Cameron Conaway sits down man-to-man with UFC superstar Rich Franklin about religion, the causes close to his heart and how he became a world famous MMA fighter.
April 25, 2003. I had turned 18 two days prior, high school graduation was approaching and I was scared as all get-out about the potential finances and failures of college. All I really knew was that I loved mixed martial arts. I’d been self-training in garages, sparring in basement boxing clubs below bars and studying the sport’s techniques through old Ultimate Fighting Championship VHS cassettes. This night, I watched 28-year-old Rich Franklin, in his UFC debut, sneak a vicious left uppercut through Evan Tanner’s guard and follow it with a crushing right hook. Tanner’s legs buckled completely and the end came soon thereafter.
It was then that I learned Franklin’s story. He too had been self-training in garages. But here was a guy with a master’s degree from the University of Cincinnati, a former mathematics teacher at Oak Hills High School who could armbar beasts like Marvin Eastman and blitz through tough veterans like Evan Tanner. He was always respectful to his opponents and always articulate in interviews and eventually the rotting wooden walls of my garage were covered with his quotes.
Two years later, Rich became the UFC Middleweight Champion and has since defeated legends like Ken Shamrock, Wanderlei Silva and Chuck Liddell. His story and his character helped propel my college studies, my MMA career and the many lessons that grew from fusing the two. In recent news, Rich Franklin has agreed to fight Cung Le at UFC on Fuel TV 6 on Nov. 10 in Macau, China. This will be the UFC’s first-ever event in China.
In my life, this man has truly been a hero to me, so it is a surreal experience and tremendous honor to now interview him for the The Good Men Project.
CC: First, congratulations on your huge win last month against Wanderlei Silva. Many people thought he had knocked you out, but you hung on, finished the round and allowed your more technical standup to carry you through the fight. Is it instinct now to never fold, to keep getting up and pushing on? What sustains your will and do you believe all people can develop something similar in their everyday lives?
RF: I guess it is instinct if I can’t even remember rounds 3 and 4 in the fight. I believe the quality to never fold is either something we are born with or learn at a very young age. If you ever watch…say, a little child reaching for a glass off of a table or simply trying to accomplish nearly impossible things for their little body, you will see some children persist regardless of their failure, while others give up after only a couple of attempts. Some of us may never even realize we had that “never give up fight” in us until we are pushed to a breaking point.
CC: Your training routines are well documented and have been discussed numerous times on national television and during Pay-Per-View broadcasts. Even back in your UFC debut you said with confidence during the pre-fight interview: “I’m not going to gas.” Can you tell us about your scientific approach to training and how it has evolved since those early days in the garage?
RF: I would not be able to encompass this in a single interview question. Let me break this down to the most basic level. Nothing beats hard work…period! Fortunately God granted me with a no quit work ethic like I discussed in the last question. It is my belief that if I outwork an opponent during the entire camp I am training for him he is already coming into the fight from a disadvantage. Granted, working hard is not enough, working smart is just as important. I have aerobic and anaerobic conditioning days. I condition with sparring and sparring-type drills. I train my nervous system to relax while I am physically peaking.
CC: It could be argued that you were the first MMA fighter on a truly global scale to disprove the notion that “these guys are just a bunch of uneducated brutes.” As a result, your story of being a former high school teacher has since become a cliché – the stuff books and movies are made of. Several of my high-school students in Arizona actually wrote essays about how they wanted to pursue education and MMA as you’ve done. Did your background in education prepare you in any way for the fight game or the resulting fame?
RF: You can tell from my fight style that I am a very cerebral fighter. I don’t allow my emotions to affect my performance in the octagon. I believe being an educated and intelligent individual plays into my style very well. It compliments my fight career with other aspects like interviews or marketing. Having a career in fighting is much more than, “I will fight anyone anywhere!”
CC: Psalm 144:1 – “Blessed be the Lord my strength, which teacheth my hands to war, and my fingers to fight” – has long been your motto. You’ve been featured in the “Men of God Spotlight” in Prodigal Magazine and some of your quotes in CNN’s When did God become a sports fan? sparked worldwide discussions. Among many other things, you spoke of how your success shows that being a Christian need not be synonymous with being a pushover, that: “Jesus was fearless, not someone you provoked. He’s a man’s man. He was a carpenter who worked with his hands. He wasn’t a metrosexual who did his nails.” What role has your religion played on the man you’ve become?
RF: I prefer to use the word relation rather than religion, because we are talking about a relationship with Christ. It has played a prominent role in my life more so out of the octagon than in. He is my confidence when I fight and my rock to lean on when I need to make a difficult decision…and I can tell when I forget to lean on him.
CC: Your wife Beth also has a master’s degree and was a former high school teacher. Can you tell us about some of the positives and negatives that your celebrity and the demands of the sport have brought to your marriage?
RF: We have both seen and experienced things we never would have had the chance to as teachers. Conversely, we were both small town kids thrown into a whirlwind of “fame.” Life came at us so fast, it was very difficult to keep up.
CC: Lastly, you’ve got a lot going on outside of the fight game. You speak to schools about bullying and you’ve started AcesWay.com, a website that advocates for a holistic approach to health. What other outreach work do you do and hope to do in the future?
RF: I am the most passionate about fitness and nutrition. Those two subjects are ones you can hardly get me to shut up about once I start talking. Earlier when you asked me about my scientific approach to conditioning, some of those concepts are and will be written on my site. However, I hardly consider that outreach work.
My management team and I have a non-profit called “Keep it in The Ring.” We use the foundation to house money we raise for causes. We have raised money in the past for things like breast cancer research or domestic violence. I have spoken at elementary schools and juvenile detention centers, and visited childrens and veterans hospitals. I do a ton of work with the Disabled American Vets (DAV), and you can check them out at www.DAV.org. I also do an overseas military tour once per year. Honestly, I am sure there are more!
CC: Thanks for taking the time out for us here at The Good Men Project, Rich!
RF: My pleasure…always nice to do an interview for a fan!