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Rich Franklin, Retirement Talk, and the Trouble with Mixing Sports Metaphors

Right off let’s get one thing straight: I don’t want to see Rich Franklin retire. I like Rich Franklin. His wacky personal views aside, he seems like a good guy and an exciting fighter. I’m not trying to hustle him into retirement, though I see how it might seem that way. Here’s what I wrote in yesterday’s Si.com article:

Franklin, who moves up in weight in an attempt to revitalize his career as a 205-pounder, made the best choice. If he can’t beat Matt Hamill on Saturday, though, that glimmer of hope will also fade, leaving him with a choice between retirement and a steady fall from mediocrity. Neither road is appealing, but at least one is more dignified.

All right, that sounds like I am totally trying to hustle Franklin into retirement. Perhaps I should have phrased it more delicately. Our reactionary Canadian friends at Fightlinker think so, and I see at least part of their point.

For the record, I expect Franklin to beat Hamill. He expects the same thing, or at least that’s what it sounded like when he described Hamill as a good first match-up in the division because he is “not one of the top 10 205-pound fighters.”

If he wins, there’s certainly no reason for him to consider retirement. Even if he gets held down for three rounds, he can still chalk it up to a bad style match-up and make a lateral move in the division for his next bout. But there’s another question at the heart of this. What happens when a fighter goes from great to good? If you aren’t moving up, are you necessarily headed down?

In talking with Steve Cofield, Franklin compared his situation to that of athletes in other sports:

Franklin, 33, used a football analogy to describe his situation saying that Eli Manning won’t retire this year if the Giants fall short of another Super Bowl title. The 31 non-Super Bowl winning QBs didn’t walk away from the sport last year either, right?

I see the point he’s making, but I don’t think it works as a metaphor. For one thing, football is a team sport. Winning a Super Bowl doesn’t make you the consensus pick as the league’s best QB. Eli Manning is possibly the best example, and if you won’t go along with that, I would refer you to other Super Bowl winning QB’s like Trent Dilfer and Brad Johnson.

Fighting is an individual sport. You don’t claim a title thanks to the strength of some other guys on your team. You can’t tell yourself that you’ll be on top again once your front office finally signs a tight end worth a damn or an offensive line that can block. It’s all you once the bell rings. And if you aren’t moving up, the best case scenario is you’re staying put.

If a fighter is fine with staying put, with being an also-ran for as long as the organization can keep selling his fights, then so be it. He can, to quote Bull Durham, keep going to the ballpark and keep getting paid to do it. That’s his choice.

But pro fighting is a brutal business in more ways than one. A guy who goes on past his prime doesn’t start throwing interceptions; he takes actual physical beatings. Again, I don’t think Franklin is to the point of having to worry about that yet. But it’s also brutal in the sense that it only cares about the guys at the top, and to a lesser extent about the guys who are on their way up. It isn’t a sport that treats past heroes particularly well.

If you acknowledge that you aren’t climbing up the ranks with an eventual title shot as the goal (and you can certainly argue that Franklin might genuinely see himself as 205-pound champ one day, even if he’s the only one), then what are you doing? You’re hanging around, seeing who you can still get paid to beat, finding out the hard way who you can’t, and most likely making a lot less money to do it.

That’s not the worst thing that can happen. You have to admire a guy who still wants to compete that badly. But it isn’t especially compelling, either. That doesn’t mean Franklin can’t or even shouldn’t do it. He’s earned the right to decide when he wants to quit, and I think he definitely has more good fights in him before getting to that point.

All it means is if he can’t beat Hamill, if he truly isn’t moving up in the division, then he has to get used to playing a new, much less glamorous role in the UFC. He also has to answer for himself exactly why he’s doing it, and that could be the hardest part.

(-Ben Fowlkes)

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UFC fan- September 9, 2008 at 10:33 pm
"# bfowlkes Says:
September 6th, 2008 at 6:12 pm

It’s not religion so much as creationism. ‘Wacky’ is the kindest way I can describe any belief system that puts humans and dinosaurs on the earth together at the same time, ignoring all evidence to the contrary."

Ok thats much better I Totally agree with you now. :) If he believes Dinosaurs and man were on the planet at the same time hes not only religiously confused hes scientifically confused. You cleared that up nicely man, thank you.
fil- September 6, 2008 at 12:45 am
Franklin and Hughes situation are different.

Franklin has ONLY lost to Anderson. He's won his other fights (hope he wins tonight at UFC88).

Hughes has lost every fight since losing to GSP. PERIOD. He's on his way down due to a big losing streak.
fil- September 6, 2008 at 12:41 am
So the better sports analogy is tennis and golf.

There are clear number ones and they tend to have the number of everyone below them. Does the number 2 quit? No, they still compete because the fans and the sport needs the competition.

And then what happens? Tiger Woods or Serena/Venus Williams Roger Federer lose to a number 2.

I think Franklin should also fight as a middle weight to continue to prove he's the number 2 fighter. There is no shame in being competitive at that level and being number 2. The money is there for both him and the UFC.

Going to 205 is good to help soothe the soul, but the reality is that he'll be the number 2 guy in the UFC middle weight division for a few more years.
bfowlkes- September 6, 2008 at 12:12 am
It's not religion so much as creationism. 'Wacky' is the kindest way I can describe any belief system that puts humans and dinosaurs on the earth together at the same time, ignoring all evidence to the contrary.
UFC fan- September 5, 2008 at 10:35 pm
since when is religion a wacky personal view.
whats your problem Fowlkes?
Anonymous- September 5, 2008 at 10:35 pm
since when is religion a wacky personal view.
whats your problem Fowlkes?
RICH FRANKLIN- September 5, 2008 at 4:32 pm
If the damn immigrants didn't come over and take our jobs I would still be the king. Didn't we build a fence or something to prevent this. I can still beat Silva in an english test
TwoFistedFlava- September 5, 2008 at 12:05 pm
Yeah it's stupid, the guy is the No. 2 middleweight in the world, and people treat him like his career is almost over because he can't beat one of the pound for pound greatest fighters in the world.
caged tomato- September 5, 2008 at 5:02 am
Rich looks like he was just told that Hamill is out and Silva has stepped in to take his place! lol

Rich seems like a decent enough guy,but he def needs to pull off a dominant fight,I doubt he's going to man handle Hamill, so the only way I see this turning out good for Ace is to knock Hamill TFO! as early as possible.
Ls18- September 4, 2008 at 9:36 pm
I'm with the 'stop shitting all over ace' camp here, the man quite obviously is a great fighter, name me one 185-pounder who's name doesn't rhyme with 'Panderson Milva' that can beat him?
slapjaw ackrite- September 4, 2008 at 8:23 pm
i think comparing ace and hughes is like comparing QB to fighter...no, wait, more like role model to roll of toilet paper (used).
chilly chill- September 4, 2008 at 7:11 pm
Why is everyone shitting on ace? Just because he can't beat Anderson Silva doesn't mean he sucks or needs to retire he is still a bad ass and has LOTS of fight left in him. Anderson Silva just isn't human so its cool.
Walrus- September 4, 2008 at 6:05 pm
You heartless bastards -- leave Ace alone!!!!
Kelly C- September 4, 2008 at 5:46 pm
I think a comparison to Matt Hughes is in order. Hughes' situation is exactly the same as Franklin's and he too needs to carefully consider why he's still fighting and what he hopes will come of it.
Geriatric Peon- September 4, 2008 at 4:56 pm
I like Franklin but I think the sport has developed the talent base to the point where you need to have the natural physical edge almost as much as the learned technical edge and Franklin just isn't the physical specimen that will rise above the rest. That being said some of the best fights can come from exceptional showings by mid rank guys so he is still capable of putting on a show that I will be more than happy to watch.

After that I think Franklin should turn to training others. He has the technical knowledge to pass to others and if I remember correctly he was a high school teacher then turned fighter so he at one time at least had the desire to teach others.
pd- September 4, 2008 at 4:46 pm
i expect franklin to continue to do well in his career at 205lbs.
i would be disappointed if he actually considered retiring.
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