It’s a conversation that every professional athlete has to confront at some point in his career. In mixed martial arts the passing of the guard is taking place right before our very eyes as legends like Chuck Liddell start to walk away and new stars such as Jon Jones begin to emerge.
Rich Franklin was the last fighter to ever face Chuck Liddell. Following his knockout win over the former light heavyweight champion the questions started immediately about the “Iceman” walking away from the sport. It wasn’t until late last year that Liddell finally made the decision to call it a career, and Franklin certainly doesn’t think of himself as the one that ‘retired’ the “Iceman.”
“I get asked that question all the time, ‘how does it feel to be the guy that retired Chuck Liddell?’ and you’re right in what you said, (Chuck’s retirement) was the culmination of a lot of events. It wasn’t just me that retired Chuck Liddell. There were several other fights and I’m sure he had talks with his doctors and all of that kind of stuff, and those factors came into play. I don’t crown myself as having that honor or anything like that,” Franklin told MMAWeekly Radio on Tuesday.
“Chuck Liddell that’s a name that’s just synonymous with success in the UFC and to have a win over somebody like that and to just be able to step in the Octagon with somebody like that is a great honor. Chuck’s a friend of mine. He’s a class act guy.”
As Liddell walks away, the questions about other legends start to pop up. Matt Hughes has talked openly about retiring and may not have many years left in him, and while Randy Couture is readying himself for a showdown with Lyoto Machida at UFC 129, his days in MMA are winding down as well.
It seems odd to look at Rich Franklin in the same light, but the former Cincinnati math teacher admits it’s something an athlete has to start contemplating once they reach a certain age, and he doesn’t plan on fighting into his forties.
“My time in this sport is limited. I’m 36 years old. I’m not going to fight till I’m like 50 like Randy (Couture) is, I don’t know how the heck he does it. It’s just amazing. I realize my time is limited, and it’s going to get more and more difficult to keep up with these younger guys,” Franklin said. “These Jon Joneses and the Ryan Baders and stuff like that, these are guys that are in their early thirties and the UFC has been around basically ever since they can remember. The first UFC that I ever saw, the first UFC that ever took place for me was my senior year of high school and I was 18 years old basically.”
Franklin is quick to point out that while he is still in tremendous shape heading into his fight with Forrest Griffin, age does eventually catch up to you. The things that were so easy to do 15 years ago, aren’t as easy any more.
“When you’re 22 years old you have this feeling of invincibility as if you’re super human, and really when you get injured when you’re 22 years old, when you’re young like that, you bounce back quickly,” Franklin said. “You bounce back quickly from hard workouts. I’m 36 years old now and my body just doesn’t respond that way it did when you’re 22. It’s a scientific fact, that’s just how things are.”
During his fight with Dan Henderson in early 2009, Franklin suffered an eye poke that resulted in him having surgery to repair the injury. It was that beyond any broken bone that had him taking a serious look at his career, realizing that the end really could come at any time.
“When things like getting poked in the eye happen to you, it makes you start to think about things,” said Franklin. “I don’t have any problems with my vision, never have. I was born with great eyesight. I’ve had perfect vision, 20/15 vision, and I’ve never had issues with my eyes of any kind. So when my eye got poked like that and the severity of that injury to me, I mean, I was seeing double vision and there was a chance it was going to effect my vision in that eye permanently for the rest of my life, you begin to think about things.
“It’s one thing to break an arm and to be in a cast or something for eight to 10 weeks, or I broke my hand and I had to get surgery and I had to get a plate in my hand, and that plate is permanent. There is a difference between that and something like an eye injury and when you have stuff happen to you like eye injuries, you really start to think to yourself ‘what would I really do if that one eye was messed up?’ regardless of if I wanted to fight anymore, I would never be able to. I would never get approved by any athletic commission and I wouldn’t be able to pass a vision test and so my life would change forever.”
No fighter ever comes into a bout at 100-percent healthy, with nothing hurting or aching, but what Franklin wants to avoid are things that are going to prevent him from enjoying life when fighting is over. He knows that everyone has a starting point and a stopping point, and when the time for him to walk away from MMA happens, he’ll know it.
“You start thinking about those kinds of things as you start getting older, your health, and all that kind of stuff,” said Franklin. “I’m one of those guys I want to be able to play a game of full court basketball when I’m in my fifties or something like that. I know that my body is still in great shape. I wake up and I feel great in the mornings when I get up, but if there comes a day where I start to feel run down physically, I’ll know that it’s time for me to kind of pull the curtains.”
That time is not right now however and Franklin believes he’s in the top physical condition he needs to be as he gets ready to face Forrest Griffin in the co-main event of UFC 126 this weekend in Las Vegas.