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Unforgettable: Kenny Florian Discusses His Greatest Opponents

(“I’ve never been knocked out in a fight and I’ve never been knocked out in training. But I’ve never been hurt the way that [Penn] hurt me.” / Photo via Las Vegas Sun)

By Matt Kaplan

Two weeks ago, Kenny Florian, the man who finished fights, announced that he is finished fighting.

Florian cited a November 2011 back injury and eventual numbness and tingling in his limbs as the impetus for closing the chapter of his life that’s been defined by five UFC Fight Night appearances, four weight classes, three UFC championship fights, two vicious elbows, and — lest we forget — one samurai costume.

As an undersized middleweight, Florian first appeared on our radars as the TUF 1 runner-up to Diego Sanchez in 2005, and after two victories at welterweight, Florian transformed his body and game, and established himself as one of the best lightweights in the world. Florian then made a brief run at featherweight in 2011, defeating Diego Nunes and losing to champion Jose Aldo, before announcing his retirement at the age of 36.

In a recent conversation with — and in loving tribute to Ring Magazine’s “The Best I’ve Faced” feature — Ken-Flo looked back on his MMA career and remembered the opponents who stood out across a number of categories…

Fastest on his feet: I’d say Jose Aldo. He was the quickest. His explosiveness in general, his footwork, and his ability to move definitely are impressive.

Toughest chin: I remember hitting Sam Stout with hard shots. I hit him on the ground with a big bomb that connected real well, right on his chin, and he just ate it. And from seeing the rest of his fights, I see why. He’s got a real good chin.

Hardest to hit: Let’s see. From the outside, it’s probably BJ Penn. Excellent head movement.

Heaviest hands: BJ Penn, by far. I’ve never been knocked out in a fight and I’ve never been knocked out in training. But I’ve never been hurt the way that he hurt me. He hit me harder than anyone I fought or sparred or trained with.

Best wrestler: Gray Maynard. When he was in on my leg, I felt like he was the strongest. And I was doing a decent amount of wrestling when we fought.

Most intelligent: I guess with overall MMA intelligence and skills, Jose Aldo is probably overall the most intelligent. He didn’t allow himself to get caught off guard, you know?

Most powerful: Gray Maynard. He’s the only guy who afterward I said, “Wow, that guy’s really strong.”

Most threatening ground game: BJ Penn. I don’t know about submission-wise — and he caught me in a submission — but offensively, technically, the way he attacks, especially from the top, that’s his bread and butter. It’s real good.

Most surprising opponent: Gray Maynard, for sure. That was one of the fights where I thought he would strike a little bit more with me. I felt like I’d be able to keep him on the outside and stop his wrestling attempts when he would try because, before that fight, he did use his wrestling later [in the fight] against guys like Nate Diaz, but it was crazy to me that he was going out there and really wasn’t using his wrestling so much. I was working a lot on my wrestling at the time and thought it would be enough, but the way he was executing it — he would get the takedown at the end of the round and get each round and control — was just a very smart game plan.

Sweetest victory: This is always hard to come up with. It was pretty cool being able to fight Takanori Gomi and win like I did, dominating a guy I looked up to for so long for his striking and for his knockout power. To go out there and strike with him for the 12 or 13 minutes of that match and outstrike him was cool. That one sticks out.

Most bitter loss: The Diego Sanchez fight, just because it was one of those fights where maybe he would have won anyway because he had a lot of experience over me, but I didn’t even get a chance to compete. I’ve talked about this before: I just choked. The only fight I’ve ever choked in was the Diego Sanchez fight. I was just not ready for that mentally, and by the time he was mounted on me, I was bleeding all over myself and was, like, “Alright, Kenny, let’s get out of here. Let’s do this.” I felt that I didn’t even get a chance to really compete or show my skills.

Best overall fighter: The person who matched up the best to me was the toughest challenge, and in my career, that was BJ Penn. Going into the fight, I felt like he would be the toughest match-up based on where my skills were at and where his skills were at. And he was the toughest.

Cagepotato Comments

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enrikk- June 14, 2012 at 6:14 am
Great read, you definitely need to do this for more great/retired fighters!
montie- June 13, 2012 at 11:46 pm
BJ was in great shape in that fight, hope he shows up like that for MacDonald.
MaritalArtist- June 13, 2012 at 9:12 pm
That's why Penn will beat MacDonald
rudygpimpg- June 13, 2012 at 3:35 pm
Great article this was
Dog Dicks Magoo- June 13, 2012 at 10:53 am
Why did they interview Ben Stiller? Still, a great article.
Dreasy420- June 13, 2012 at 10:37 am
This article is SO SWEET! What an interesting read from Kenny's perspective on the fights. It reminds me of that book 'Facing Ali', which goes into detail about his fights and everything surrounding them from the viewpoints of his opponents, I think most MMA fans here would appreciate that read, its fucking great! It was amazing to see boss playa BJ victorious in so many of the categories. What a stud. Keep these coming!! Bring in other fighters who have faced name opponents, same setup and layout, and get their views too! Hella cool article. Respect
Dreasy420- June 13, 2012 at 10:39 am
** Facing Ali is, of course, about Muhammed Ali
Mofo- June 13, 2012 at 10:28 am
For me, the Gomi fight was were it clicked how to throw a LONG jab. My boxing and muay thai teachers have never said anything about a long jab, they say you shouldn't change your stance too much and speed is about the only thing that matters and you're just meant to "work off your jab" and all that. But Florian was elongating his entire body and leaning way out there with a really long, committed jab, and it's not even the kind of thing you can easily throw a cross after because you've committed so far into it. That shit surprises people when I pull that in sparring. I'm not tall but with a long jab like that I surprise them with my reach.
Mofo- June 13, 2012 at 10:24 am
Score one for CP! Best column in a LONG time. Just when I was wondering why I bother to keep checking this site, you pull me back in (Pacino voice).

You also had a guy who did a really technical breakdown of the striking that Nick Diaz uses, you need to make that guy a regular contributor. Real content, not just PR releases!
shiki31- June 13, 2012 at 8:36 am