Kenny Florian: Where Does He Rank Among the Lightweight Greats?

Anthony GannonContributor IIIJune 12, 2012

Kenny Florian: Where Does He Rank Among the Lightweight Greats?

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    Perennial title contender and fan favorite Kenny Florian retired from the sport of MMA last week after battling back pain for most of his career.

    Kenny had attained a MMA record of 14-6, competing for the great majority of his career in the UFC since being a finalist on the inaugural season of The Ultimate Fighter.

    Kenny is the only fighter in UFC history to ever compete in four different weight categories, going into the TUF house as a middleweight, then gradually working his way down to featherweight. Who knows, with a little more time, and perhaps the amputation of a limb, Kenny may have tried his hand in the new flyweight division.

    He would earn himself title shots on three different occasions, coming up short every time.

    But let that not tarnish the legacy of Florian. He was a great fighter, a great personality and continues to be—through his duties as a commentator—a great ambassador for the sport.

    And let us not be unappreciative of the fact that Kenny looks more like an economics professor than a fighter. In an age of quantity over quality, tattoos and manufactured eccentricity, a guy who looks so unassuming but can whoop some serious tail is a refreshing sight.

Where He Ranks

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    It's difficult to rank athletes of different eras. Double down on that for MMA.

    In the brief history of the sport, it's evolved so rapidly that comparing a fighter of the 90's to a fighter of today is completely unfair. Royce Gracie was the godfather of the UFC. But the Royce of 1993 would get demolished by the Top 15 welterweights of today, and stopping at 15 is being generous.

    So where does Kenny stack up? Based on skill, style and era, I'd say he's hovering around the back end of the Top 15 lightweights.

    Florian defeated Gomi, but that was a Gomi in decline. He would destroy Aoki and the Jens Pulver of yesteryear; although a prime Sakurai may have given him some problems. He would never have beaten BJ Penn, but no shame in that game.

    No, it's senseless to try and rank fighters of different eras.

    All we can be sure of is that Kenny was a great fighter who would have been a tough night out for anyone who isn't the very best of the best. That makes Kenny Florian a prized asset to the MMA world, and one we should always appreciate, regardless of numerical ranking.

Title Shots

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    Kenny would receive three title shots during his UFC tenure: two at lightweight, both of which he lost, to Sean Sherk and BJ Penn, and then one at featherweight, which he lost to Jose Aldo. He also lost a title eliminator fight to Gray Maynard.

    All that prompted Dana White to accuse Kenny of choking in the big fight. But that’s a hasty reaction. Look at the opponents. Aldo and BJ are both all-time greats, and it doesn’t get much better than those two at the top of their games. Sherk and Maynard are both bruising wrestlers; just the type Kenny has always had a hard time with. Kenny didn’t choke. He was simply outgunned by better fighters or rough stylistic matchups.

    The fact that Kenny never won a title should not diminish the weight of his accomplishments. He spent five years at the top of the heap in the world’s most prestigious MMA organization. That in itself is pretty damn impressive.

Skills

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    Kenny was a fighter who made the most of the talent he was blessed with. Always the consummate professional, Florian used hard work to take his God-given gifts as far as they could possibly go.

    He wasn’t the strongest guy in the world, so he made up for that with technique. He wasn’t the quickest striker in the world, so he made up for that with movement and diversity. He wasn’t the most naturally gifted athlete in the world, so he made up for that with intelligence. Kenny was a fighter who recognized his faults, did everything he could to improve on them and used his brains to exploit his opponent’s faults while shielding his own.

    After losing to Maynard, Kenny didn’t complain like some guys do about wrestlers holding him down. He said he needed to get better at wrestling. Imagine that, personal responsibility.

    Kenny was the whole package: striking, BJJ and, though he didn’t come from a wrestling background, his steady progression in that area was obvious throughout his career.

    He may not have been the best in any particular area, but Kenny was better than average in most and combined all those skills to become a potent force in arguably the sport’s deepest division.

Personality

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    Kenny became well-known not only for his in-cage ferocity, but his commentating skills as well. In 2010, ESPN launched a mixed martial arts show called MMA Live. Alongside host Jon Anik and recurrent know-it-all Franklin McNeil, Florian was an integral member of the cast.

    In the beginning, Kenny had a rough time, stumbling over words and spewing out a whole mess of “ums,” but eventually he got to a point where he seemed like a natural in the broadcasting booth. Once the tenseness subsided, what shined was Kenny’s personality.

    Kenny was a genuine good guy. He didn’t talk trash, and in a sport where fame and fortune hinge on that, it was a welcome change to see a guy simply offering his expert opinion in a mild-mannered, professional style.

    With a warm smile, an affable aura and a honest sense of humor, Kenny presented himself as a most welcome presence on the show.

    Thankfully, the UFC took notice of that and made Kenny a commentator. Hopefully, Florian stays involved in the sport for a long time to come.  

Finishing Ability

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    Who can ever forget Kenny’s post-fight declaration after submitting Alvin Robinson via strikes, “I finish fights!”

    MMA fans love a finisher. Some guys just don’t have it. Some do.

    Kenny did.

    Of his 12 UFC wins, 10 of those were stoppages: eight by submission and two by TKO.

    That’s a pretty phenomenal 83 percent finishing rate in a major organization, which puts him right up there at the top in that regard.

    Of course, finishing fights isn’t everything. A great fight that goes the distance can be just as electrifying. But let’s be honest here, finishing is a major factor in how we judge fighters. If it wasn’t, GSP wouldn’t catch all the flack he does.

    Finishing is about taking risks. It’s about going for it. And Kenny Florian went for it.

Legacy

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    Kenny never wore a belt, and he will probably never be inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame. I'm not even arguing that he should be.

    But he does have a legacy.

    His legacy will be one of hard work, professionalism, determination and decorum.That's right, decorum.

    In today's sporting world, decorum doesn't seem to rank very high in admirable traits. But it matters. It matters if MMA is going to reach that next level.

    With so many fighters taking to Twitter to make tasteless rape jokes or spout off homophobic and misogynistic idiocy, it matters more than ever.

    Kenny always conducted himself with respect: respect for his team, for his opponents, for himself and for the sport.

    Add that to his in-cage accomplishments, and that's a legacy worth celebrating.