Ex-UFC champ Rich Franklin wants one more fight – when 'next phase' allows him
At 39, Rich Franklin has every intention of fulfilling the final fight that still remains on what he believes will be his last UFC deal. But first he’s got to find time to train.
“That’s the reason why I haven’t scheduled anything,” Franklin told MMAjunkie. “I have one fight left on my contract with the UFC, and it is my intention to fulfill that contract. I’m working all the time, but I’m still training quite a bit. I just have to get my business to a point where realistically I could walk away and put it on cruise control, or at least have the mechanisms in place where the business doesn’t need my daily attention, and that’s just not the case now.
“Until that’s possible, I can’t commit myself to a full-time training regimen.”
Franklin (29-7 MMA, 14-6 UFC), a former UFC middleweight champion and longtime promotional posterboy, has long been a staunch supporter of leading a clean, healthy lifestyle. That passion has taken Franklin from his Ohio roots to Southern California, where he and partner Billy Zebe have launched ZeLin Juice and Fusion Cafe, which they hope to grow into a successful chain of health-conscious outposts.
“This is my next phase,” Franklin said. “It’s a natural progression for me as an athlete who’s always been about healthy lifestyle and fitness and nutrition. At the end of the day, it has to be something that we’re passionate about.”
Franklin’s passion for his new business is unquestionable. With one location already open in Beverly Hills and another on the way in Brentwood, Franklin and his partner are constantly battling business challenges.
“I thought going into business and opening up ZeLin would be a slower pace than the fight game, but all I did was make myself busier,” Franklin said. “I did not realize what kind of time goes into building a business, especially building one from the ground up.”
And Franklin isn’t just some celebrity endorser of this product. He’s working the front lines as a real entrepreneur.
“Business is starting to take off, starting to make a little traction,” Franklin said. “On a recent produce order, what we thought was going to last us three days lasted us about a day and a half. Midway through the second day, we were pretty much out of the product.”
The store wouldn’t function without vegetables, so Franklin purchased the necessary product and then rolled up his sleeves and helped prep for the next day’s work, a task that ended at 4:45 a.m.
Then there was the time Franklin’s store manager was out of town, and a shift lead called in to work with a flat tire. With no replacements available, Franklin went in and manned the shift.
“I’ve been juicing for a long time, but what we do in the store and what I do in my house are two completely different things,” Franklin said with a laugh. “A few people walked in a recognized me and said, ‘What are you doing working the counter?’ But it’s totally different when it’s your thing.”
Franklin also has remained focused on charitable contributions with his new venture, and the former math teacher couldn’t help but involve kids in his efforts. Franklin has partnered with California’s Sunburst Youth ChalleNGe Academy – a voluntary program that helps troubled youth reclaim their lives – to give their students a potential job opportunity.
“I had a chance to speak at Sunburst, and that was the definitely a good, life-changing moment for me, just seeing something like that in action,” Franklin said. “It was a blessing to be down there. Every store we open, we’d like to hire a couple of kids that come out of the academy.
“When I was younger, I had my fair share of problems that I had to deal with all the time. I was around drugs all the time, living in a poverty-stricken environment as a kid. I understand these things. I think that’s what really touched me about the whole thing. Children are in that kind of environment and filled with problems like gangs, drugs and abusive homes that become a cyclic pattern. They don’t know how to break that mold. These are the kids who say that if it wasn’t for Sunburst, they’d be face down in a gutter somewhere. These are people who have taken back control of their lives and are trying to make a change.”
Franklin’s company is a grass-roots effort, but the company is planning an aggressive expansion model. Zebe was involved in Hollywood Video’s growth from approximately one dozen locations to more than 2,400 stores, Franklin said, and they’re bullish on growth. But it will remain growth with a purpose.
“We love our business plan, and I think this is something that’s going to take off for us,” Franklin said. “There will be a lot of trying times between now and then and a lot of work, but we’re excited.
“For us, this is not just a business. I mean, yeah, I want to make money. I want the business to grow. But we also want to impact people. We want to impact lives, change lives. I’m talking to people like my friends and helping them to make better lifestyle choices and health choices. This is about educating people and helping to give back to the community as well. We want to set up food banks or maybe build some parks with our profits. We truly are passionate about being able to help.”
So where does that leave Franklin’s fighting career? Well, that remains to be seen. “Ace” admits there are days he wakes up and sees the business as his sole focus, but it’s also not as easy as simply hanging up the gloves and moving on.
Franklin remains passionate about the sport of MMA, and he hopes to honor his current UFC deal – but for now ZeLin is king.
“It’s not the glory and all that stuff,” Franklin said. “I got into this game because I was really passionate about fighting. I really care about the fight game. It’s not about not letting go. That’s just been my life for the past 20 years, and it’s not as easy as just saying, ‘It’s done and behind you.’
“If a doctor came to me and said, ‘Rich, you can never fight again,’ because I had some type of medical condition, then it is what it is. I’m cool with that. I’ve done enough in the sport that I can walk away.
“There are days that I wake up and I’m working so hard that I think, ‘I can just focus on ZeLin and be done with MMA.’ But there are days when you wake up and think, ‘I love the competition. I love being in the game with my team and working with my coaches.’ There are other aspects of the game that I miss besides the glory and the fame and whatever else. I’m not ready to say, ‘I’m completely done’ – even if this business is super successful.”