Kenny Florian has a first person perspective on the evolution of modern day mixed martial arts.
The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) season one veteran called it a career after a back injury and made the transition from The Octagon to the broadcast booth, taking over commentating duties alongside Jon Anik on all non Fox or numbered pay-per-view cards. He's also been working the news desk for UFC Tonight every Tuesday on Fuel TV.
Florian spoke with MMAmania.com earlier today about his TUF season one castmates calling it quits, the highlights of UFC 160 and his first person account of holding UFC events in Brazil in this exclusive interview.
Check it out:
Kenny Florian: I'm very proud of those guys and happy they have a chance to relax, retire and do other things. They put the sport on the map. It's crazy to think being a part of season one of The Ultimate Fighter, you just didn't expect it to take off the way it did. The fights they put on and the way they performed, they always put it all on the line. It was pretty difficult to find a boring fight from either guy.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): What do you think about them both being inducted into Hall of Fame, particularly Bonnar>
Kenny Florian: I think they deserve it. They put the sport on the map. It all started with that incredible fight on the Finale. They put on quite a show and it just snowballed from there. It was that moment, that fight that helped UFC become what it is. They've always performed very well in the UFC, always entertained. We wouldn't be here today without that fight.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): More than half of TUF season one has retired, plus both coaches. Do you feel a changing of the guard in the UFC?
Kenny Florian: Yes, I think we're rightly so to an extent. That's the nature of combat fighting in general. You need to be evolving and physically capable of performing at a high level all the time. You'll see that fluctuation and a new rotation every five or six years because of how tough the sport is. We're seeing other guys get in the sport now. It's actually pretty exciting to see what this fresh blood is bringing to the table.
Kenny Florian: I was extremely surprised. Any time, lets say you have an edge on the striking but you know they're susceptible somewhere else, you take the easier route. I was surprised he stood and traded but I was also very happy he did. Mark Hunt was landing that left hook early on and that had me nervous. Junior's speed made the difference in the end, once he caught that rhythm and range, he was in control. Once he caught that spinning kick knockout, it was spectacular. Any time you see too fighters with similar skill sets, similar moves, pulling off a move no one expects, it's a proven recipe to get a knockout win. To surprise your opponent, whether it's Vitor Belfort recently, Anderson Silva with that reverse elbow or the front kick, these are the techniques that can be the deciding factor in a bout.
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Kenny Florian: I think it is. The key is always having some kind of surprise technique. Deception is very big part of combat. When you research a fighter, I'd always go with my coach and watch video, and you look for patterns and see what they throw repetitively. I don't think people knew Vitor could throw a spinning wheel kick, or even through kicks, at least not until his last two fights where he landed kicks against Bisping and Rockhold. It's not like these strikes haven't been around. Old is new, new isi old. Combat is very much cyclical, you get onto new techniques and its' something people never seen before. It's exciting to see this evolution. It's very important for fighters.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Junior took Hunt down easily in round two and he looked like he could do that at any time. Do you think it was a pride thing that he chose to stand, that he wanted to beat Hunt at his own game?
Kenny Florian: I think so. I think he wanted to prove something, like, "I can beat a world class fighter. I'm want to show I'm one of the best strikers in the world." I think it was a bit of pride getting in the way for JDS. It was maybe not the best percentage-wise for him to get the win but he still got the win and that's impressive. His speed factor was immense. His hands are lightning fast and he looked really good.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Another big story out of UFC 160 was emergence of T.J. Grant. What has made Grant so successful since dropping down to lightweight considering his 3-3 welterweight run? Where have you seen his biggest leap in skill?
Kenny Florian: His performance was extremely impressive. TJ Grant is one of those guys that people weren't really paying attention to. He's quiet. All of the sudden he's coming on the scene and looking unbelievable. At welterweight he was tough. Beating Maynard in the fashion he did as well as Matt Wiman, he's the number one contender. He had to come back in the first round. He was rocked and he stuck to his gameplan, stuck with combinations. Instead of looking for the knockout, he was trying to put his punches and kicks together. He backed up Gray, hurt him and finished him. He didn't get intimidated and stuck with it. Those are championship qualities
Kenny Florian: For sure, with what TJ's showing out there, he looks unstoppable. He's shown a variety of techniques with his grappling, wrestling, clinch, elbows, boxing, he's got it all. He's got all the tools. Always well conditioned, lots of heart and tough as nails.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Okay, moving more towards you, how do you feel you've progressed in the transition from fighter to commentator/analyst in the last year?
Kenny Florian: There's been huge improvement. Repetition is key. Drillers are killers, that's one of my favorite old quotes. Getting those repetitions in and my improvement as an analyst and commentator comes along with it. I know there's still things I need to improve whether it's doing UFC tonight, commentating or the work I do on my own time as well. I feel more and more comfortable all the time.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I know a big part of your job is getting people to care about fighters, but how do you go about avoiding hyperbole like "world class" while still promoting a fighter properly?
Kenny Florian: It's tough. I think the main thing is talking about the strengths of the fighters, the positives, how good they are and getting the fans to understand the skill level they've obtained and why they're fun to watch. Calling the action and what they're doing, it's a tough balance. It's interesting. I forget who it was, a famous football commentator, whatever city they went to people would tell him, "why do you hate our team, why do you hate us?" It didn't matter. Fans will always see a certain bias with a commentator, he ignored that a fighter was doing this or that. It's awkward. I remember when I called the Urijah Faber/Mike Brown 2 fight, during that fight people were like, "you were so biased towards Urijah!" What impressed me was Urijah was fighting with two broken hands and throwing elbows. That was amazing. It's hard to win with the fans. It's about calling the fights as fairly as you can.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You've worked two shows Brazil this year, what are your impressions overall?
Kenny Florian: What stands out to me is their passion. The volume of the crowd is unmatched. I haven't seen anything like it, it's unreal. 7000 fans felt like 20,000 fans in Brazil. The arena's almost full when the first fight is starting and you don't see that in the American market. I don't think there's anything like it in sports. It's unlike anywhere I've ever been.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): How has switching from fighter to a more media-esque role changed your perspective on the sport?
Kenny Florian: Even the way I perceive mixed martial arts, the technical side of things. Being away from the sport has helped me. It's like being in battle compared to being on top of the hill and looking down on it. It's helped me in all facets. It's helped me be a little more liberal with my opinions. It's tough to give your opinions on your peers, your colleagues and your predictions. It still is to a certain extent
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Do you ever worry about offending other fighters with your opinion, or do you just try to be straightforward and not sugarcoat things?
Kenny Florian: I try to be as honest as possible but I do get a little worried. I know how prideful fighters are and how prideful I was when I was fighting. It's a tough thing to do. I didn't like taking criticism or this and that. It would fuel me and it can be difficult so I understand where they're coming from.
You can follow Kenny on Twitter @KennyFlorian.