Mixed martial arts continues to blaze a trail across the globe, uniting fighters and fans alike with its heady concoction of explosive knockouts, tactical groundwork and expertly executed submissions.
With the founding of pioneering Las Vegas-based promotion Ultimate Fighting Championship in 1993, the sport has gradually built up momentum to become the multi-billion-dollar industry it is today.
Arguably one of its biggest stars is former UFC middleweight champion Rich Franklin, who in May was named vice president of ONE Fighting Championship, Asia’s leading MMA organisation, which he says is growing every day.
“I enjoy being part of this growth and want to help build the most successful organisation in the world. I am with a team of people who believe the same thing,” Franklin told the Post by email.
The 39-year-old southpaw, who has a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and a master’s in education, is so well known in his native Cincinnati, Ohio, that the mayor named a day after him – February 21, 2006, “Rich Franklin Day”.
Franklin, whose nickname “Ace” stems from his more-than-passing resemblance to Ace Ventura: Pet Detective actor Jim Carey, first entered the cage at World Extreme Fighting 6 in June 1999, where he won with a head-kick knockout 21 seconds into the opening round.
He went on to set a 15-fight winning streak that included his UFC debut in April 2003, before succumbing to strikes from Lyoto Machida eight months later in their New Year’s Eve bout in Kobe, Japan.
At UFC 53 in June 2005, Franklin captured the middleweight title by defeating Evan Tanner with a stoppage in the fourth round. He successfully defended the belt twice at UFC 56 and 58 before losing it to Anderson Silva at UFC 64 in October 2006.
Franklin’s most recent cage fight was in November 2012 in Macau, where he suffered a first-round knockout by Vietnamese-born American middleweight Cung Le.
Along with American Fighter president Jeff Adler, Franklin created the Keep It in the Ring Foundation to advocate nonviolence and help build the character of students through after schools sports programs.
In his role as ONE FC vice president, he will make a four-day visit to Cambodia this week, conducting seminars on sports mentality for both local martial artists and members of the national football team.
Franklin said it was his first trip to the Kingdom and admitted to knowing little about the country other than some “limited amount of news” from US media.
“This will be my time to learn about the culture,” said Franklin.
He had, however, seen several videos of Cambodian boxing matches. “As a practitioner of mixed martial arts, I learn about various martial arts as much as possible.”
A ground-breaking 10-event partnership deal between ONE FC and NagaWorld includes two fight cards to be hosted in Phnom Penh, the first of which is set for September 12.
“ONE FC’s relationship with NagaWorld is essential to our expansion into Cambodia. We are grateful for our relationship with them,”
A future MMA champion from Cambodia is not out of the realm of possibility, according to the UFC legend.
“Khmer boxers have the work ethic and some of the best stand-up martial arts in the world, but they will have to invest some time into learning how to fight on the ground,” he said.
“ONE FC is excited to do a show in Cambodia. This will be a great event for us and it will open the eyes of not only the public, but the fighters to a new style of martial arts.
“While MMA could never replace the culture of Khmer boxing in Cambodia, I believe we will see fighters transition into this sport. It gives them an opportunity to represent Cambodia on a national platform.”
Franklin will give a talk to such individuals at NagaWorld this morning, discussing topics like struggle and poverty and “how you use those things to overcome adversity”.
“Winning and performance is 90 per cent mental and more about your perspective,” he said.
A group who could certainly be called struggling at the moment are the Cambodian football team with their extended trophy drought, ignominious set of recent results and a lowly FIFA world ranking of 190. Franklin will conduct a seminar with the squad members on Tuesday at NagaWorld.
“I will speak to them about using loss to move forward to be successful and overcoming adversity,” said Franklin, who noted that MMA fighters and football players should be thought of collectively as athletes.
“We have that in common, so we have the same fears, reservations and share the same glory in victory. We are more similar than someone would perceive.”
Of course, a multitude of MMA fans are awaiting in eager anticipation for news of Ace’s return to the cage.
“As a fighter, I am contracted with the UFC and could fight for nobody but them,” he said. “I have one fight left on my contract – that would be my retirement fight.”