by Cage Potato contributor Elias Cepeda
Two weeks ago former UFC #1 lightweight contender Hermes Franca announced his retirement from MMA competition after losing to Eric Wise by TKO in Iowa. The Brazilian fan-favorite recently sat down with CagePotato to reflect on his career, explain why he’s decided to move on, what’s next, and whether he thinks he might ever get back in the cage again.
Why did you decide to retire, Hermes?
It was a hard decision, it wasn’t good. But right now it is really hard, especially being 35. People don’t always realize that I’m 35. I look young but I’m 35 (laughs). I hurt my knee and tried to come back but I can feel that my body is not the same. To fight at the level I fight at I have to be in excellent shape and go to a good camp and this is expensive. . There are flights, partners to help you train, food, managers, coaches. People don’t realize how expensive it is for fighters training.
And I’ve got to spend time taking care of my school so I’m not a guy training full time. You have to go to camp, doesn’t matter who you are going to face. Especially the level I got to, everybody wants to beat the guy who fought for the title. My last fight was a great show, a really great show, and no disrespect to the guy that beat me, Eric Wisely, but I don’t want to keep losing fights with guys like him. So I decided to retire.
Plus, I’m the head of the East West MMA Jiu Jitsu program and I have a lot of responsibility; I have to be responsible for others. So I needed to decide what I want for my life. At the same time when I say that I’ve retired, I’m still going to work, still going to compete in BJJ and grappling for fun.
Did you know going into the last fight that you were going to retire or is it something that you decided afterwards?
It was something I decided afterwards.
You went two years straight without losing a fight and finishing every one en route to earning a UFC title shot. Since then, however you’ve lost four out of your last five fights. Before your last win, against Marcus Aurelio at UFC 90, I know you had an excellent and full camp. You’ve just talked about not being able to train full time and go to camps to prepare. Is this why you feel you’ve struggled in recent bouts?
I do believe so. Sometimes you can’t do it on your own, you have to go to a camp. Nowadays all the top fighters, they try to go to some camp where they’re going to [be] treated well. Where they have boxers, Muay Thai partners, lots of guys at your level, where they have chiropractors and people who can do massage. It’s really professional. I remember before Marcus Aurelio I went to San Diego and the Throwdown gym. It was great gym and a nice camp. I was feeling good. Its expensive you know.
Let’s say you get $100,000 for a fight, or more likely like $40,000. 20%-30% percent goes to taxes, 10% goes to your manager, another 20% is for expenses like food, traveling, sparring partners, etc. After that you don’t have nothing. It’s really hard. I did ten fights in ten months [in 2005-2006] before to make enough money but I’m not able to do that anymore with the fighters out there. There are a lot of great fighters from a lot of great camps. I think as I retire I’m going to do a lot for MMA still. I love MMA so of course I can’t be far away from fighting. I’m just not going to be fighting anymore.
After your fight with Sean Sherk for the UFC lightweight title in July of 2007, you both tested positive for having steroids in your system. After that, you confessed right away to using steroids during your training camp to try and help you heal from an injury. Sean Sherk denied it, and continues to deny it to this day. You were both given year-long suspensions but Sherk’s suspension was later reduced after an appeal. Do you ever regret confessing and being honest like that after seeing how they handled the situation?
To tell the truth, I don’t regret the things I did in my life. I do regret and get pissed over the things I never did in life. But I did a lot of things in life and I have no regrets because I believe that everything happens for a reason. I do believe it changed my life for the better. I want to be professional. I can’t go to the past, the future takes care of itself, the only thing you can control is the present. My life is an open book. I have no secrets. I am who I am. I’m a personable guy and have had good moments in the UFC, bad moments, been happy and sad. I think that’s life. When I go to bed I put my head on the pillow and can rest because I have nothing to hide.
You have had many good and trying moments throughout your career – from team changes, wins, controversial losses, the steroid suspension and much else. When you look back on your career, what is your favorite moment?
I remember one day I was driving and I got a call from a friend who was also like my manager back in the day. I was driving back home when he called and asked, “What are you doing?” I told him, “Driving.” He said, “Stop the car.” I said, “What’s going on.?” He said, “I have something to tell you and I don’t want you to crash the car.” Now I’m scared. He asked, “Did you stop the car?” “Yes.” “The UFC is looking for you.”
To tell the truth, it was great, it was awesome and he was right; if I had been driving I could have crashed the car. I couldn’t believe what was happening, I wanted to cry I was so excited. Then I won the fight against Richard Crunkilton, which was one of my best moments. Also, my second fight against Caol Uno was amazing. I had come to America with $300 in my pocket and here I was in Vegas for the first time at all and it was also my first time fighting in Vegas. It was Caol Uno, who had just done a five rounder against BJ Penn! I was really nervous thinking, “Holy crap!” That was another great moment in life. Then when I came back to the UFC in 2006 after fighting ten fights in ten months. I’ve got a lot of good, bad, happy and sad moments. Being the WEC champion. Fighting Jamie Varner, fighting for the title, fighting Spencer Fisher, fighting Ryan Shultz in the AFC.
Those were some great fighters, most of whom you beat. One of your most beloved fights came against a not so great fighter. Tell me about Manny Reyes, the man you fought for one dollar for the fans on The Underground Forum at MMA.tv.
That’s funny. I actually go on The Underground like 1-3 times a year to post but I love MMA.tv, it’s one of my favorite websites. I go every day to check things but not to write. But when I did go there and leave some messages they think it was funny and they love that. So this guy Manny Reyes was writing some trash around 2004 and if you remember the UFC was not doing the lightweight division anymore at that time. Euphoria was doing shows and for some reason they were going to have Manny Reyes fight. He was saying he was the UFC champion and I thought this guy is crazy. He was challenging me for some reason and one of the promoters said, “Ok Hermes you want to fight?” I say “I don’t want to fight this guy, he’s nobody.”
The promoter said that the fans want someone to kill him. I had already accepted a fight with Phil Johns but I accepted the fight. Right before the fight he was saying that he wanted his own rules – one round of ten minutes and that it could only be KO or submission. He created his own rules and they were selling a lot of tickets so he wanted like $2-3,000. Because he was so expensive the promoter asked me if I would fight for one dollar. I said, “What the fuck?” The promoter said, “Come on, do it for me, you’re a good friend.” “Ok, let’s fight for one dollar.”
And the arena was crazy. Everyone was waiting for it like I was fighting Gomi or BJ Penn (laughs). It was packed! And then when we’re in the ring I can hear the promoter shouting to me, “Kill him! Kill him!” I said, “Bro you cant do that, you’re the matchmaker! (laughs)
The hardcore fans followed that fight and still talk about it just about every week on the forums. They love you for it. You are still active online, talking with fans casually. Why is it so important to you to be connected with and open to the fans like you have been?
I used to say the fans pay my bills, and I mean this in a good way. The fans, not the UFC, the fans pay my bills. Of course if the UFC had no fans they couldn’t pay my salary and purse. The fans are unbelievable. They recognize you and are supportive. I always thought, this is not forever so why by cocky and arrogant? One day I’m going to be old and am going to be retired (chuckles). What do you think is going to happen then? I have good memories and I hope people still have good memories of Hermes Franca as the years go by.
You say that you have no regrets but are there things you wish you would have known when you were younger or changes you would have made?
I have no regrets but sometimes, especially fighters, you don’t have someone to take care of you. I never had a manager back in the day; someone [to] say “I’m going to take care of your image, look at your contract.” For me, I was like, who cares? I was cleaning cars and now I’m a fighter so everything is fine. But it would have been [nice] to have someone like a good lawyer and good people to take care of my papers because sometimes you do make mistakes. You’re by yourself and you don’t know what to do.
Perhaps I should have asked this before asking you to talk about your best memories, but what were some of the roughest things you’ve had to go through in your career? Was it the close and controversial decision losses like against Josh Thomson, losing the WEC title without losing it in the ring, the suspension?
I never looked at it that way. I didn’t cry and say, “I won the fight and they chose the other guy.” I never looked at it that way because I do believe that if something happens it’s for a reason. Sometimes I want to cry and think that this is the end of my life but then a couple months later, boom, I get the answer as to why I lost or why that shit happened. It had to happen.
What’s next for you?
One of the reasons I was looking to retire was so that I could concentrate on teaching. When you’re fighting you should be out of the school sometimes for at least a month to train. Now I have the East West MMA. It’s growing and I got a good offer to be the director of the BJJ program. I’m not doing MMA, just Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. I like the philosophy, I’m old school. I want to teach that for students. We already have some affiliates. We have an East West MMA Arizona, an East West MMA in Baltimore and an East West MMA in Syracuse. I’m happy. We’re going to open one in Portland next week. I may stay there for a month. It is going well and I can have some BJJ blackbelts get the opportunity to have money by teaching. People can write me if they have questions about seminars or private lessons at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You say that you will continue to compete in grappling and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu even though you won’t do MMA anymore. How do you imagine your conditioning and daily routine will change now that you won’t be a professional active athlete anymore?
What I like in BJJ is that I’m still doing cardio conditioning sometimes, but in MMA I have to go to a camp that has everything; Muay Thai, boxing, wrestling, yoga, everything. With jiu jitsu I still train hard but there is no pressure. I recently went and did the Worlds and I won. I just went there with students and had fun. That’s the way I like to train. Just go and compete. It’s the moment I want to bring back. BJJ is a really great program. I love all martial arts but with BJJ you don’t have to kick, punch or be strong. You can have long legs, short legs and its gonna work.
Athletes often return to action after retiring. What are the chances that Hermes Franca will make an MMA comeback in the future?
The answer is for right now. The past is the past and the future, you never know. But in the present I’m not going to fight. For today, Hermes Franca is not going to fight and has no intention to. I’m doing what I like to do. Sometimes you will go to the job and you have to go to the job because you have to get paid [but] you don’t like it. No, I go to my job and I go happy. I do believe that I never work a day in my life because I do what I love.