Rich Franklin got a call from Dana White’s assistant last month with a request to set up a call with the UFC president.
It had been a while since Franklin, a UFC pioneer, had heard from his former promoter. Franklin lives now on the other side of the world, Singapore, where he works as an executive for ONE Championship.
Franklin was entirely unsure why White wanted to chat, but scheduled a time for 9 a.m. the following morning before he was to head out to film the ONE Warrior Series reality show.
“I’m sitting at breakfast,” Franklin told MMA Fighting. “He was supposed to call me at 9 in the morning. It was 20 after and my phone hadn’t rang. I’m sitting there thinking, I’m gonna run out of time if he doesn’t call me. I didn’t want to have to cut him off.”
As it turned out, White was calling Franklin through WhatsApp and Franklin’s phone never rang. Franklin had three missed calls from the UFC boss.
“He called me right on the dot,” Franklin said with a laugh. “I told him, ‘I was sitting there thinking you were big-timing me.’ We chuckled about that.”
White’s reason for calling was significant. He told Franklin, the former UFC middleweight champion, that he was going to be inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame in July. The news was made public Saturday night during the UFC 236 pay-per-view broadcast.
Franklin, 44, said he was not expecting to get that news from White, especially since he’s working for ONE, which is a rival to the UFC in Asia, and had not spoken to White in years. But there has never been any beef between him and the UFC, Franklin said.
“That’s why I was a bit surprised when I got the call,” Franklin said. “I’m over here working. But there was never really animosity in me taking this job or anything like that. But you know how things go in your career — out of sight, out of mind. Like I said, I was a bit surprised about it.”
On paper, Franklin is a no-doubt selection to the UFC Hall of Fame. “Ace” will be inducted into the “pioneer era wing” in a ceremony July 5 in Las Vegas. The “pioneer era” includes fighters who turned pro before Nov. 17, 2000 when the Unified Rules of MMA were first adopted, are a minimum of 35 years old and have been retired for one year or more. Franklin has not fought since 2012, a UFC on Fuel TV main event loss to Cung Le in Macau. He started his professional career in 1999.
Franklin’s career record stands at 29-7 with one no contest, including a 14-6 mark in the UFC. He has beaten the likes of Ken Shamrock, Chuck Liddell, Evan Tanner and Wanderlei Silva. Franklin held the UFC middleweight title in 2005 and 2006 before losing it to Anderson Silva.
Perhaps above anything else, Franklin was known for his deep connection with the MMA fanbase. His story, as a former high-school math teacher who left his job to be a cage fighter, has resonated with a mainstream audience.
“Rich Franklin is one of the original, big stars of UFC, from when we first bought the company,” UFC president Dana White said in a statement. “Rich helped us take the sport of mixed martial arts to another level and put UFC on the map during the early days. Rich has always been a class act. He’s a guy who would fight anyone and do whatever it took to help grow the sport of MMA. He is a true legend and I’m honored to call him my friend.”
The thing that stands out the most about being inducted into the Hall of Fame, Franklin said, is all of the hard work and hours everyone in his life put into him over the years. He said he wants to celebrate them more than celebrate himself in the coming months.
“The Hall of Fame induction makes me kind of reflect on my career,” Franklin said. “I just kind of think about all the time that everybody in my life poured into me to get me to where I am, helped me accomplish what I did. I talk about my coaches, my family, my friends, my training partners. All these people put so much time in. It’s one of those final recognition pieces that shows all the teamwork that goes into something to be able to accomplish this.”
Franklin said his best career memory was not winning the UFC title, beating legends or headlining big pay-per-view cards. It was when his father finally came around to him being a fighter.
“I remember telling my dad that I was gonna quit teaching and pursue a career professionally as a mixed martial artist,” Franklin said. “My dad thought I was crazy. I was the only child in my family to go to college and actually graduate with a degree and have a career based on the degree. I was teaching. My father actually went back to university late in life. To him, education was everything. He saw it as me throwing my life away. It was quite difficult for him at the time.”
Franklin said his father came to his first UFC title defense in Las Vegas. During that fight week, Franklin was cutting weight and his father was eating dinner. He said his father turned to him and said, “Hey man, I’m really proud of you for pursuing your dream.” Franklin went on to knock out Nate Quarry at UFC 56.
“That by far was probably the most significant memory of my career,” Franklin said.
The one thing Franklin said he values most about his time in MMA is that engagement and connection with fans. He prides himself on always having done things the right away, from sportsmanship to nutrition and fitness. Franklin said when he runs into fans now and they tell him he was a role model or he inspired them, that makes everything all worth it.
“To me, an award like this is just a physical manifestation of that impression that I leave on people,” Franklin said. “Most importantly, I’m happy that I left that kind of impression, that that’s the legacy of my career. If this award is what recognizes that, then yeah. It is important. But more important is the value it represents.”