Photo courtesy Jeff Hedges/Zuffa, LLC.
Kenny Florian, a UFC lightweight turned featherweight as well as a cast member of the very first season of SpikeTV's "The Ultimate Fighter", talks to MMA Nation on 106.7 The Fan about cutting to featherweight, returning to lightweight, fighting Diego Nunes and looking to take the UFC featherweight title from Jose Aldo.
What do you do when a fight you never saw coming actually comes your way? For Kenny Florian, you use the moment to reevaluate your career situation and go chasing the fight even into unknown territory.
After UFC featherweight champion was offered a fight at lightweight against Kenny Florian and turned it down, the wheels in Florian's head began to turn. "[The decision to drop] really didn't come to be an idea until Jose Aldo fight was proposed to me. I said 'That's great. I get to fight him at '55', but he didn't want to come up to '55. I started thinking 'That would be a great fight'. I think he's a phenomenal fighter, it would be a great opportunity to fight one of the best pound-for-pound guys in the world. Could I make it? So I started asking around and they said that I could do it. That's why I kinda decided to try it out and see."
Florian said he obviously had concerns about the drop, but first observed that making lightweight is not a difficult process. "There have been fights where I've only cut about three pounds for 155lbs and I did it outside shadowboxing in about 30 minutes," says Florian. "155lbs, it's not really that big of a deal for me. I've never felt any type of ill effects from making 155lbs. It's always been pretty easy for me."
So what will be the major challenges head to featherweight? Florian candidly admits he's not sure, nor is he troubled with the changes. "Well, it's just new," he said. "I really don't know what it's going to be like, you know? My nutritionists have certain benchmarks of what I'm supposed to meet for certain days out from the fight. My plan, and the way that I'm doing it, is to meet those in advance of those goals just to be sure.
"And it's not about making the weight for me, it's about making the weight properly and performing the next day like you should. I know I'll make '45, that's not the issue. Will I compete at 100 percent? I believe that I will, I just haven't done it before. Again, I can't go on anything, because I haven't done it, but I'm very confident. I believe in the people around me - my coaches, my nutritionists - that I will get it done. I will perform to the best of my ability on fight night and I will be at 100 percent."
No one really knows what the tradeoffs will be at featherweight. Will he lose punching power? Will the speed difference be too much? No one, not even Florian knows. But it is fair to say the featherweight division is not on par with the lightweights. Florian believes that's to his advantage. "I'd be lying to you if I said that the 145lbs division was as stacked as the 155lbs division," said the Boston native. "I still believe - I believed it before - I still believe the 155lbs division is the most stacked division in MMA today. As far as the UFC goes, it really is. There's no other division that comes close. There's other interesting divisions, but 155lbs, it's hard to compare divisions."
And at featherweight, Florian was quick to note the challenges are real, but there's only one true prize at featherweight: the champion Jose Aldo. "145lbs you have one of the best guys pound-for-pound in Jose Aldo," Florian contended. "The guy's phenomenal. And then I think it's kinda Jose Aldo and then maybe every body else. Not to say there's not tough guys there, there definitely are a lot of challenges there, but I think Jose Aldo right now from what I see is head and shoulders above every body at 145lbs".
So if featherweight is the Jose Aldo show and he wants to return to lightweight, why drop to another weight class? Florian says the lightweight division to frozen and he needed a new option. "Right now, '55 is kind of on lock a little bit. With the Frankie [Edgar] and Gray Maynard fight happening again, and some of the other guys waiting to see what happens and I'm coming off of a loss...I was kind of left in limbo a little bit."
But he's not worried about that now. The daily focus is to heal and resume training. Florian speculates in approximately two weeks he'll be able to resume full function.
Florian himself won't compete until June where he'll make his 145lbs at UFC 131 (a card headlined by Brock Lesnar), but he offered some analysis for this weekend's UFC 127: Penn vs. Fitch event. "Listen, I think B.J. Penn always has a chance," said Florian. "The guy's extremely dangerous on his feet. He's going to be a little bit tougher to take down than Jon Fitch thinks. I would give even more of a chance to Jon Fitch if it was a five-rounder. At three rounds, I give a little bit more of a chance to B.J [Penn] because I think a three-round B.J. [Penn] is different than a five-round B.J. [Penn]. A three-round B.J. [Penn] will go for it right from the outset. He'll be very aggressive. He'll kind of just let it loose for every single round. As soon as that bell starts. I noticed a five-round B.J. [Penn], he really paces himself, he's really unsure of the pace he needs to go at."
There's another x-factor Florian shares that changes the dynamic of the fight considerably: Fitch's size. Normally a monstrous welterweight, Fitch's dietary changes have had some profound effects on his stature. "I know you mentioned him walking around at 200lbs, that is definitely the case. However, I just was with him at the last UFC in Vegas [UFC 126] he's actually walking around at 176lbs," Florian stated. "He's a vegan now. He's 100 percent vegan. He's changed his whole lifestlye. And the first thing I said to him 'Man, you're looking pretty darn skinny' and he said, 'yeah, I'm a vegan now and I'm 176lbs right now'. That is actually I hear maybe even a concern with people in his own camp."
The most notable thing coming out of our discussion on MMA Nation on 106.7 The Fan? Florian not giving up lightweight as the division where he'll end his career. He plans on fighting at featherweight now, but says a return to lightweight is inevitable. "I will say this, I will definitely be back at 155lbs," said Florian.
At 34, time is limited, but Florian's ambition is high. His skills appear to still be serviceable. So, for the moment, he's looking for just a little reinvention. This isn't the new Kenny Florian, just the same one with a different twist.
"As of right now, my mind's just on 145lbs and getting the belt there," said the former lightweight title contender. "If I can get the belt and defend it, I don't think I'll be at 145lbs for too long. I would like to go back to 155lbs and finish my career [there]."