Rich Franklin is one of the greatest middleweights in UFC history. He dominated the division prior to relinquishing the belt to the man some call the greatest ever, Anderson Silva. Now, Rich Franklin is the vice-president of ONE Championship, and he is also the host of their show One Warrior Series.
I recently spoke to Rich Franklin about various topics like ONE Championship’s weight cutting procedure, the One Warrior Series, and the western perception of ONE Championship.
Your move to ONE Championship is interesting because the company is based in Singapore, and generally when fighters retire, they don’t want to leave their comfort zone. What drew you to ONE Championship?
First of all, with regards to my comfort zone, I was a high school math teacher, which was a decent paying career with a pension plan. Then I decided to jump ship and pursue a career in mixed martial arts when it was a very unstable industry in the United States. I’m just one of those people that really thrive on not being in my comfort zone.
I came down to Singapore about eight years ago, and I taught a seminar down here. When I came down here, they were beginning to build the infrastructure of ONE Championship. And they had kind of approached me about being interested in a possible position. As time went on, there was an opening for me in this company.
Athletes, in general, have a difficult time reinventing themselves after their career. In professional sports, you run your thirty-year career that most people do in a matter of ten years if you’re successful. Once you’re done, you often scramble for what’s next. I’ve just been fortunate and blessed to have a position in the same industry that I helped build, and I’m just doing it on the other side of the world.
How would you describe your role in ONE Championship for those who are unsure about what you do for the company?
My primary function at this time is to run the One Warrior Series. ONE Championship decided to formulate the One Warrior Series which is, I guess, a recruiting tool. I scout talent, and the talent that I scout will compete in our One Warrior Series events. Through their performances, they can win end up winning a hundred thousand plus contract with One Championship. It’s not a tournament or bracket; I can just reward contracts when I feel like they’ve earned a contract.
So that’s my primary function now, but in the past, I helped the athlete competition team. Matt Hume and I wrote the hydration and weigh-in protocols for our athletes. Our athlete’s here don’t cut weight. I do a little bit of commentating when I go to the live shows, and I still help out with the merchandise department a little bit. And then often times I am used for PR and public speeches. I step into whatever the company needs me for.
So how does ONE Championship go about weigh-ins and matchups if fighters do not cut weight?
The culture of cutting weight in combat sports is a difficult culture to overcome because it’s so ingrained that you cut weight. If I was to go to the gym today, and grapple or box, I would walk in at whatever my normal walking body weight is. So the idea is that you’re supposed to compete at that weight. So we asked the athletes what their normal walking body weight is, and matched them accordingly in the weight classes.
So when they come in the week of the event, not only do we weigh them but we hydration test them. We test their urine with a refractometer and make sure they’re not cutting weight. So if you try to do something like cheat the system for a couple of pounds here and there, which you can do by skipping a meal. It’s only going to affect your performance, and we’ve actually seen that happen.
It’s really changed the system. It’s healthier for the athlete; I spent an entire career cutting weight, I would’ve preferred to be under this system. Particularly for me because I was on the fence of two weight classes. It’s also healthier from a concussion protocol perspective because if you look at the way the body rehydrates itself, typically the last place that rehydrates in the body is the brain cavity, which exposes the brain to even more damage when you’re in a contact sport. From all angles, it’s safer and more intelligent.
ONE Championship might be best known to some MMA fans as the company where Ben Askren was champion. How do you think the company compares to other MMA promotions?
Well, people that say that’s the company where Ben Askren was champion are not from this side of the world. It’s very rare for an athlete in Asia, particularly in South East Asia to breakout and become an international star. You saw it with Manny Pacquiao, but off the top of my head, I don’t even know if I can name another athlete that has been a breakout star in South East Asia.
I think the western world is kind of blind to some of the athletes that they have over here. You know how it goes; people are more interested in athletes that are from where they are from. It’s a rare occasion when somebody like a Manny Pacquiao or Conor McGregor becomes an international star where more than just people from his home country like him.
Over here, we have had champions from Japan, Thailand, and Brazil, just all over the region. I believe Ben Askren is the only American champion that we’ve had. We’ve not had any European champions yet, and there’s not been a lot of activity in the U.S. But the momentum we have on this side of the world is truly amazing when you consider the company is about five years old.
One of the things I like about the One Warrior Series is you are really helping give these fighters a spotlight simply by association. Now, in the future, when people see fighters like Stamp, they will already be familiar with her because of the show.
Yeah, absolutely. As the show goes on, and as the better fighters rise, you are going to see more content on these athletes. You know, Stamp has been competing since she was six years old, and when this girl steps on the scene, I really believe she’s going to make waves. She’s the kind of athlete that does have the potential to breakout, just because of her backstory alone.
Also, people tune into this show because of Rich Franklin, and what I think it does so well is it balances the desire to see Rich Franklin and tell the stories of these aspiring fighters. Do you think that it was important to get that balance right?
Absolutely. What we’re trying to do with this is build the brand of an athlete, not necessarily build my brand. But it does parley off of the fact that the viewer would know who I am, and be interested in who I am as a person.
We’re making some changes for the second season, the way we go about things, the way we plan things out. The first season we were pushing so hard to just get this out there, and simultaneously, we have broadcasters that want to pick up these shows for their television stations over here. So this will be broadcasting with our broadcasters as we go, and then I imagine it will eventually work its way into the ONE Championship app for free anyway.
I think the company realized that I had a natural ability to lead a team, and parleying off of my stardom in the MMA industry is beneficial to everybody. So it was kind of strategically done.
Fans are also getting to learn more about you through the show. In episode 3 you told the story about how your Dad was against you becoming a fighter, but he later told you how proud he was of you because of the risks that you took. It was a really nice moment in the show.
I appreciate that. I’ve always been really genuine and candid in my interviews, probably a bit too much. But it’s also what’s given me the connection that I have with my fans. I’m a pretty open book. When people ask me what’s my favorite fight, typically what people are asking for is my favorite career moment. And that moment is when I was talking to my Dad, and he told me that.
I was the only child that he had that had graduated college, and my Dad went back and earned his college degree late in life. So education was really important to him. I remember when I was graduating; I didn’t feel like going to my graduation ceremony. My father made me, he told me that I had to sit through it, and he was going to record it (laughs).
So the day I told him that I was going to quit my job to pursue a career in MMA, he thought I was throwing away a good paying career. But when he saw that I was successful, and I don’t think it was the success as much it was the drive that I had. It really made him proud because I had the courage to step outside the box even when my own father doubted me.
You are also helping a part of the world that is known for Muay Thai and different forms striking become more aware of the grappling side of MMA, which is evident in a lot of the episodes. Do you think that your background in teaching has given you this desire to teach people even though you are no longer fighting?
Oh, absolutely. I would never go back to high school teaching again, for many reasons. But it’s not for a lack of passion for teaching. I truly enjoy seeing that light bulb moment for people and being a part of that process. I don’t think you can ever take that out of a person.
So this whole situation is really good for me. Sometimes, we’re getting ready for a workout, and we’ve been filming all day. I just don’t feel like going to work out. Then once you get me on the mat, I don’t wanna leave. Sometimes my production team will try to tell me that we have to go, but I need to finish explaining a move.
In one episode you had an athlete from India, Partho, and he was trying to show you that grappling was not a weak point in his game. You obviously knew that it was, but he was kind stubborn and didn’t want to agree with you. How was that teaching experience?
When I started to recruit people, I thought I was going to recruit for a developmental league to help build people. When I started seeing some of the people that were trying out, I realized they’re good. Some of them are amazing strikers with average Jiu-Jitsu, but that’s the same with everywhere you go in the world.
You take a guy like Partho for example, he’s super aggressive, and clearly, he can box. He was really impressive on the focus mitts. So with someone like him, it’s not so much a rejection as it is giving advice. Spend some time doing this because the last thing I wanna do is pair you up with a wrestler, and then see you lose a fight that you otherwise could’ve won.
When ONE Championship pitched this project to me, I knew it would be a lot of work. But I was really all in because it’s way better than sitting in an office all day long.