If there was a list of fighters in the UFC under the Zuffa era that the company would always stand behind no matter what, a few names would surely be etched into eternity.
Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar would quickly get added after their fight helped launch the UFC to a whole new stratosphere during The Ultimate Fighter season 1 finale. Former UFC light heavyweight champion Chuck Liddell will always be remembered for his title reign, and as the face of the company when they finally hit the big time. Matt Hughes would likely gain the same kind of favor for his performances inside the Octagon and sticking by the UFC no matter what.
If there was another name that would surely be added to that list, it would be former UFC middleweight champion Rich Franklin.
On more than a few occasions, Franklin has stepped up when the company needed him.
Short notice, replacing a main event, and long travel. These are all scenarios that Franklin has been faced with over the course of his UFC career, but each time he’s been willing to say yes when so many others have said no.
It’s earned Franklin the label “company man” by a great many fans, journalists and even fellow fighters, but he doesn’t take it as a slight. Franklin is more than happy to be the UFC’s “company man.”
“I don’t mind that that term is used. You know what, I’m a team player, I’ve always been a team player, and I always want to do what’s best,” Franklin told MMAWeekly Radio.
Franklin made his UFC debut all the way back in 2003, and in those days the promotion wasn’t even making money, much less putting on multi-million-dollar shows. Now they are one of the most profitable companies in the world with a huge staff of employees, but Franklin remembers the days very well when he could name every person receiving a paycheck from the UFC.
“Here’s the thing, when I started fighting for the UFC, when I got hired on with them, there were 12 people in the office there. Now there are like 100, I don’t even know how many there are honestly, but there are a lot. The last time I went to a Vegas show, I walked into the office that was set up in the MGM, and I was doing the commentating on New Year’s Eve, and when I walked into the office, I didn’t know anybody in the office. I stood there looking around like looking for somebody I knew, and I didn’t recognize one face and nobody recognized me. The workers looked at me and said, ‘Can I help you?’ and I was like, ‘Where’s Burt (Watson)?’” Franklin joked.
“When you start working for a company in that kind of environment, then naturally you view yourself as a team, and so I’m going to do what’s good for the team.”
There’s only been one occasion when Franklin has had to turn down a fight and that was in 2011 when his original opponent, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, suffered an injury prior to UFC 133. The UFC offered him Alexander Gustafsson as a replacement, but Franklin opted to make the smarter business decision to turn that one down with only two weeks until fight time.
Outside of that one moment, whenever UFC president Dana White or matchmaker Joe Silva has called, Franklin just always says yes. Has it always been the best decision for his career?
Well, Franklin admits when he took his 2009 fight against Vitor Belfort, he was “mentally drained” and probably should have said thanks, but no thanks. Still, Franklin has no regrets for any of the times he’s stepped up when the UFC needed him.
“That’s the way I started. I started at a time when the UFC started building itself, and I feel like I’ve been incremental in that building process. So I’m willing to do what’s good for the team, basically,” said Franklin.
During his UFC tenure, Franklin has twice fought in Ireland, he’s competed in Germany, and he even stepped up on short notice to fight Wanderlei Silva in a rematch (Franklin won the first fight) in his home country of Brazil. Franklin replaced Tito Ortiz in a fight against Chuck Liddell, but also managed to step up and fill in for Ortiz in the final weeks of taping The Ultimate Fighter reality show.
And when the UFC came calling to ask Franklin to travel all the way to China to face Cung Le at UFC on Fuel TV 6, take a wild guess what the former math teacher from Cincinnati said?
“I’d never turn down a fight with the UFC, and that’s not to say it’s the smartest thing to do for my career. My career has just unfolded the way that it has and I’m happy with all that kind of stuff,” said Franklin.
“I’m happy being the company man for the UFC.”
To hear the entire interview with Rich Franklin make sure to listen to Monday’s edition of MMAWeekly Radio.
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