by Damon Martin
Rich Franklin: What Makes A Champion?
By Damon Martin, MMAWeekly
“The only yardstick for success our society has is being a champion. No one remembers anything else” – John Madden
The mark of a champion can come in many forms. It can be the title wrapped around someone’s waste. It can be the respect of the other athletes in the sport. It can be fans adoring the spirit and will of a competitor. But one thing can never be argued when talking about a champion…and that is the heart of that person to strive to always be the best at what they do.
When Rich Franklin defeated Evan Tanner in June in Atlantic City at UFC 53, the company that had ideas of not bringing the former school teacher from Cincinnati back to compete in their organization, crowned a middleweight champion who is now quickly becoming one of the biggest stars in the sport.
It didn’t take a marketing genius to figure out after Franklin defeated the legendary Ken Shamrock during the “Ultimate Fighter” finale that he was on the fast track to stardom, but just like any great team or athlete, living up to the hype that is built around any performance can be much harder than what it took to get there in the first place.
“It’s not whether you get knocked down; it’s whether you get up” – Vince Lombardi
During the “Ultimate Fighter” season 2 in which Rich Franklin was involved as coach, his counterpart Matt Hughes made a comment to his fighter, Sammy Morgan, after being defeated that no one is undefeated and if you are, you’re fighting the wrong people. In his only loss, Rich Franklin traveled to Japan to take on rising star and Inoki prodigy, Ryoto Machida on New Year’s Eve 2003. Franklin, who was always admittedly a small light heavyweight fighter made no excuses when is opponent landed a solid shot on his chin, sending him crashing against the ring ropes, causing the referee to call a stop to the fight.
It was a low moment for Franklin, who only months earlier had debuted in the UFC as a 205lb fighter defeating Evan Tanner for the first time, who was an overwhelming favorite to win the fight. Franklin had since been invited back to the UFC and despite a groin injury, was able to stop Edwin Dewees by strikes in the first round.
But after returning to the U.S. for the first time in his career as the fighter on the losing end of things, Franklin was able to refocus his goals and started climbing his way back to the top of the ladder where he truly believed he belonged.
“There is no substitute for victory” – Douglas MacArthur
One common subject that is brought up among many fans and critics of the sport of MMA is how a fighter works to finish the fight. Matt Lindland, who is arguably one of the top competitors in the entire sport, routinely gets pounded for his style which can be somewhat lackluster when compared to many other fighters. Rich Franklin, through 21 professional fights and 2 amateur bouts (credit to Full Contact Fighter: Fighter database), has never gone to a decision in any of his fights. That is a very hard thing to accomplish in a sport where some fighters look like they almost want to hold on just to get a decision versus truly working to finish their opponent and go for the victory.
Most of Franklin’s battles have been finished in the first round, but when the fight reaches the deeper rounds, he has still put everything on the line to get a definitive victory. In one of his toughest fights against Jorge Rivera at UFC 50, Franklin was dealing with cutting weight to make it to 185lbs for only the second time in his career. It was obvious during the fight that he looked somewhat drained and not as strong as in previous fights. But despite the effects that weight cutting may have had, Franklin was still able to pull of an armbar, finishing the fight late in the final round.
“Show class, have pride, and display character. If you do, winning takes care of itself” – Paul “Bear” Bryant
It’s a difficult job to be in a sport that is so definitively driven by testosterone laden tirades and interviews that are meant to anger your opponent. The phrase “nice guys finish last” comes to mind as well. But no one that has ever heard a promo cut by Rich Franklin or anyone that has ever had the chance to talk to him personally, could ever say that he wasn’t one of the most humble fighters on the planet. Never one to boast about how great he is or who he’s going to beat down next, his words are amplified by his actions in the ring and the cage.
Nathan Quarry, who has always been seen as an extremely respectful fighter, even went as far as to question Franklin’s chin, bringing to light the he believed he could knock him out in their championship fight. Franklin’s only response in interviews was the he was sorry Quarry was making a “mental mistake.”
“Actions speak louder than words” is yet another phrase that comes to mind when describing Rich Franklin and Nate Quarry would probably agree. At just over 2 minutes into the fight, Franklin unloaded an absolutely devastating left that floored Quarry, ending the fight in dramatic fashion. It was made painfully obvious to everyone watching in attendance and the millions watching at home, that Rich Franklin’s motivation isn’t sparred by his opponent’s words, it’s his desire to win and walk out with his championship, the same as he walked in with.
“Never underestimate the heart of a champion” – Rudy Tomjanovich
It may be jumping ahead a bit to think of Rich Franklin as a great champion just yet. He just won his first title defense against an albeit lesser opponent that may not have been ready for that opportunity yet. But the UFC has a definite commodity in their middleweight champion. They have a loyal fighter who will persevere to make sure that the company succeeds. They have a fighter who always looks to win, and doesn’t just hope not to lose. And they have a fighter who truly exhibits the heart of a champion in every fight. And that can be a very rare commodity indeed.