By CagePotato Guest Contributor Ben Fowlkes
On April 2nd, Kenny Florian headlines the next edition of Spike TV’s “UFC Fight Night,” where he’ll take on lightweight up-and-comer Joe Lauzon. While most fans know that Florian, like Lauzon, got his start in the UFC with The Ultimate Fighter, what they don’t know is that his journey really began with a near-death experience that changed his outlook on life.
Florian took a trip to Brazil in the summer of 2003 with the goal of improving his jiu-jitsu. While hiking down a mountain with some friends, Florian slipped on the wet, mossy rocks and began sliding off a precipice. Friends tried to grab him, but Florian plummeted over the edge and fell “for what seemed like an eternity.” He landed on a rounded rock that stopped his fall and ultimately saved his life. The experience was an eye-opening one for Florian, and it prompted him to abandon the safety of his white-collar life and pursue his dreams.
In this exclusive interview, Florian talks about the ramifications of that incident, about being haunted and motivated by defeat, and about his impending showdown with Lauzon and what it means for his career.
CagePotato: You came into the UFC by way of The Ultimate Fighter, and you’d only had a few professional fights at that point. What’s the major difference between that Kenny Florian and the one we see in the Octagon now?
Kenny Florian: That last Kenny Florian’s a punk. No, the Kenny Florian on The Ultimate Fighter was a guy who was trying to test his Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. He was a guy who really wasn’t sure if he wanted to become a fighter. It was just an opportunity that was presented to him at the time.
Now you’re seeing a guy who wants to learn it all and who wants to be a master of it all, and who sees the beauty in any technique that works. Whether it’s striking or wrestling or expanding my jiu-jitsu game for MMA, I’m trying to not only get good at the individual arts but find a circle of techniques that flow into each other and compliment each other. It’s an art in itself, just finding what works for MMA.
Now that you’re fighting at lightweight and having success, do you ever look back and wonder, “What was I thinking trying to be a middleweight?”
I was fat, that’s the main thing that comes to my mind. I had no concept of nutrition, of strength and conditioning. Not until after the Sherk fight did I have any concept of those things like the way I do now. I was definitely a work in progress, but I was crazy then. I was really a natural 155’er who was given an opportunity to compete at 185 and I thought, why not? I had nothing to lose.
I had no idea it would become this big, running show. I thought it could have been my only opportunity to fight for the UFC or fight on TV and help bring this sport to the masses. It was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up, and on top of that, week after week, I became more confident. I thought, with the skills I have now I’m doing well against all these experienced mixed martial artists, I may have a chance at winning this thing.
It was really one of my first experiences with mixed martial arts and it was a great chance to work out with great coaches like Randy Couture and Chuck Liddell and find out what it takes to get to that next level. Those are the guys that planted the seed in my head for what I’m doing now.
Reading past interviews with you, it seems like you’re really motivated by your losses. What’s it like after a big loss, when you get back to the dressing room and have to face that dark moment? How do you move past it?
It’s a terrible, terrible feeling. My loss to Sean Sherk haunts me to this day. At the same time it motivates me, and I can look at it as a positive experience. You can let things like that defeat you, or you put them behind you and learn from them and get better. That’s what I tried to do. There’s no such thing as a setback in life. There are only lessons. We’re made to evolve and get better and faster and stronger. You can do that within your own life.
It’s like pushing weights for the first time and your body’s sore and it sucks and it’s really hard, but after a while your muscles and your nervous system and everything gets stronger. Your muscle memory gets better. That’s the way it is with certain things in fighting. If you have a loss, you need to look at it and learn from it. What technical mistakes did I make? What strategic mistakes did I make? What mental mistakes did I make?
You cover all those bases and, if you need to, write it down and start working on patching those holes up. You can only look at it as a positive and live in the present day. If you live in the past, you’re dead.