When the word UFC is thrown about or ‘The Ultimate Fighter’. Kenny Florian is a name several hardcore fans will think of. A man who spent his whole fighting career inside the promotion and didn’t know much else. Let’s dive into the gritty career of ‘KenFlo’.
Florian has a clean background in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Muay Thai and was known for his razor-sharp elbow strikes. Florian had the flare about him that made you want to tune in and watch. Recognized for his tendency to finish his opponents, having earned stoppages in twelve of his fourteen career victories. Florian is also one of only two fighters in history to compete in four different weight classes inside the UFC.
Kenny Florian made his professional debut in 2003 at Mass Destruction 10 when he earned himself a TKO win in the first round. The second win of his career came at Mass Destruction 15 earning another stoppage win via submission in round one. The first taste of defeat came at the hands of Drew Fickett, who was being scouted by Dana White to appear on the first season of ‘The Ultimate Fighter‘. However Dana White was so impressed with the skills and ability of Florian he chose Florian to appear on the show.
The Ultimate Fighter
The Ultimate Fighter season 1 is to be considered the best of the bunch. Florian competed in the first season as a middleweight. He successfully made it to the finals by beating Chris Leben in the second due to a doctor’s stoppage. Unfortunately, the final didn’t go to plan as he was met with a young, wild, and aggressive Diego Sanchez.
Following the loss to Diego Sanchez, Florian returned with a vengeance. Finish after finish, the American ground together a three-fight win streak by defeating Alex Karalexis, Kit Cope, and Sam Stout. This win streak earned him a crack at the UFC Lightweight Championship vs. Sean Sherk who already had 35 professional bouts on his regime. It was always a tough task, Florian gave it a good shot slicing Sherk up with elbows but dropping a unanimous decision loss.
Florian came back with a bang once again with several finishes wins back to back. Defeating names such as Din Thomas, Joe Lauzon, and Roger Huerta. A six-fight winning streak granted Florian another opportunity at UFC gold but one man stood in his way. That man was B.J Penn. After a back and forth battle, BJ Penn took the back of Florian and locked up the choke in the fourth round which sunk the heart of ‘KenFlo‘.
It was time for one final push for that strap which we all feel was so deserved. Florian always left it all out there, entertained us, and had us on the edge of our seat when them vicious elbows connected. Next up was Clay Guida and former Pride Lightweight Champion Takanori Gomi. Florian finished both opponents with a rear-naked choke. Another great opportunity presented itself vs Gray Maynard. Dana had said publicly the winner was destined for a shot at the championship once again. Florian fell short and was defeated via unanimous decision.
In 2011, Florian announced he would make the move from Lightweight to Featherweight. He made his Featherweight debut with a win over Diego Nunes. Rumors circled before the bout if Florian was successful he would be given a shot at Featherweight king José Aldo. That’s exactly what happened next. This was the last time we saw ‘KenFlo‘ in mixed martial arts competition. Kenny Florian was defeated by Aldo at UFC 136: Edgar vs Maynard 3.
For Florian fans, It was a sore one to take. Seeing him fall at the final hurdle several times was heartbreak. Fight fans knew he deserved that opportunity to strap the championship around his waist. A man that never hid away from challenges and always looked to fight the best of the best. A respectable figure in the early days of the UFC.
Following the loss to Jose Aldo, retirement was in the mind of Florian. However, it’s always tough to walk away from the sport that you love. The door was open potentially to carry on competing, but serious injuries prevented Florian from wearing them gloves once more. It concluded an end to a great career of Kenny.
Thankfully Florian is still somewhat involved with the sport. He serves as an analyst and commentator and does a spectacular job of doing so. With his knowledge and understanding of the game and being a fellow competitor, It’s a pleasure to watch.
What did it mean to you to be fighting under the UFC and have the opportunity to showcase your skill-set on the biggest stage of them all?
Florian – “It meant being able to test my martial arts skill against the best fighters in the world which meant I was going to get the best feedback as to what was working and what wasn’t. It meant that I’d be able to have a canvas to both express my art and improve it.”
You’ve fought big names and tough competition throughout your career, names such as Jose Aldo, Bj Penn, Sanchez. Out of all the 20 bouts you had, who was your toughest contest inside the cage, and why?
Florian – “I’d say the BJ Penn was the toughest for a few reasons. I built up BJ to be an almost mythical creature. Mentally this was far less than optimal. I had also over-trained for that fight and had never felt more exhausted during training camp. It was an awful camp where my brother Keith and my Muay Thai trainer were my main training partners. I didn’t have enough sparring partners who could really help me. Having an experienced and skillful fighter like Penn as an opponent, that was not going to be good enough. It’s what really led me to Tristar gym and Firas Zahabi.
You competed across four divisions under the UFC, What was the reason for the changes and how do you feel each of them benefited you, From middleweight down to featherweight?
Florian – “I competed at middleweight in TUF1 because that was the opportunity that was presented to me and martial arts is about being ready for any kind of challenge. Around that time people forget that the lightest division the UFC had was 170 lbs (welterweight). They had gotten rid of the lightweight division after Uno had a draw against Penn in their rematch. So I competed in that division for a couple of fights after 185lbs.
When UFC brought lightweight 155lbs back that was my true division for my body. It’s where I felt at my best. I competed at 145lbs at the end of my career because I wanted to win a world championship obviously but I also wanted to compete against the best fighters in the world to test my skills. That’s what I wanted more than anything. I knew that’s what was going to make me better and allow me to learn as much as possible. Being better at martial arts was more important to me than anything else.”
How hard was it for you to step away from competition and call it a day on your fighting career. Do you feel you had any more to give and being somewhat forced to retire due to an ongoing injury?
Florian – “I felt like I was continuing to learn and get better but I also knew that it was my body, it wasn’t able to allow me to get better than I had promised myself I would retire when that day came. I missed the competition and daily training with my brother, training partners, and coaches.”
If you could highlight the best moment in your fighting career, which stands out for you, and gives you a sense of pride, what would that one moment be if you had the chance to relive it once more?
Florian – “I would say my favorite moments were the wins against tough guys like Joe Lauzon, Takanori Gomi, Sam Stout, Joe Stevenson & Clay Guida. I would’ve loved to go back in time and do better preparation for the BJ Penn fight or Gray Maynard fight.”
You’re considered a natural when we hear you speak on shows like “UFC Tonight” and on “EPSN”. Your understanding for the sport isn’t like others when we hear them speak, how much do you enjoy still being involved with the sport and being able to contribute towards the UFC with your knowledge and views?
Florian – “After I was able to train again and finally recover after a few years of battling back from my back injury I truly came to accept that martial arts is still who I am and what I love most. I love training and learning and talking about it. I think it’s important to educate fans and not just be a fan. I’m a fan as well but I think a color commentator’s role is to add information and explain what is truly going on in an exciting way. I always enjoyed that and took it pretty seriously. Being educated about the sport gives on respect for the sport and makes them more of a fan. So many times only the seen and physical attributes are communicated. We should be educating people on the unseen.”
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