Kenny Florian is one of the top lightweight fighters in the world. He lost in his last bout, a title shot against B.J. Penn in August, but Florian is undeterred. He left long-time trainer Mark Delagrotte behind and joined Firas Zahabi’s Tri-Star Gym in Montreal, the home of top fighters like Georges St. Pierre and Rashad Evans. The move was the first step on Florian’s long road back to a lightweight championship fight.
He’ll step into the cage on December 12 against Clay “The Carpenter” Guida at UFC 107. We sat down with Kenny to discuss soccer, his role as a member of the media with ESPN, the Guida bout and more.
Heavy.com: Tell me about your days playing soccer.
Kenny Florian: Both of my parents come from Peru, and my dad was a big soccer fan. Soccer is pretty big down in South America, obviously. He had us all playing soccer when we were pretty little. I just love the sport and I played all the time. I played all the way through college at Boston College. I still miss the sport today.
Heavy.com: Why did you stop playing after your days at Boston College?
Kenny Florian: You know, it got to the point where it just wasn’t fun anymore in college. I had a few disagreements with the coach. It just got to the point where it didn’t move me anymore, which was a sad thing because I never thought it would happen. But I just didn’t find it fun anymore, and I had this other little thing on the side called Brazilian jiu-jitsu that I was doing and that was occupying a lot of my mind power as well. I was obsessed with it. So out went soccer and in came Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
Heavy.com: Did you have a favorite pro soccer teams?
Kenny Florian: Yeah, I followed the Spanish League. The English Premier League, of course, was always great to watch. I used to watch a lot of the Italian League and the Bundesliga in Germany. But now I’m pretty much just watching the Spanish League and the Premier League when I can. I don’t even get to watch it that much, but I watch when I can. And I’m excited for the World Cup, of course.
Heavy.com: If you had to pick one: be a superstar footballer for a top-flight EPL squad or do what you’re currently doing, what would you choose?
Kenny Florian: (Laughs) That’s tough. But they definitely get paid a lot more playing soccer. If I could play in one of the European leagues, I might be doing that. That would be pretty cool.
Heavy.com: That’s probably a pretty tough question to answer.
Kenny Florian: Yeah, it is tough. I really love what I’m doing now.
Heavy.com: You are a host of MMA Live for ESPN and you have written several print features. Do you have any formal media training?
Kenny Florian: No, actually. I graduated with a degree in communications from Boston College, so that’s my formal training. But I’ve had no actual coaching. I didn’t go through any media training or anything like that as far as how to present myself on camera. It’s something that I learn as I go. I speak to producers and get feedback. But as far as prior experience, I didn’t really have any. I just did commentary for the UFC, and that was pretty much it.
Heavy.com: Is it tough to separate Kenny the fighter from Kenny the media personality?
Kenny Florian: It is. It can be difficult doing commentary, especially when you have to critique friends and training partners. It can be a challenge.
Heavy.com: Do any of your friends ask you for preferential treatment on MMA Live or in commentary?
Kenny Florian: (Laughs) No, no. Not yet, anyway.
Heavy.com: Have you gone back to analyze the Penn fight, and have you seen anything that you would change if you get another chance to face him?
Kenny Florian: There would be a lot of things that I would like to change and would need to change. Some of it would be in preparation for the fight and some of it would be during the fight itself. There are a lot of things. I know that I didn’t perform up to my abilities. But that’s the fight game, you know? Sometimes it’s your night and sometimes it’s not. That night, I knew it was going to be difficult heading into it.
It wasn’t my best performance, but you live to fight another day. I’ve changed a lot about the way that I train and the way that I prepare for fights now. Every fight is a lesson, whether you win or lose, and I’ve done my best to learn something from every single fight. I think that for this fight, I’ll definitely be at my best. Hopefully it will be my night.
Heavy.com: I guess the biggest change in your training has been your move to a new camp. What drew you to Firas Zahabi? Was it a spiritual MMA thing or just the success he’s had with his fighters? And have you trained with Greg Jackson at all?
Kenny Florian: Yeah, I’m training with Firas at Tri-Star Gym in Montreal. They’re associated with Greg Jackson, of course. I haven’t gone to New Mexico to train with Greg or anything like that. Actually, Clay Guida has been training over there, so that would be a little awkward.
But training with Firas, bringing him on as my striking and MMA coach, he’s been phenomenal. He’s doing things that no one else is even close to thinking about. So for me, I feel that between having my brother Keith as a coach and Firas as well, with my boxing coach Peter Welch and all the incredible people I’ve had a chance to work with for this camp, it feels like I’m in my Ph.D course for mixed martial arts. So it’s been really enjoyable with these guys. I’ve improved my game leaps and bounds for this fight.
Heavy.com: Will Firas be in your corner for the Guida fight?
Kenny Florian: Yes, he will.
Heavy.com: That will be a little bit strange, won’t it? Greg Jackson and Firas facing each other?
Kenny Florian: Yeah, they will be cornering against each other. They’re not sure exactly how that’s going to work. I know they are very good friends. But I know that Clay was preparing at Greg’s camp for this fight.
Heavy.com: No insult to Mark Delagrotte’s camp, but training with GSP and Rashad Evans like you do now seems to be a completely different level than what you’re used to in the past. How different is it training with guys like Georges and Rashad?
Kenny Florian: It’s amazing, you know? To have an opportunity to train with guys like GSP and all the other pro fighters at Tri-Star, it takes you to a different level. You know you’re training with the very best. You’re going to be learning a lot from them. You’re getting direct feedback from the sparring sessions. You’re training with the best, and it doesn’t get any better than that. So for me, it’s provided a lot of great learning, a lot of great technique. It has stepped up my game, for sure.
Heavy.com: Your next opponent is Clay Guida. Clay maintains a furious pace in the cage. Have you been doing extra cardio in order to keep up with him?
Kenny Florian: Definitely. I’ve been working very hard. My strength and conditioning coach and I have been working very hard during my sparring sessions, and all of my coaches have really been pushing me hard to prepare for that. They know that Clay is the kind of guy that doesn’t really come with the best technique, but he’s a guy that’s always going to be there until the end. He can really push you and tire you out. He’s beaten a lot of fighters that were technically superior to him because of that pace. I’m planning on bringing technique and pace into the cage on December 12. I’m going to be in the best shape that I can and be at the best technical level that I can. I’ll do whatever it takes to get that win.
Heavy.com: Where do you think a victory over Clay leaves you in the lightweight division?
Kenny Florian: I think a win over Clay would definitely keep me as one of the top lightweights in the world. My goal is to get the chance and the opportunity to fight for the lightweight title again. But I’m taking it one fight at a time. I need to get by Clay Guida, and then hopefully that puts me in a good position to challenge for the belt. Hopefully I continue to get great fights. I want to fight the best people in the world, and Clay is certainly one of those guys. So I’m just looking forward to December 12, and I’ll be ready for whatever happens after that.
Heavy.com: You competed as a middleweight on the ultimate fighter. If the UFC came to you and asked you to move to welterweight and fight Georges St. Pierre or Mike Swick or another top contender, is that a move you’d be interested in?
Kenny Florian: I’m probably too small for 170. I’ve been trying to put on weight, and I’m putting on a few pounds of muscle every year. I’m trying to get a little bigger. Right now, I feel like I’m a decent size. I’m a pretty big lightweight. I think I would be undersized for 170. But who knows? It’s possible.
Heavy.com: I talked to Tim Credeur last weekend in Las Vegas, and he was telling me about a few guys at his gym that he thinks have the potential to go a long way in the sport. Are there any guys like that at Florian Martial Arts Center?
Kenny Florian: Yeah, there are a few guys that we train with that have a lot of potential. It’s important to continually train with new guys, to train with new guys coming up because of the hunger they have. Both Keith and I really enjoy training other people, seeing them improve and helping them as much as possible. We learn a lot during that process as well. We do have a few guys in the local scene here in Boston who are coming up that we train with. Hopefully we’ll see bigger and better things for them in the future.
Heavy.com: You mentioned Boston. We’re getting closer and closer to the first UFC card in Boston, probably in 2010 if all goes according to plan. How special would it be for you to fight on that first card in Boston?
Kenny Florian: That would be a dream come true. I am definitely looking forward to being able to fight here in Boston, and hopefully that happens.
Heavy.com: What’s your pick for the B.J. Penn/Diego Sanchez fight?
Kenny Florian: That’s a tough fight. On any given night, one person can be on and one person can be off. But I think that based on their skills and based on everything we’ve seen, and assuming that both of those guys come in at 100%, I think B.J. Penn should be the favorite heading in that fight. But Diego is a very tenacious and tough competitor. It will be a tough fight, but I expect B.J. Penn to come away with the win.