2022 has seen another great athlete retire from their sport. With Tom Brady hanging up his cleats after 22 years of football, it sure does bring back memories of my own retirement.  

Ask any athlete in any sport and they will tell you: Walking away is hard. 

I get asked sometimes and still ponder over this question till this day.

Could I do it again? 

After 13 years, three middleweight championship reigns, a spot in the UFC Hall of Fame and a successful post-fight career as a Vice President in ONE Championship, I still get that itch sometimes.

There’s plenty of reasons an ex-athlete yearns for one last hurrah, much less me. I still have my wits about me, dodged injury and have kept myself in shape and fighting fit well into my forties.

But to step back inside that octagon is to risk failure, endure pain, relive sacrifice and devotion all over again.

This same 30 feet of octagonal real estate I’ve spent inside of building my career is also the place where I ended it, on my own terms almost seven years ago.

Tracing the steps back to my last fight, a knockout loss to former Strikeforce Champion Cung Le in 2012, I wasn’t ready to lay down my gloves just yet.

Ever since I left teaching to pursue a professional sports career, MMA has been the centerpiece of my life. 

I manifested my desire to become the best version of myself. However, through that passage – vying for titles and defending them – the rigors of training and competition methodically chipped away at my physicality and drive. 

The sports industrial complex is not to be scoffed at. Like cogs in a machine, you best pay your dues but even so, you wear out your welcome eventually. 

Though it started out as my passion, training slowly turned into a job. My days became routine and perfunctory, like punching a time clock on a regular nine to five.

A decade in, my mind was worn down by the endless carousel of preparing for the next fight, negotiating for that new contract or angling for another endorsement deal. 

By the time UFC 103 rolled around, I was knee deep in PR duties but being the consummate company man, I stepped in as a late replacement as I had done so many times before. Truth be told, I needed a break mentally.

I remembered walking into the gym on the first day of fight camp and being surprised at my state of mind. What seemed like a normal feeling years ago – the thrill and joy of improving your game and being around your friends at fight camp – was noticeably absent this time around.

Though physically ready for battle, my mind wasn’t quite nearly as sharp or focused as it was 10 years before. 

Fast forward three years and I’m now coming off the stool after the fourth round of my match against Wanderlei Silva. Fighting on autopilot for rounds three and four. I wasn’t receiving any of my corner’s instructions. 

Yet, other than my massive brain fart, things were actually going well. Fortunately, I switched back on in the fifth round and clinched the decision victory. I was in a daze afterwards, wondering just what had happened. My cornermen and training partners were equally befuddled. 

I recall being in the ring, trying to assess my state of mind.

“Ok, I can remember my name, I know what week it is.”

“Whew, how did I survive that?”

A win’s a win or so they say. However what transpired only further confirmed my suspicions. The years of being the all-around company man, the go-to-interview subject for mainstream media on anything MMA related had taken its toll.

Just like every great athlete before me, I knew I still had years left physically to give to the sport. At the same time, if I wasn’t at a level mentally to fight and compete for championships regularly, I didn’t want to sink three years chasing just another paycheck.

When I look back, it’s a blessing that I was able to call time on my own terms. In a sport as physical as ours, other athletes have not been so lucky.

Like my persona in the octagon, Rich “Ace” Franklin’s retirement was to be a quiet affair. A 1,000 word column on The Player’s Tribune was a fitting and proper bookend to my surprisingly ordinary career in mixed martial arts.