Former lightweight contender embarks on a new challenge at UFC 131
When it comes to making plans for their post-fight careers, every fighter is different.
Randy Couture has retired on three separate occasions, though one was more a negotiation tactic and this last one seems like it will stick. Quinton “Rampage” Jackson spoke at length in the build-up to his fight at UFC 130 about calling it quits at age 35 and moving into movies.
If Kenny Florian followed Jackson’s plan, the finalist from the inaugural season of The Ultimate Fighter would be calling it quits already. The baby-faced Florian turned 35 just a few weeks ago, but moving on to the numerous other employment options available to him hasn’t crossed his mind.
“I think it’s a matter of listening to your body and taking it one fight at a time. I still love training and learning, I still love preparing for fights. I still feel like I’m making so many physical gains as an athlete, and for me that’s a sign that I’m getting better all the time, both technically and physically. When that stops, when that starts to decline, then I know that it’s probably time. When training gets old, when training is no longer fun, I know it’s time to stop.
“The only reason I got into martial arts and into Brazilian jiu jitsu is because it was extremely motivating and fun, and I find that same thing with mixed martial arts. It’s something that stimulates me mentally, physically, spiritually. There is nothing like it for me, and as soon as that kind of starts to die down, I know it’s time to step aside and let some other guys get a shot.
Instead of pondering his post-fight pursuits, Florian is set to start on a new chapter of his career this weekend in Vancouver.
UFC 131 marks the perennial lightweight contender’s first trip to the 145 pound featherweight division. After years of battling the best at 155 pounds, and knee injury forced him out of a fight in January, leaving Florian to reconsider his options.
“I wasn’t getting the fights that I wanted at 155. I didn’t want to have to fight a guy that was coming up in his career at lightweight; I still wanted to fight the top guys at ’55, and those fights weren’t happening for me.”
One of those desirable fights was a meeting with featherweight champion Jose Aldo. Florian, like most others, views the Brazilian as one of the top pound-for-pound fighters in the sport, and has spoken openly about his desire to meet him in the cage.
Aldo was offered the opportunity to make that happen earlier in the year, but the fight was to be contested at lightweight. As much as he would have liked for it to happen, Florian understands Aldo’s reasons for turning down the bout.
“I think he’s most comfortable at ’45; he’s the current champion there and I think that’s the weight for him. I think he probably feels he needs to stay there for his career, and maybe it was too quick of a jump. I think maybe he had a lot to lose, to go up to 155 to face me as opposed to Frankie Edgar for example. As a champion coming in against a guy who just lost to Gray Maynard, I can see why he wouldn’t want that fight.”
With Aldo uninterested in making the move up, Florian will instead try to make the fight happen at the champion’s weight. Before that bout can even be considered, he has to first get through Diego Nunes.
Aldo’s teammate is the embodiment of the lighter weight classes that casual UFC fans have yet to fully embrace.
With a 16-1 record and riding a three-fight winning streak, Nunes is one of the top contenders in the featherweight ranks, but remains almost completely unknown. It’s the kind of fight Florian wasn’t being offered at lightweight, and one that he knows makes for a difficult debut at his new address.
“You know I really don’t see a lot of weaknesses in him. In watching a lot of his fights, he looks to be highly conditioned, he’s very fast, a dangerous striker.
“He finds a way to win, and he’s a durable guy and he comes from one of the best MMA teams in the world. He trains alongside Jose Aldo. Training at Nova Uniao, this guy is gonna be my toughest fight in my career, I truly believe that, and that’s the way I’ve prepared.”
Should he get through Nunes, Florian’s higher profile in comparison to some of the other contenders in the division could propel him int the matchup with Aldo he’s wanted all along.
But that possibility isn’t even something he’s considering at this point; his sole focus is the fight at hand.
“You know, right now, I haven’t really looked passed Nunes. Of course we all want to get to the championship match, but for me, Nunes is the only thing that’s on my mind. I’m not thinking about anybody else but him, and that’s just the truth.”
While it sounds like a cliche, and Florian has the experience to have them down pat at this point, it’s really just part one of a two-part truth every fighter knows.
“In this game, you look past anyone and you’re asking for a beatdown.”