Sometimes the best stories do not come from the minds of the writers of Hollywood, but rather from how life plays itself out.

Take, for example, Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel.  During his time playing college football at the University of Southern California, Cassel backed up two Heisman winning quarterbacks in Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart.  As a result, he never started one game at quarterback and only threw 33 passes over the course of his four seasons there.

It must have came as a surprise to him that he was selected in the seventh round by the New England Patriots to backup future Hall of Famer Tom Brady. Little did Cassel know that while throwing passes to standout wide receivers during USC’s pro-day workouts that he would catch the eyes of Patriots scouts, resulting in him being drafted.

After Brady, the 2007 NFL MVP, went down with a torn ACL in the first quarter of the season, the former Trojan stepped onto the field and led New England to an 11-win season, resulting in his trade to Kansas City and a big payday along with it.

The story of recently retired UFC fighter Kenny Florian is a similar one that took place in a similar locale.

In 2004, UFC president Dana White returned home to Boston for a vacation to get away from the fight game and relax. He had no intentions of doing anything fighting related; however, when he learned that a fight was taking place involving Drew Fickett, a fighter who was being considered for season one of The Ultimate Fighter, White checked it out.

After 15 minutes, Fickett was awarded a split decision victory, only the UFC president disagreed with the judges and thought that his opponent, some fighter by the name of Kenny Florian, won the fight.  White went backstage and invited Florian to try out for the first season of the reality show, and the rest is history.

Growing up in Dover, Mass., MMA may not have been the initial path for Florian. He was a standout soccer player in high school and went on to play for Boston College. Some time after he graduated, however, he found interest in MMA as he worked for and achieved his black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, which segued him further and further towards the sport.

He seized the moment while spending his time on the reality show, working his way around having to fight until the semi-finals due to the format of the show at the time, and unleashed vicious elbows which cut the face of Chris Leben and caused the end of the fight due to a doctor stoppage. Even though he lost to Diego Sanchez in the finals, Florian was a key cog in the machine that not only churned out some outstanding fighters, but a machine that gets credit for saving not only the future of the company, but the future of the sport.

From there, the Bostonian went on to have an elite career despite the fact that he never won a title. Florian was victorious in 12 of his 17 appearances inside the Octagon. Only twice in his time with the UFC did he win on the judges’ scorecards, amassing eight victories by submission and two by TKO. Not only did he do all of this over the course of six years, but he did it over the span of four different weight classes.  While on The Ultimate Fighter, Florian fought at middleweight despite fighting all of his previous fights at welterweight.  He gradually found his way from 185 pounds to his true home at lightweight, where he fought 11 times.

When he lost to Gray Maynard at UFC 118 by unanimous decision, he decided to drop to his fourth and final weight class of featherweight. While he went 1-1 at 145 pounds, it really turned out to be a flawed experiment because ultimately it was just too much of a weight cut. He handled Diego Nunes in his first fight there, and looked strong early while challenging UFC champion Jose Aldo, only to fade late.

The biggest knock on “KenFlo” is how people always categorized him as “always the bridesmaid, never the bride.” But honestly, those who say that about him are flat out wrong. Sure, Florian went 0-3 in UFC title fights and lost the finale of the first season of TUF, but the fact that he was able to climb back up the mountain so many times after being knocked off of it time after time truly shows the heart that the Boston College alum holds. Fighters like Roger Huerta and Joe Stevenson, both of whom lost to Florian inside the Octagon, were near the top or in direct title contention, only to fade and fizzle away after getting knocked off the mountain. Not Florian. He was too strong willed to not come back and continue to battle.

It was that exact warrior spirit that led to his retirement, because after returning to train a month after he lost to Aldo, he couldn’t go at it 100 percent due to an aching back. He spent time rehabbing it and worked his way back to training, only to injure the back again recently, which was the catalyst for retirement. At this level of competition, everyone enters the cage hurt, but not everyone enters it injured. Had Florian continued to fight, he would have been fighting injured, and that ultimately led him to hang up the gloves.

With the deal that put the UFC on the Fox family of networks, Florian is by no means done with the company or the sport. He was signed on to provide color commentary alongside Jon Anik for fight cards that take place on FX and Fuel TV, as well as co-host UFC Tonight. He currently owns and operates Florian Martial Arts Center in Brookline, Mass., and plans on opening a second gym in Los Angeles.

Sometimes, all you need in life is to be at the right place at the right time. Such was the case with Matt Cassel, and so too was the case with Florian.

But there is a difference between getting your lucky break, and making the most of it. Like Cassel, Florian made the most of his. In the process, he turned himself from a guy who fought in a local ballroom to a guy who will have a long career behind the microphone. Look for him to provide expert analysis and opinions from the perspective of a fighter who performed well and gave it all inside the cage.  It’s fitting that “KenFlo’s” first time commentating as a retired fighter came at The Ultimate Fighter finale, considering it is the show where he got his start.

Photo: Kenny Florian (Rob Tatum/The MMA Corner)

About The Author

Brian McKenna
Staff Writer

Brian McKenna was born and raised in the suburbs of Boston, Massachusetts. A sports nut from as long as he can remember, he came to be a fan of Mixed Martial Arts from a roommate watching The Ultimate Fighter while attending Westfield State College. Brian came to writing by starting his own blog, Four Down Territory, which focuses on Boston based sports, life, and of course MMA.