“Join me, Rich Franklin, three-time middleweight World Champion, on a journey to experience the cultures that gave birth to martial arts and meet the rising prospects on this side of the world.”
If this sounds familiar, you’ve probably already watched an episode or two of ONE Warrior Series (OWS). It’s a fitting prologue for this latest chapter of my career.
Earlier when I was still competing in mixed martial arts, I remember being introduced to arenas with walkout anthems like “Welcome To The Jungle” and “For Those About To Rock” instead. I have come a long way since then, and looking back now, it feels like I am right where I am supposed to be with OWS.
I enjoy being a student of the game and I’ve always sought out opportunities for self-improvement. Since my days spent in a classroom tutoring high school math, I also haven’t stopped teaching, or helping others develop, for that matter.
This teacher-student dynamic plays a big role in my life, and I am fortunate to be able to do both with OWS, all while helping to advance the sport that I love here in Asia.
The essence of what we do in OWS is so much more than just scouting or recruitment. It is such a complex operation that simply would not be possible without a dedicated and passionate team.
Everyone here has a major role, and our team constantly desires to iterate and explore how we can achieve a better final result. I may hold creative autonomy over the entire project, but I work extremely closely with my crew to help deliver what we all believe to be an incredible end product.
Jonathan Fong is not just an awesome co-host, but he is my right arm — and without him, I’d be lost. He is looking at the numbers and always thinking about things from a business standpoint.
Armand Bentigan keeps things straight as my Executive Producer, and he has become a fine leader in this project. The whole team consults with each other on ideas, and we’re equally invested in making OWS the best possible platform not just for aspiring athletes, but for fans of the series.
On the other side, we have Grace Flores, who meticulously works out all the logistics. I’m talking everything — from planning our flights, scheduling, setup to teardown, and all kinds of stuff. I wish I could list everybody involved, but just know that I am thankful for each and every person on our team.
In OWS, we embark on a learning journey that takes us all over Asia. I’m frequently on the road for weeks at a time. This has not only challenged my thinking, but it has also broadened my perspectives.
Over the course of my travels, Jonathan and I have come to learn of incredible tales of perseverance and desire to succeed borne out of the most difficult circumstances.
This forced me to reconsider my own upbringing because I thought I was poor by American living standards. Poverty has taken on a whole new meaning, and I have met athletes who are so poor, the entire family of five had to share a single toothbrush.
Yet, I see these young men and women fearlessly stake their futures on pursuing something which they love. Their will to succeed comes from a deeper place, and it resonates strongly with me.
Chatri Sityodtong, our Chairman and CEO, recently sent out an email where he talks about grit. I cannot agree more. As I’ve said before, in my entire career, grit is the number one determining factor for success. Everything else is secondary.
Every athlete coming through for a tryout or competition in OWS has a story to tell. Being around them, it feels as if there is an unmistakable sense of opportunism in the air, and their hunger to strive for their families and loved ones can be endearing. It mirrors the same desire the OWS team has for our work, and at times, I cannot help but reflect upon my own journey into the sport.
The landscape of mixed martial arts today is much different from when I was competing. All I know is that what drove me all those years ago to arenas, headlining cards, and expanding the sport globally in seven countries was simply the pure thrill of competition.
It was about unleashing the best version of myself and sacrificing with the belief that success was more than just potential, but possibility. The possibility that I could actually forge a successful career in mixed martial arts and, for the restless students in classrooms, hope they would be inspired to chase their dreams like I did.
During one of our visits to Indonesia, I met with Toreq, a young athlete who grew up with ambitions of becoming a professional soccer player. Indonesia had run into some problems with FIFA and the country ended up getting banned from competition entirely.
Imagine Toreq, who, in chasing his dreams, invested his entire youth and childhood into this sport, now having to process this sudden loss of control. However, Toreq found mixed martial arts and was able to reinvent himself.
Asia is a fascinating continent with a myriad of cultures and a deep history attached to each country. You hear so many different stories of ordinary people with interesting backgrounds, and we are all brought together through martial arts. I love our sport and how it continues to illuminate the human condition over on this side of the world.
There are bittersweet moments, though.
Winning a contract with OWS is life-changing for many of our athletes. Unfortunately, not everyone makes the final cut. At some point, these athletes whom you have grown close to, will face one another in the ring. Much is on the line for each competitor, and you can’t help but feel emotionally invested in their journey.
As such, I’ve come to appreciate my role more as a mentor.
Sometimes, we end up flying to a place and working out with athletes or holding seminars. I offer them tips and pointers, anything from technical tips to career or life advice. Many of these athletes look up to me and what I’ve accomplished, and I’m privileged to be in a position to help them with my knowledge about the industry and business.
I’m proud to say the genesis of OWS has evolved beyond just scouting and recruiting talent. We’re building up martial arts on a grassroots level and have become a platform upon which we can inspire the world with athletes’ stories of hope, strength, and dreams.
Our team has been the biggest beneficiaries of this process, and I’ve witnessed personal and professional growth in each of us. This continues to be a learning journey, and I am excited to see what more we can accomplish together.