Globetrotting mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter Ricardo ‘Rico’ Franco, of Gainsborough, says he is prepared to travel anywhere and try anything to make a success of his professional career.
And that includes flying out to foreign shores at 24 hours’ notice to take part in a show, or even trying bare-knuckle boxing as a ‘crazy’ sideline.
Both have formed part of a hectic first year as a pro for the 25-year-old Franco since he quit his job at a steelworks in Scunthorpe to concentrate on his MMA exploits.
“I’m quite pleased with the progress I have made,” he said. “I haven’t always been at my best because I have suffered with ulcerative colitis, which has been disappointing, leaving me struggling to train.
“But I am in better shape now, and I think it could be quite a good year for me. I am very confident.”
Franco demonstrated his single-minded determination when answering an SOS call for his latest fight from one of the leading MMA promotions in Europe, Absolute Championship Berkut (ABC).
“My coach messaged me just 24 hours before it was due to take place, asking me to stand in for a fighter who had dropped out,” he said. “I literally flew over there, weighed in and fought.
“I won the first round before being caught by a submission in the second. But it was an amazing experience, and a massive show that got really good media coverage.”
Franco’s performance can only enhance his reputation too because the champion he took on was none other than renowned MMA star Giovanni Melillo, known as ‘The Punisher’, and ranked the fourth best professional welterweight fighter in Europe.
He acquitted himself similarly well on a trip to Russia last year, also made at short notice. And in the past, he has spent time in Thailand.
He has also travelled to Tenerife for a training camp, and Franco looks sure to be improving soon his record in pro bouts of four wins and four losses, especially if his intermittent illness, which can cause abdominal pain and diarrhoea, calms down.
He is currently in training for a very different challenge, however, as part of a bill of bare-knuckle boxing at the O2 Arena in London.
“Most bare-knuckle boxing is illegal, but I have now signed a contract with BKB, the only legal bare-knuckle boxing company in the world,” said Franco.
“I had my first fight five weeks ago, and had a big win at the Liverpool Echo Arena. Now I am looking forward to London on Saturday, June 9.
“I will be up against Adam Grogan, of Blackburn, who is unbeaten in four fights, so it will be a good test.
“Bare-knuckle boxing is something different for me. I prefer MMA, but I like doing crazy things!”
Supporters interested in travelling down to London should ring Franco on 07920 817580 for tickets. Any businesses or individuals interested in sponsoring him as he pursues his MMA career can also ring that number.
He already has the backing of numerous local companies, including Salon Five, Foster Transport and Stuart Cowan painters and decorators, all of Gainshorough, plus Coleman’s pizzeria and steak house, of Bawtry, and the Doncaster-based XSGuard mouthguards.
Franco also has the full support of his coach, Danny Mitchell, a highly respected veteran of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) circuit, the premier MMA promotion in the world.
The 31-year-old Mitchell is known as ‘The Cheesecake Assassin’ in UFC and runs the AVT mixed martial arts and fitness gym in Leeds, where Franco trains.
“Danny has been a massive inspiration to me from day one, and I really look up to him,” said Franco. “He’s been and done it and can open doors for me because he has a lot of contacts.”
A new AVT gym is soon to open in Scunthorpe, where Franco also hopes to set up private sessions for youngsters, which he used to run in Gainsborough.
He is keen not only to pass on his experience, which included several years in various boxing disciplines on the amateur circuit, but also to give something back to the community of Gainsborough and district for their support.
For now, though, Ricardo Franco is concentrating on making a name for himself, whether that be in a cage or a ring, with gloves or without, in the UK or abroad. It’s all systems go for ‘Rico’.