You could look at the circumstances of Kenny Florian's arrival in the UFC through the first season of The Ultimate Fighter in 2005 and say that the longtime contender got here accidentally.
And if that was the case, it was certainly a happy accident for all fight fans, as the man who was discovered by UFC president Dana White when he lost a local fight to Drew Fickett in 2004 turned into a multi-faceted fighter, commentator, and ambassador for the sport of mixed martial arts.
And that was no accident.
On Thursday, the day before the latest finale of the show that introduced him to the masses, Florian announced his retirement from the sport as an active competitor.
“It was something I’ve been thinking about since November,” said Florian, who suffered a back injury following his October 2011 bout with Jose Aldo. “And it probably wasn’t until the last couple months where I really saw it (retirement) as a viable option. When you’ve fought as long as I have and trained as long as I have, you become what you do, and that’s all you know. It’s tough to do anything else, but in the end, I have so many things going on, from my gym back in Boston to the commentary and all that stuff, that I’m so lucky that I have all these other things in my life and I can still be a part of the sport that I love.”
Still pursuing his broadcasting career on FUEL TV and FX, in addition to running his school (Florian Martial Arts Center), the 36-year old Florian leaves the sport with a record of 16-6, but his impact as one of the best fighters of this era goes beyond wins and losses.
A former soccer player for Boston College, Florian found his true calling in jiu-jitsu, and later, mixed martial arts. Turning pro in 2003, he made a name for himself in his native New England before catching the eye of White, who suggested that the BJJ black belt take a chance on a new reality series called The Ultimate Fighter.
Florian's life changed at that moment, and despite being undersized in the competition, he earned a spot in the first season's finale against Diego Sanchez. “KenFlo” would lose that April 2005 bout, but few others over the next six years.
A drop in weight and three consecutive wins earned him a lightweight title shot against the vastly more experienced Sean Sherk in October of 2006, and though Florian would lose a five round decision, you knew he would come back stronger the next time around.
And he did. A student of the game who lived up to his mantra of 'I finish fights,' Florian went on a six fight winning streak after the Sherk bout, ending five before the final bell.
A second title opportunity against BJ Penn in 2009 saw Florian come up short of victory, but undeterred, he won two of his next three before a move to the featherweight division, marking a record fourth weight class that he had competed in.
In June of 2011, the Westwood, Massachusetts native debuted at 145 pounds, scoring what would ultimately be his last pro victory over Diego Nunes at UFC 131. A subsequent title fight against Jose Aldo in October of last year ended in a close five round decision loss, but it was the back injury that finally prompted Florian to call it a day.
“What it came down to was that my back just wasn’t getting back to where it was,” he said. “I was not able to train the way I was before, and it’s been going on for a while. I’ve dealt with injuries before and I’ve dealt with a back injury before, but with this new injury that I suffered in November, I just haven’t been the same since.”
Owner of wins over the likes of Clay Guida, Takanori Gomi, Joe Lauzon, Joe Stevenson, Roger Huerta, Din Thomas, and Sam Stout, some have called Florian an overachiever, but that would be an insult to a fighter whose talent, work ethic, smarts, and devotion to the sport was a shining example to all his peers.
“I hope that everyone saw a guy who really dedicated his life to the sport and a guy who always worked really hard to evolve in every single fight and every single session, and to get better and hopefully take the sport to another level,” he said. “And that’s really what I aimed to do, to get the best out of myself and raise my level every time.”
And while his success in competition spoke for itself, when discussing Florian’s career, you must also take into consideration his out of the Octagon impact, where he was a bastion of professionalism and class, and the ideal ambassador for the sport when it needed him most.
Yet oddly enough, he needed the sport just as much.
“I was a kid who was kind of lost and fighting found me and made me a better person,” he said. “I think of a quote from Aristotle that said ‘you make war so you can find peace,’ and I think that’s something that happened with me. I’m in a great place in my life I think because of fighting somehow. I’ve never been happier in my life and I owe it to fighting.”
Thank you, Kenny Florian.
Kenny Florian Retires, Leaving a Legacy that Stretched Beyond the Octagon
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