MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. --
A warrior from Ultimate Fighting Championship’s famous octagon paid a friendly visit to warriors of the battlefield here Sept. 22.
Marines and sailors of the Wounded Warrior Barracks, Wounded Warrior Battalion-East, Wounded Warrior Regiment, Manpower and Reserve Affairs, Washington, D.C., had a meet-and-greet with UFC’s former middleweight champion Rich “Ace” Franklin as he dropped in for a sit-down conversation and signed autographs for his fans.
Although Franklin made a previous tour visiting Army medical facilities in Iraq, his entourage still tried to mentally prepare him to see combat-wounded service members.
“I was expecting it to be a simple kind of visit,” Franklin said. “Coming into a place like this, seeing (service members) injured in the line of duty … It just reminds you— The freedom we have comes at a price.”
Franklin coolly entered the room and immediately approached individuals with handshakes. Everyone gathered around and took part in an hour-long exchange about the lifestyles of professional fighters and professional war fighters.
Capt. Ray Baronie, the executive officer of the battalion, explained the Wounded Warrior Battalion’s overall mission to Franklin.
The barracks is a place for healing, Baronie said. The overall mission is to get the Marines back into their units to redeploy, which is what most of them want to do, or transition them back into civilian life.
“It is (a rough transition), but we try to make it as painless as possible,” Baronie added. “We’ve got a lot of organizations out there willing to hire up Marines if they can’t continue their service.”
The rest of the conversations were laid back, as if Franklin and the wounded warriors were old friends. Some very random topics came about as a result of putting fighters of different genres in a room together.
“So, how much of The Ultimate Fighter reality show is reality?” asked Chief Petty Officer Cary Town, the senior medical department representative for the battalion, about the television show Franklin appeared on as a team coach.
“Reality isn’t always reality,” Franklin responded. “The drama in the house is real … To keep my team functioning properly, the first thing I was going to do was come in and talk to my team about staying focused and not creating trouble in the house,” he added, referring to fighters who had quarrels with other team members.
“The producers of the show know this, so what they do is keep the coaches from finding out since coaches aren’t staying in the house with the guys. All that drama is what (producers) want.”
Franklin said another stress factor for the fighters on the show included the restriction of books, television and video games, but allowing that reliable drama-inducer, alcohol. All these ingredients, added with the fighters trying to achieve a goal, made their experience naturally difficult.
“Imagine if we were to stay in a house together for six weeks,” Franklin said. “We would drive each other insane with nothing to do.”
“Sounds like Parris Island,” one of the Marines cracked.
The Marines also inquired about any challengers Franklin ever encountered outside the octagon, such as at a bar or a club.
“No, I’ll talk my way out of pretty much anything anyway— I don’t fight for free,” Franklin said, followed by an eruption of laughter in the room. “You don’t see heart surgeons stopping on the side of the road performing surgeries. Fighting is my business, and I get to punch people enough, you know.”
“If I get upset with someone at a club, I’ll just wait until the next day– I’m sure I’ve got a sparring session in the morning,” Franklin added.
“Well, I feel sorry for that guy,” another Marine joked.
Franklin stands at a solid 6 feet 1 inch tall, with arms that would make a comic-book superhero jealous. His physique is a result of a five-day weekly workout schedule and a strict diet plan that includes sushi, because it’s one of the cleanest foods available.
Despite his fame and abilities, he still possesses a humble, approachable demeanor that put him on the same level with the wounded service members he took time to see.
“It’s nice to see a celebrity like that making time (for the Marines) with no monetary amount involved,” Town said about Franklin’s trip here. “He came by because he wanted to do it, and that was really nice.”
Whether Franklin felt it was a way of giving back or just being one of the guys here, his last stop took him to the recreation center at Camp Lejeune’s mainside, where some of the wounded warriors followed him.
There, he spent the rest of his visit doing what fans do, as he blended in at the crowded recreation center with the Marines and watched the UFC pay-per-view match.