Often I talk about how far the sport of Mixed Martial Arts has come in the last five years, from a virtual underground society to mainstream acceptance. Obviously a lot of that has to do with the success of 'The Ultimate Fighter' reality television show that has just completed it's 11th season and is already on tap to debut it's 12th season this fall. Go back five years to its first season and many of the fighters on the show that first year have gone on to have successful fight careers, including a couple of world championships, and become household names. However, the one person that has surpassed all of the fighters that season in terms of success, mainstream notoriety and popularity is probably the one least likely expected to do so. As a matter of fact, during and after that first season of 'The Ultimate Fighter', many were openly criticizing and questioning if Kenny Florian was even a legit MMA fighter, let alone UFC material. No one is questioning anymore.
A shining example of what hard work, determination and belief in one's self can accomplish, Kenny 'KenFlo' Florian has made the most of his opportunities. He is not just a perennial world class top ten fighter in his weight class, but also a successful business owner, MMA analyst, color commentator, TV co-host and author. He also has challenged, not once, but twice for the UFC Lightweight Championship of the World and is on the verge of getting there again. To get an understanding of what a success story this truly is, just take a look at how much Florian has accomplished in the relative short period of time that is his life.
Growing up in the Boston area, Kenny Florian, who is of Peruvian descent, always loved sports and was a natural athlete. Excelling at various sports, including training in the martial arts, there was one in particular that caught his interest more than all the others. Surprisingly it was not martial arts as one might assume, but rather soccer. Kenny loved the sport, quite possibly being influenced by his South American heritage, and was so good at it that it garnered him a scholarship to prestigious Boston College. There he excelled in both the field and the classroom, ultimately receiving Big East honors, including Academic All-America, and his Bachelor's Degree in Communications. (I knew there was a reason I liked this kid other than his fighting, as I too am a Communications major.)
School and his soccer career over and more mature, Kenny started devoting more time to his interest and training in the martial arts. He began training @ Gracie Barra in Watertown, Massachussetts under the tutelage of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Black Belt Roberto Maia, where Kenny would eventually work his way up and attain a black belt ranking of his own. As if this weren't challenging enough, the former college athlete always craving competition decided to compete; not just in grappling tournaments, but in MMA as well. While he earned success early on by winning his first couple of fights, he also was smart enough to realize that BJJ alone would only take him so far as his competition level grew. Thus, began his quest to study different disciplines under some of the best in the world.
A virtual who's who list of names became part of Kenny's resume regarding his training. This included Greco-Roman wrestling star and former UFC competitor Darryl Gholar, Coach of the Cuban National Wrestling Team Alejo Morales, Muay Thai expert and renowned MMA Trainer Mark Dellagrotte and a pilgrimage to the Gracie Barra Academy in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The training @ Gracie Barra under some of the most talented BJJ practitioners in the world raised Kenny's Jiu-Jitsu game to another level; it now became world class. All this and a decision to leave his job and pursue his fight career full-time lead him to his third pro fight in 2004 and a life altering experience.
Forced to fight vastly experienced and talented Drew Fickett, due to a last minute dropout of his original opponent on a fight card in Boston, Kenny not only held his own, but put on a great performance in a split decision loss. In the audience that night just happened to be Dana White, who was scouting Fickett for the first season of 'the Ultimate Fighter'. He was so impressed with what he saw from Florian, as you know he inevitably offered him a spot on the show and not Fickett. Once again making the most of an opportunity, he quietly made it all the way to the finals of the 185lb. Tournament and while he ended up losing, let's understand he went to the finale of a weight class 30lbs. above his normal fighting weight.
Impressed again, White offered Florian a contract anyway and all he's done since then is go 11-2 in the octagon, losing only to Sean Sherk and BJ Penn in two fights for the World Championship @ 155lbs. Always the true martial artist, Florian realizes that defeat only means there is something wrong in his doing, which he needs to correct to overcome his obstacle. Thus, he has looked for other avenues in his training to continue his quest towards another title shot. This has included training with UFC welterweight champion Georges St Pierre.
Along the way, another avenue has opened up for Florian, one he was prepared for and he has taken by the horns. The Communications major was thrust into an analyst role during UFC 83 when Joe Rogan was unavailable and the rest is history. Since that time he has done color commentary for both the UFC and WEC, including this weekend where he worked both shows. He also has earned a co-host slot alongside John Anik for 'MMA Live', a weekly MMA wrap-up show currently seen on ESPN 2. Finally, he writes a blog for ESPN Deportes, their Spanish speaking station. In the middle of all this, he has also found the time to open up his own school as well in Massachusetts; a state of the art academy called Florian Martial Arts that he runs with his brother Keith.
To show you how far Kenny Florian has come in the last five years, three weeks ago while I was in Las Vegas for UFC 114, I was lucky enough to meet Kenny as he did a guest stint with my friends over @ MMAJunkie Radio in Mandalay Bay. When he was done, hotel security had been assigned to escort him back to the convention center where the UFC fan expo was going on, because there was no way he'd make it back to the MMA Live booth without getting mobbed by fans. Five years ago, nobody knew who Kenny Florian was and if they did, they didn't think much of him as a fighter or anything else. Since then, he has shown why he is so aptly nicknamed KenFlo because as you can see, Ken flows through all channels of MMA.