- Brett Okamoto, ESPN Staff Writer
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In this testosterone replacement therapy-infused age of mixed martial arts, Rich Franklin is a prime candidate to receive the treatment.
He’s been at this physically demanding sport now for more than 12 years. At 38, he’s at an age where his natural testosterone levels inevitably decline. He’s sore in the morning when he wakes up and his recovery time is noticeably longer.
Franklin, though, says there are several reasons why he is not on TRT for his fight against Cung Le on Nov. 10, which will headline the UFC on Fuel event in Macau, China.
First, when Franklin initially mentioned during an interview months ago that he would consider TRT, the response from fans on his Twitter and Facebook accounts was venomous. Even though it is an approved medical treatment in the sport, Franklin says there is no question what the public’s perception is of the treatment.
“The public perception of TRT is that it’s cheating,” Franklin told ESPN.com. “The moment I said I was actually thinking about it, I started getting quite a bit of backlash.”
For the record, Franklin holds no personal feelings against TRT. It’s legal. Many of the fighters who use it are younger than Franklin. To this point, though, he says he hasn’t even checked his levels to see if he’s a candidate for an exemption.
As much as he doesn’t want to forfeit any advantage to an opponent (what professional athlete does?), he watches tape of his recent win over Wanderlei Silva at UFC 147 and doesn’t see a steep decline in his skills.
Sure, it’s harder for him to prepare for fights now than it was in his 20s -- but it’s not impossible. When it becomes impossible, maybe that’s nature’s sign to hang it up.
“I don’t believe I’ve dropped off with my speed or strength or any of that,” Franklin said. “You can’t look at my last fight and say, ‘Yeah, Rich has lost a step and is looking older.’
“When that day comes, perhaps I will consider quitting or possibly taking TRT. More than likely, in my mind, I’ll choose retirement over the necessity of TRT to continue.”
Franklin (29-6) is looking forward to being in the cage again. It will mark the first time since 2009 he’s fought twice in a calendar year, after spending much of the past two years on the sideline due to injury.
The former champ has expressed a desire at one more title run with the UFC before the end of his career. He admits a win over Le next month would certainly not earn him a title shot, but it would be a step in that direction.
“I’ve had trouble maintaining ranking in any weight class just because a lot of people don’t know where to put me since I’ve been fighting at catchweights,” Franklin said. “I believe winning this fight, I will need another top-five contender before the UFC will actually give me a title fight.
“And that depends on whether they even want to have a Franklin versus [Anderson] Silva III.”
It might also depend on Silva’s willingness to defend the 185-pound title. The Brazilian champion has showed disinterest in potential fights against current contenders.
Franklin, who lost to Silva in 2006 and 2007, doesn’t believe Silva is ducking the likes of Chris Weidman or Michael Bisping. From Franklin's perspective, Silva has beaten the same caliber of fighters his entire career, so why run from them now?
“It’s not like he’s ducking hard fights or anything like that,” Franklin said.
“Whatever it is they’re thinking in his camp, they have some sort of intelligent strategy to it. Anderson Silva doesn’t hang on to his belt as long as he has by making stupid decisions. You can defend your title that many times by being a great fighter, but you have to be a smart businessman, too.”