There isn’t anyone in the martial arts world who doesn’t know who Rich Franklin is. He’s a multiple-time middleweight world champion, and a 13-year veteran of the sport.
A couple of years after Franklin hung up his gloves in 2012, ONE Championship CEO Chatri Sityodtong reached out to the American and offered him a position as Vice President.
As a retired professional athlete, Franklin was suddenly thrust into the corporate world. As such, his hands were immediately full with various responsibilities. When Sityodtong conjured up the idea for the now cult reality travel series, he immediately thought of placing Franklin at the helm.
Sityodtong eventually spoke to Franklin about an idea he had for a new recruitment process, which eventually became ONE Warrior Series.
“When I was hired in and I first relocated down here to Singapore, I was handling a ton of different things for ONE,” Franklin said.
“There wasn’t this clear path for ‘Rich handles this specific thing.’ I was handling so many different things, Chatri comes to me and he says, ‘I have this idea. Think of Anthony Bourdain. Think of No Reservations or Parts Unknown,’ and he starts describing this thing and he used that name, this show specifically. He had the framework of this thing kind of figured out and at the time I was so busy, I looked at him and said, ‘Chatri, I don’t have time for this. I’m sorry, but I can’t do it. And he just looked at me and he kind of smacked me on the shoulder and he goes, ‘You’re gonna do great, man.’ And he just walked away and I looked at him like, ‘I just said no.’”
With Franklin being appointed to lead the project, his work now mainly revolves around the program which he fell in love with.
Franklin is hands-on when it comes to the show — from production, talent evaluation, and hosting that sometimes requires him to get his hands dirty.
The inspiring stories each athlete shares, along with the cultural learning experience, has made a gathering of fans around the world with different backgrounds and statuses.
At one point, Jonathan Fong (Director and co-host of OWS) and Franklin’s presence were requested by the Mongolian President Khaltmaagiin Battulga who was surprisingly a huge fan of the show.
“When we were in Mongolia, Jonathan [Fong] and I, we’re walking around downtown, and we have a contact there that’s kind of showing us around, who’s being our guide, and he gets a call from the president’s office. The president of Mongolia, who requests our presence in his office,” Franklin told MMA Fighting.
“We’re not far from the government building downtown where the president’s office is and we’re just in flip-flops and shorts. So we had to go to this store and buy new clothes to meet the president. We go into the office and he wanted to meet. He said, ‘I saw on your social media that you were here and I wanted you to come into the office. I’m a fan of the show, I watch your show.’ He actually knew the show, he said, ‘I liked the episode where you guys were in Bangkok’ and he’s going through stories and I’m like, this is crazy.
“I’m standing in the president of Mongolia’s office and he’s telling me that he’s a fan of the show. He wanted to talk to us about how the shoot was going in Mongolia and if we needed any help with anything. Mongolia’s probably one of my favorite countries I’ve been to and my job is to go and just show how amazing a place is. I fell in love with Mongolia. I basically told him, ‘Listen, we’re here not only to find talent but to showcase the beauty of the country here.”
With ONE Warrior Series a success, some fans wonder if Franklin would consider making a comeback inside the ring.
“I get bit by that bug all the time. I just don’t talk about it a whole lot because—I’ll say this, up until probably the last year or so, I have thought on numerous occasions about coming back,” Franklin said.
“Because physically I feel good still, I’m still in good shape. Of course, as time drifts on I realize those are probably more thoughts than they are actually true feelings of me being able to succeed because as you get older it just becomes more and more difficult. But no, you think about it all the time.”