He arrived to the scene on the first season of The Ultimate Fighter. He departed with 12 career Octagon victories and one of the greatest legacies known to mankind.

Enter Kenny Florian.

A seven-year veteran of the UFC, Florian was known for his ability to outsmart his opponent through his knowledge and understanding of the sport. He was considered smooth as ice, but twice as nice. While some may believe he never fit the part, Florian’s skills were never up for debate.

But after battling a back injury for more than six months, the all-time great was forced to call an end to a historical career. With added stress and his back against the wall, Florian stared retirement right in the eyes. It was time.

Kenny Florian (L) battles Jose Aldo (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

“It was one of the toughest decisions I ever had to make,” Florian told The MMA Corner in an exclusive interview. “I’ve been battling with this [back] injury since the end of 2011. I had people telling me that I shouldn’t be fighting anymore.

“It was one of those decisions that I really had to battle back and forth with. A lot of it was mental. It was the mental aspect of giving up fighting, the thing I love to do. It wasn’t just giving up fighting, but the whole lifestyle that the sport provides you with. It was like you had your schedule set for the rest of your life. It got to the point where you didn’t know what day it was, you just knew you would be training. Giving up the training three times a day was tough, it’s something you’ll always miss.”

But like with many professional athletes, the love of the game often brings an individual back to the limelight for one last shot at greatness. We saw it with NBA great Michael Jordan. We’ve seen it happen with Brett Favre on numerous occasions. The question that remains in the world of MMA, will we see it happen with Florian?

“Over the years I’ve learned to never say never, but I don’t know man. One thing’s for sure, I’m always going to be a competitive person. Whether I’m 36 years old or 66 years old. That’s something that will always be inside me and in my blood. Right now my goal is to get healthy and to be able to train with my students,” said Florian. “That’s where I’m at right now.”

While Florian fans would certainly enjoy one last run at UFC gold, it’s likely Florian has already set his name in the record books as an all-time great. Even without the prized possession of a title, Florian’s accomplishments and charity to the sport will always be recognized as second to none.

We will always remember his Ultimate Fighter Season 1 Finale loss to Diego Sanchez. We’ll remember his six-fight winning streak where he knocked off notable opponents in Joe Stevenson, Roger Huerta, Joe Lauzon and Din Thomas. We’ll remember him falling short to B.J. Penn and Jose Aldo, and of course his submission victory over Clay Guida at UFC 107.

But as Florian reflects on his memorable career, no win came bigger than his submission victory over Takanori Gomi at UFC Fight Night: Florian vs. Gomi in March of 2010.

Kenny Florian (R) battles Diego Nunes (Jeremy Botter/Heavy MMA)

“There’s been so many great times over the years. The wins have been great and even in the losses there has been some great experiences. But fighting Takanori Gomi was always a  dream of mine. I always wanted to fight one of Japan’s best fighters,” recalled Florian.

“He was a guy I looked up to when I was watching the sport. Having the chance to fight and beat Takanori was a dream come true for me.”

While Florian is no longer able to tie on the gloves or even keep up with his old training habits, his love for mixed martial arts will never fade. It’s that same love that ignited Florian to push onward when the rest of the world said he couldn’t. Even retirement will not keep Florian away from the sport as he now fulfills duties as a color commentator for the UFC.

Florian is often seen analyzing some of the sport’s biggest events alongside of long-time commentator Jon Anik.

“I just love the sport so much and it’s always fun to watch others perform. Just being able to talk about the sport is exciting in itself. I want to be able to educate all the hard-core fans and even the newer fans. I want people to know how much love, dedication, and strategy goes into this sport,” said Florian. “Being able to do this with a guy like Jon Anik is pretty cool.”

“I’m still trying to be the best that I can be.”

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

  • Rachel Childs

    I would love to see Kenny come back for one last run. He deserves to be a champion.

    • Garrett Derr, Interview Coordinator