When the Ultimate Fighter season one runner-up Kenny Florian steps into the Octagon this Saturday at UFC 131, he’ll be 40 lbs. lighter than he was for his UFC debut over six years ago. When Florian takes on Diego Nunes in the featherweight division, he’ll become the first ever MMA fighter to compete in four different weight classes.
Florian entered the first season of the Ultimate Fighter with a record of 3-1, coming off a split decision lose to Drew Fickett. He competed on the reality show at middleweight (185 lbs.) where he defeated Chris Leben to advance to the finale against Diego Sanchez. The bigger Sanchez went on to defeat Florian by 1st round TKO in the Ultimate Fighter season one finale, which many attribute to be the moment the promotion and sports broke out.
Four months later at the UFC Ultimate Fight Night, Florian returned to the Octagon 15 pounds lighter against Alex Karalexis in the welterweight (170 lbs.) division. Florian would get his first win in the UFC with a 2nd round TKO via a doctor stoppage (cut). Staying at the welterweight division Florian then defeated Kit Cope by 2nd round submission just three months later.
At UFC 58 (March 4, 2006) the UFC brought back the lightweight division that had been suspended over 17 months ago at UFC 49.
With the lightweight (155 lbs.) division now available to Florian, he once again dropped down a weight class and took on Sam Stout at the Ultimate Fighter 3 finale. Now at his third different Division, Florian was getting top billing on a UFC card for the first time. He made the most of the opportunity by submitting Stout just 106 seconds into the bout by rear naked choke, impressing the UFC enough to give him a shot at the vacant lightweight title at UFC 64.
Standing across from him was Sean Sherk, who was making his return to the UFC lightweight division after five fights at welterweight. Despite a nasty cut from an elbow, Sherk used his wrestling background to control Florian in one of the bloodiest title fights ever, winning a unanimous decision.
The championship fight defeat brought on change for Florian in his training, improving in the area’s Sherk had exposed and coming out a much better mixed martial artist.
For the next 22 months Florian tore through the division, winning six consecutive fights against top names like Roger Huerta and Joe Stevenson. The impressive run had once again put the Massachusetts native back at the top of the division against BJ Penn for his second chance at gold. Unfortunately the results were wouldn’t change from the first shot and Florian was forced to tap by the “Prodigy” in the 4th round via rear naked choke.
The loss gave Florian the stigma of a great fighter that just could not win in the big fights.
Learning from the defeat once again, Florian reeled off two submission wins against Clay Guida and Takanori Gomi. Having beaten nearly everyone in the stacked lightweight division, Florian now faced the Ultimate Fighter 5 winner Gray Maynard, who was 9-0 at the time. Before the fight UFC president Dana White announced that the winner of their fight would get a title shot against Frankie Edgar, who had just defeated BJ Penn twice.
Staring at yet another title shot, Florian took on Maynard at UFC 118 in his home state of Massachusetts. Despite looking good with his striking, Florian was taken down at will by the Xtreme Couture trained Maynard who would cruise to a unanimous decision win, thus earning the title shot with Edgar.
Now being labeled as a “choker” by many including Dana White, the big fight Stigma being carried by Florian had grown larger.
On February 7, 2011 Florian announced that he would be moving down to featherweight and it was later announced that his 145 pound debut against Diego Nunes at UFC 131 on June 11th. Now fighting in his fourth weight class Florian could be one fight away from his third title shot as Dana White has hinted that should he win he’d most likely get a title shot. Welcoming him to the division will be the very tough Nunes (16-1) who is coming off a win against the former champion Mike Brown and riding a three fight winning streak.
With a featherweight debut and possible title shot looming, plus the “big fight” stigma that has plagued him throughout his UFC career, Florian has his hand full. But with his wealth of MMA experience that included 15 fights in the UFC, across multiple divisions Florian will look to get another shoot at gold.
Record per Division: