Kenny Florian Isn’t Afraid to Adapt
Adapt and survive.
Kenny Florian’s philosophy is simple: “If you don’t adapt in this sport, you’re going to die. You’re going to lose.” There was a time Florian thought he had all the answers. He was on a six-fight win streak that earned him a shot at UFC lightweight champion B.J. Penn. The last time Florian had lost was his first chance at glory, when Sean Sherk defeated him in a unanimous decision at UFC 64.
He learned a lot from that loss. The problem was Florian thought he had learned it all. He entered the Penn fight determined to “kill the master” and that’s when complacency came to collect. The Prodigy dismantled Ken-Flo in four rounds, putting him at a crossroads and a time when his entire regimen was completely re-evaluated. When Florian responded with two straight dominant victories, Dana White noticed. While condemning Diego Sanchez from leaving the lightweight division for a return to welterweight, the UFC president cited Florian as an example of learning from failure.
Saturday night Zuffa debuts in Boston, Florian’s turf, where a win over Gray Maynard virtually guarantees a title shot at the winner of the champion Frankie Edgar’s title defense and rematch against Penn in the main event.
“Since the beginning of time when it came to combat, it was the people who had the better technology, the better training, the more organization, the better weapons and the more discipline, those are the guys who won,” Florian told Heavy.com.
On an episode of “The Deadliest Warrior,” Sun Tzu, a master strategist, was bludgeoned by Vlad the Impaler in a simulated battle because Vlad III Dracula and his artillery were centuries ahead in terms of weaponry. If you keep shooting stones at people and bows and arrows and people, guys will eventually come around with guns. Failure to operate and manage a gun, to get to that next phase of evolution, you’re done.
“I have to constantly look even past guns and look for the latest and greatest in the technique, and really analyze myself as a fighter without bias,” Florian said.
Thanks to his brother Keith, Florian’s training is approached from a scientific standpoint until it’s second nature. Keith analyzes the time spent on each discipline every day. Everything is computed, punches are counted, kicks and drills are accounted for. If something goes wrong they review numbers and data to see which area had too much and too little emphasis. Their system is similar to what L.A. Lakers head coach Pat Riley and assistant Bill “Bert” Bertka created at the start of the 1986-87 NBA season still stinging from a disappointing loss to the Houston Rockets in the Western Conference Finals.
As Riley wrote in “The Winner Within,” Career Best Effort was a numbers and measurement system built around the concentrated improvement of five trigger points for each player. A one-percent upgrade in five areas for 12 players gave the team as a whole a 60 percent improvement. Career Best Effort measured effort areas like taking charges, diving for loose balls and crashing the board to grab a rebound.
Riley’s goal was to eliminate complacency, which felled his Lakers much like it swallowed Florian against Penn. In Maynard, Florian sees a bigger, better and stronger version of Sherk. “The Bully” is unbeaten in 10 MMA fights (with one no contest) and is the only one to have defeated Edgar. Maynard’s heart, courage and tenacity also earned him wins over notable opponents Jim Miller, Roger Huerta and Nick Diaz, the last two in split-decision wars, the latter that may have disappointed onlookers but was an example of how Maynard can grind anyone to a halt.
“This is the biggest challenge of my career, my way of proving to myself how far I’ve come,” Florian said. “My striking is at higher level. My jiu-jitsu, conditioning, and even wrestling are all better. I’m going to play the same game I always play. I’m going to be aggressive, go forward and wait for a mistake. Hopefully that mistake will come at some point and hopefully I’ll be there to capitalize on it.
“I’m a much better fighter than I was in my last fight, which is the goal for every fight. I’m always learning, always getting better and always evolving. I try to focus more and more on myself than my opponent. If Gray Maynard’s trained hard and is well-prepared it’ll be a great fight.”
Florian’s increased stamina may be what puts him over the top. His work in Montreal with strength and conditioning coach Jonathan Chaimberg has given what he believes is a new engine, upgraded from a V6 Turbo to a “very high horsepower V8,” one that allows him to train more and train better with superior quality. One may wonder how Florian’s second job as a UFC and WEC analyst that on the weekend of June 19-20 saw him work in Las Vegas (Ultimate Fighter Finale) and Edmonton (WEC 49) on consecutive nights, along with a panelist on ESPN’s “MMA Live,” doesn’t run him beyond exhaustion. In reality, the loaded calendar has helped him focus more on his training, which is taken to new levels when he puts the secondary jobs on hold the last six weeks before a fight.
“I know I don’t have time to screw around,” Florian said. “It means I have to manage my time and I do it very well. Training is still my No. 1 priority and ‘MMA Live’ on ESPN is my second priority, along with my commentating duties for either the UFC or the WEC.”
There’s a third priority Florian is taking home to Boston: Proving to some lawmakers that data studies and hard facts have shown every UFC show has made a profit for the company and host cities and states to go with a strong safety record. “The UFC’s record and professionalism really speaks for itself,” Florian said. “Wherever they go they put on a successful show and a safe show. Ignore the heresy and really get educated in the sport and really find out what’s going on. I think that’s the key.”
Hard analytical research has carried Florian this far while helping him reach new stages of evolution at the age of 34, so why start doubting him now?