Young man's game: Rich Franklin could have been as good as Jon Jones ...

via cdn2.sbnation.com

... that is, if he got into the game at the same early age.

The sport of mixed martial arts is becoming more of a young man's game, and there is no better personification of that than UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Jon Jones. "Bones" was more or less born into the sport and with that, was able to hone his craft from an extremely early age.

This isn't the case with Rich Franklin. He was already 18 years-old by the time the first UFC event took place and he's been fighting uphill ever since. That point is magnified more and more with the passing of the days, as he continues to get older while the competition seems to get younger.

How does he compensate for that? In short, he doesn't. "Ace" is more or less a prisoner to matchmaking, as it becomes exceedingly clearer who he can and cannot compete with at this level of the game.

Like Jon Jones.

But while Franklin reminisces about what could have been, admitting he's lost a step along the way, he tells Tapology he's not ready to leave the game just yet:

"It's going to get more and more difficult to compete at the highest levels. There will be a day when things will be different in MMA. Jones has seen MMA his entire life. The first UFC for me was when I was 17 or 18 years old, so if I were able to train since I was eight instead of 18, what kind of athlete would I be? And the answer is, you're seeing what I would have been in the form of these new athletes like Jones. ... I've always told myself throughout my career that when I was 36 or 37 I would start looking at retirement. Now here I am at 36 and I'm not looking at retirement, but I do know this much: I have slowed down throughout my career. When I was 25 years old I wanted to fight as many times a year as I could, and now I have no desire to do that. Fighting two to three times a year is a good base for me now. I've told my coaches that if they see me start to lose a step they need to tell me right away."

There's no questioning Franklin is on the tail end of his once great career but can he still compete at the highest level?

Consider this: he began his career on a 22-1 run, the only loss coming to future Light Heavyweight Champion Lyoto Machida. Not bad, right?

Then he ran into the crushing knees of Muay Thai specialist Anderson Silva, lost his title and his record is a rather pedestrian 6-4 since.

It hasn't helped that the UFC has bounced him around weight classes, booking him in fights at 185, 195 and 205-pounds during that span. That said, a spade is a spade and the former math teacher knows his numbers aren't adding up to any kind of run at a title -- in any weight class.

So if he wants two, maybe three, fights a year until he decides to call it quits, who do you match him up against -- and in what division? Let's hear some ideas, Maniacs.

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