(Whose house? KenFlo’s house.)
As MMA fighters go, Kenny Florian is as intelligent and articulate a guy as you can hope to find. He’s also a workaholic and an ever-evolving bad-ass in the cage, and his next test against the formidable Roger Huerta should answer any lingering questions as to who deserves to be the UFC’s top lightweight contender. Whether B.J. Penn will stick around to defend his 155-pound title, well, that’s another issue altogether.
In this exclusive interview with KenFlo we discuss training strategies, Roger Huerta’s apparent dissatisfaction with the UFC, being an ESPN MMA analyst, and more.
CagePotato.com: Hey Kenny, thanks for talking with me. How has your training for this fight been going?
Everything’s been going really well. My training camp was awesome. I really didn’t take too much time off. After the Lauzon fight I think I was back in the gym the following week and I wasn’t completely pleased, technically speaking, with my performance, so I wanted to get right back in the gym and improve on those things. With all the commitments I had before this fight, the traveling and all that, I’m glad I got a jump on it early.
What were you displeased with about your performance against Lauzon?
Joe Lauzon just shouldn’t have taken me down like he did. That was the main thing, was the wrestling angle of it. I just wanted to get back and get my hands on a quality wrestling coach so I could really improve in that area. It’s one thing to be able to do it in training, but it needs to be second nature in order for you to use it when you need it in a fight. So I found a great wrestling coach who’s just been a phenomenal addition to my team.
I’ve just been working on a lot of the fundamentals of wrestling, both defensively and offensively, and working on making sure I’m doing things right technically. With wrestling in particular you get a lot of people who will tell you ‘Oh, you should do it this way or that way,’ but having a world class guy to show you this is the way it should be done and here’s why, it gets it into your muscle memory and makes you a stronger fighter.
What do you think Roger Huerta’s greatest strength is as a fighter?
I think it’s his heart. He’ll never quit. We saw that in his last fight against Clay Guida when he was losing the fight. It can be really easy for a fighter to quit in a situation like that. A real fighter is the guy who’s getting beat up and still never loses his will to win. Roger has showed that he’s that kind of guy. He’s a tough, tough fighter and he’s got tremendous heart.
This is being billed as a number one contender match, but with all the talk about B.J. Penn going back up to welterweight to fight Georges St. Pierre, it seems like the winner may not get that title shot any time soon. Does that kind of talk make you feel like B.J. might be overlooking the rest of the lightweight division?
It’s possible that B.J. and other people are overlooking me. Anything can happen in MMA and I honestly don’t know if B.J. will stick around at lightweight or not. My concern is winning this fight and continuing to fight and beat the best guys. That’s what I want. The belt is obviously something I want too, and I think if I continue to beat the best guys that the opportunity will come.
But B.J. is pretty much the consensus pick as the world’s number one lightweight, so isn’t that the fight that you need to get in order to feel like you’ve fought the best?
Oh, yeah. Definitely. B.J. has proven it. I think his skills right now and the way that he’s training, he’s showing that he’s not only one of the best lightweights but one of the best pound-for-pound, so he deserves that.
Roger Huerta created some waves recently talking about his dissatisfaction with how the UFC has treated him, saying he doesn’t necessarily care if he keeps fighting for them or if it’s for someone else. What’s your take on that? How do you feel about the way the UFC treats its fighters?
You know what, the UFC has always taken real good care of me and I’m very happy to be where I am. I was fighting in worse conditions than Roger probably was or is when I first came into the UFC with my original “Ultimate Fighter” contract, but it’s like any job. You have to go in there and prove yourself. You don’t start off as CEO. You have to work your way up.
The UFC is in a position now where they can pay their fighters better and I think that’s only going to improve and I’ve always been happy with the way they’ve treated me. This is where I started and I’d love to finish here. Every fighter’s experience is different, though. People will be in your ear and tell you things about who’s getting paid what, and of course everyone always wants to get paid more. But I can’t speak for Roger. Obviously he’s disappointed, so I guess we’ll see what happens.
When fighters talk about a lack of respect from the UFC, is respect really just a synonym for money? Or is there a certain attitude the UFC has towards some guys that is abrasive?
I’m not sure. I don’t think it’s an attitude, really. There are some demands that you need to meet as far as interviews and media and appearances, and that can be overwhelming. But I guess it’s not much different than the NFL and Major League Baseball in that regard. People don’t realize how much we do outside of the gym and outside of the fight game. There’s a lot to it and it can be difficult managing that.
But, you know, you can always say no. You don’t have to do the PR stuff. But it’s a double-edged sword. The PR is as much for you as it is for the UFC. For Roger, it’s definitely helped get his name out there, so where would he be without the PR? Where would he be without the marketing? It’s helped him just like it’s helped me.
Speaking of PR and time commitments, doing “MMA Live” on ESPN must take some time away from your training. Is that a difficult thing to work around?
It is, definitely. The first few days before the show I spend reading up on fighters, making sure I’ve seen all the fights from over the weekend and making sure I’ve done my research on the fighters coming up. I’ll get up around four in the morning and be out the door by a quarter to five to make the two-hour drive to Bristol, Connecticut and I’m there pretty much all day and then I drive back and still have to train.
It can be brutal, but it’s given me more focus. I know I have to be that much more specific with everything. I knew since I was doing more traveling I had to be on top of my nutrition. If I couldn’t train as much, I was going to eat as perfectly as possible and then really make the most out of my training time when I was in the gym. It gave me a laser-like focus in my training.
Is it hard to be an analyst of the sport and an active fighter at the same time?
Yeah, it’s tough. First, because I know a lot of the fighters. At times you have to be critical and really give your opinion, and still being in the fight game it can be tricky. But I love the job, it’s something I’ve always wanted to do and it’s what I went to school for so hopefully we can take it to the next level and get on TV some time next year.
How do you think it will be to go back to the show doing your analyst job after this fight, whether you win or lose?
It could be tricky, I guess trickier if I lost. You just have to base it on your fight experience and approach it on a technical level, the way you would analyzing someone else’s fight.
How are you planning on approaching this fight with Roger? You’ve said he doesn’t quit, so how will that change your game plan?
Every time I approach a fight there are times when I know that I can push the pace and this guy’s going to gas. With the Lauzon fight I knew he was going to give up after a little while and I knew he couldn’t keep that pace. But against Huerta that’s not going to be the case. It’s just going to be technique versus technique, and I think I have the edge there.
I know what my cardio is about. I know what my heart is about. I’m not going to gas. I’m not going to give up. It’s going to come down to whose skills are better, who did the little things in training, who crossed the t’s and dotted the i’s. I know I’ve done my work and I have the skills to take advantage of Roger’s weaknesses. I can’t wait. I feel like a get my reward on August 9th.