Kenny Florian at Featherweight

February 18, 2011

Kenny Florian came into the UFC as a middleweight on the first season of The Ultimate Fighter. Now he's going to try his luck at featherweight. That's a forty pound difference. What does that mean to KenFlo?

You never quite know what you’re going to get on a UFC conference call.

For example, when UFC 127 main-eventers B.J. Penn and Jon Fitch and UFC President Dana White spoke to the media this week in advance of next Saturday’s sold-out event at Acer Arena in Sydney, several other topics came up, including the phenomenal ticket sales for UFC 129 in Toronto, the date of the UFC’s return to Vancouver, and what White might do if a fighter who was cut from the promotion turns out to have lost his last fight to a fighter who tested positive for drugs.

Then there was ESPN’s Franklin McNeil, who asked both White and Penn for their opinions on Kenny Florian’s decision to move from lightweight to featherweight.

“It's interesting,” White said. “I don't really know what to say about it other than that he's one of the best in the world at 155, and if he can move down to 145 - I don't know if he can cut the weight, but if he can - it's one of those situations where you can't tell. Would he be too weak at that weight? Is it too hard a cut? Or will he go down there, be bigger and stronger than everybody, and dominate. I'd love to see what happens when he does it, if he can do it.”

Penn, who successfully defended the UFC Lightweight Championship against Florian at UFC 101, said, “Everybody comes from a different mindset. I would think that not cutting weight is what makes you stronger. He's got his work cut out for him, but that would be amazing, to see Kenny go down there and go up against someone like Jose Aldo. Maybe he'd beat him. I'd shake his hand for that. That'd be an amazing feat.”

All the while, at the Florian Martial Arts Center in Brookline, Massachusetts, Kenny Florian was listening, and while he wasn’t sure about Penn’s thoughts on cutting weight, he was confident in his decision to give the 145-pound weight class a shot.

“I’ve always felt phenomenal at 155,” Florian said. “Never felt any of the physical effects whatsoever. It’s never really been a big deal. I think at 145, I’m going to have to cut weight, there’s no doubt about it, but I trust in the nutritionists. The nutritionist that I’m working with right now, George Lockhart, is very confident that I’ll be able to make 145 pretty easily.”

As a veteran of the sport who also lends his expertise to ESPN’s MMA Live, Florian is well aware that a fighter’s ability to make a certain weight class and to compete at that weight are two different things. He won’t know until he gets into the Octagon for a featherweight bout whether it’s the right weight class for him.

“This is something that’s different, a little bit new, and I’m going to give it a go. I’m going to give it a try. I like trying new things. I like going for different things, and I’ll definitely be back at 155 - there’s no doubt about it, I know that – but I’m going to try this 145 thing for a little bit, see how I compete.

“If I don’t compete well, don’t feel well, even if I win, or win easily but I don’t feel great, I know that it’s not for me. I’m going to try.”

Florian knows a thing or two about moving between weight classes, perhaps more than most. When he first appeared on the scene in the UFC, he competed in the middleweight division, fighting above his “walk around” weight to compete at 185 pounds on The Ultimate Fighter, and even defeated an accomplished middleweight fighter in Chris Leben. When Florian makes his featherweight debut, it’ll be the biggest drop ever between a fighter’s weight class on TUF and his weight class in the UFC, as a 40 pound change in weight limit across three weight classes tops the 35-pound drop from light heavyweight to welterweight by Mike Swick (Season 1) and Josh Haynes (Season 3).

“I really was never a middleweight,” Florian said. “I was walking around at 178, a fat 178, so I didn’t even make the 185 limit, where most people are walking around at 215, 200 pounds, to get down to 185. It was fun. I feel real lucky that I’ve been able to compete against some of the best guys in different weight classes, whether it’s because I didn’t know any better, or just because I like challenges.”

The cut to featherweight presents an additional challenge, in that Florian has been out of action until recently due to a knee injury suffered in December. Now targeting a June or July return date, Florian is looking to recover from his injury and make an entirely new weight.

“The challenge is that I haven’t trained in a month and a half, really,” Florian said. “I’m just getting back into it now, so that’s really been the big challenge. I’m bigger than I ever have been before, but that’s from not training, and I know that.”

Photo: Al Bello / UFC / Getty Images