact that you are not able to do the same job at 40.
“It’s a difficult pill to swallow, but I’m still in the prime of my youth and I’m ready for this new adventure in my life. It will be challenging and I’m picking up a position here with an organization that I’m excited about, but that doesn’t mean I won’t have days where I’ll really miss fighting.”
About the Author: Cheryl Tay (cheryltay.sg) is a sports and fitness writer from Singapore with a huge heart for MMA and fight sports.