“It was always about challenging myself against the best guys that I
could find. The UFC provided that, and gave me much more than just martial arts." - Kenny Florian
For a long time, Kenny Florian’s days were structured and scheduled, blocks of time invested in the pursuit of becoming a better fighter. There was a routine. Specific days and times were allotted to specific tasks – Muay Thai, wrestling, jiu-jitsu, conditioning, rest.
Now that he’s retired, the 36-year-old Florian is still learning how to fill up his days.
“Retirement’s good, man; everything has been going well,” admits Florian. “I’ve been doing some travel, obviously, with the UFC, and doing the weekly show, UFC Tonight. I’m doing my best to stay busy. It’s definitely not the same as fighting every day and training every day, but I’m enjoying it.”
Making the move into television was a natural transition for Florian.
Before he set foot in the cage, “KenFlo” earned a degree in Communications from Boston College, and spent time behind the mic and in front of the camera as an analyst on ESPN’s MMA Live and various UFC and WEC broadcasts. Behind the desk on UFC Tonight with Todd Harris and alongside his broadcast partner Jon Anik, Florian is a natural, and getting more acclimated and accustomed to the role with each passing week.
“You definitely get a different perspective on things,” says Florian of his new role as an analyst. “For me, I feel a little bit more comfortable now breaking down a fight, and possibly critiquing a fighter or a fight, and just looking at it with a fresh pair of eyes. When you’re not in it, I think it is helpful for doing what I do as an analyst and doing commentary, just kind of blending my experience, and seeing what guys are doing now – where the sport is heading technique-wise, what the different training camps are doing – it’s very helpful.”
In addition to the new set of skills Florian has to continually sharpen and hone in order to maintain the lofty standard of excellence he sets for himself in everything he does, the nouveau commentator has also had to deal with occasional bouts of backlash from fighters who weren’t fond of the things he’s said during their bouts.
“I have had a little bit of that, for sure,” Florian admits with a laugh. “I know as fighters, we have a lot of pride, and it can be really difficult hearing a critique. When I am criticizing a fighter, it’s not out of bias; it’s not out of anything but giving my perspective on what I’m seeing, and trying to break it down for the fans. That’s it. That’s the best that I can do. I’m never biased.
“If anything, if I know a fighter or have trained with a fighter, I’ll go the other way (laughs) and talk more about the other guy. It is challenging, and I have heard a little bit from the fighters on some of the things I’ve said – not a lot; I haven’t heard a lot – but I know that that comes with the territory.”
As funny as it may sound, Florian’s biggest challenge since shifting careers is finding ways to fill up his day.
“I would like to stay busier; I do like to have something going on every day. I am enjoying (broadcasting) when I’m working – I love talking about the sport; that’s always fun – but I’m hoping to get into some other things and do some other things, and stay busier.”
He outlines his ongoing pursuit of opening a gym in Los Angeles, and the struggles that come with such a venture. He mentions hosting, acting, and doing some writing, stopping short of finishing his list of possible pursuits with “but what I really want to do is direct.”
“I’m going to be getting my blog going soon,” he adds, explaining that the site will cover a number of topics including eating well, fashion, and MMA. “It’s going to be a hodge-podge of a bunch of different things, so I’m looking forward to doing that.”
One thing he’s not looking to do is return to the cage.
“Right now, coming back and fighting is not on my mind at all. (When I retired) it just wasn’t fun anymore. I couldn’t train the way I wanted, and if anything, if I had came back, I would have wanted to train harder. I’ve always done things to do it to the best of my ability, and I wasn’t able to be at my best.
“In the last couple months, I’ve really started to improve. I’ve started to go through the rehabilitation process with a buddy of mine here in LA, Scottie Epstein, and he’s been very, very helpful in strengthening my back and the muscles around it to the point that I haven’t experienced that same pain, and I’ve been able to work out.”
Florian officially retired in May with a professional record of 16-6, including a 12-5 mark in the UFC. In addition to making 17 trips into the Octagon, he was a cast member on the groundbreaking first season of The Ultimate Fighter, and the first fighter in UFC history to compete in four different weight classes, starting with his bout against Diego Sanchez in the middleweight finale on The Ultimate Fighter, and finishing his career with a loss to featherweight champion Jose Aldo.
“I really had a great career,” Florian says correctly when asked to pick out his personal highlights. “Fighting a great guy like Clay Guida, a guy who I looked up to so much like Takanori Gomi was cool. Getting to fight a legend in BJ Penn was awesome; a lot of great moments. Fighting one of the best pound-for-pound guys in the world, Jose Aldo. Those were big moments - wins and losses.
“If there is one regret, I wish that I came to compete against Diego Sanchez,” admits Florian. “I feel like I beat myself before anyone else. I feel like I went out there and let the moment beat me. I don’t know what would have happened in that fight, but I didn’t compete; that was not me out there. I went out there and I was a nervous wreck. Before I knew what was happening, I was mounted and bloodied up. I wish that – if there was one thing I could take back – that I could just go out there and compete, and just fight him.
“It was always about challenging myself against the best guys that I could find,” Florian says, summing up his career in the cage succinctly. “The UFC provided that, and gave me much more than just martial arts. You learn so much about yourself through the process.”
We’ve seen countless athletes announce their retirement, only to return to their chosen sport for one last kick at the can, but don’t expect that from Florian.
“I don’t think there’s ever going to be a time when I don’t want to compete, and I don’t want to challenge myself – I just have to do it in other ways.”
Much to the delight of his parents, those new ways involve using his college degree and not getting punched in the face.