Dropping Knowledge: Kenny Florian Breaks Down 'TUF Nations' Finale

Duane Finley@duanefinleymmaContributor IApril 14, 2014

The team of analysts for the UFC on Fox Sports 1 and Fox broadcasts has been providing the most in-depth coverage that mixed martial arts has seen in its 20 years of existence.

With a collection of seasoned fight veterans and a handful of well-versed hosts at the helm, the people working the pre- and post-fight shows for the UFC have consistently raised the bar.

Throughout his years battling inside the Octagon, Kenny Florian was one of the most active fighters on the UFC roster. The Massachusetts native competed in multiple weight classes and contended for numerous titles during his run on the sport's biggest stage and earned a reputation for being as game as they come where mixing it up inside the cage is concerned.

The resume he built was certainly impressive, but "Ken Flo" made the decision to hang up his gloves and brought his fighting career to an end in late 2011. Yet, while he could have filled his days after fighting with sunny beaches in tropical locales, Florian wasted zero time jumping back into the fray on the opposite side of the Octagon.

The man widely regarded to have the best hair in MMA has kept his schedule on full tilt as he has split time between commentary duties cage side with Jon Anik and co-hosting UFC Tonight with former multidivisional title challenger Chael Sonnen on Fox Sports 1. In addition to those commitments, Florian has dropped in on this column from time to time to share his insight with the Bleacher Report readers on upcoming cards on the UFC docket.

This is what he had say when asked about The Ultimate Fighter Nations finale.


Bleacher Report: The main event on this card between Michael Bisping and Tim Kennedy has drawn a lot of attention in the lead-up to the fight, and let's start right there at the top of the billing. There are numerous angles and storylines that have fed into this rivalry, but the stylistic matchup between these two fighters has run a bit under the radar.

Bisping and Kennedy do what they do very well, but both are somewhat underappreciated for the skills they posses. How do you see this fighting playing out stylistically, and do you agree these guys get overlooked for their talents?

Kenny Florian: I definitely think these are two underrated fighters and two of the top middleweights in the world. Michael Bisping, of course, has a big name, and I think that is why Tim Kennedy wanted this fight. Also, I think their grudge is pretty much real. I don't think they like each other very much, and they both have something to gain in this fight. Kennedy is looking to beat someone with a higher ranking, and Bisping wants to shut him up.

This fight is also important for Bisping because it is going to allow him to get back into the cage and get back to work after being out with the eye injury. He is eager to get back to fighting and doing what he does best, and I think we are going to get a great fight because of it.

On a technical breakdown, Kennedy is the better grappler and Bisping is the more technical striker. I think Bisping has a great ability to land a lot of volume and get in and out without taking a lot of damage. I also think he's a very underrated wrestler. He's a tough guy to put on his back, and if you do get him there, he's great at getting back to his feet and not allowing you to secure advantages while he's on the mat. That's going to be crucial for Kennedy to do but a very difficult task at the same time.

Kennedy might be able to take him down, but it's going to be on Kennedy to control him from there. Kennedy has an unbelievable ground game, and he's very strong. Both of these guys come in very fit, and I don't think we are going to see any conditioning problems from either of them.

Kennedy has been hyping up the fight with videos and trash talk, and there is going to be that emotional factor to deal with. We haven't seen Kennedy really do that in the past—certainly not at this level at least—and Tim has to have the ability to shut that out and go out there and do what he does best. He needs to go out there to compete and fight hard, and I think we are going to get a great fight.


B/R: Throughout his career, Bisping has proved to have great footwork and has shown a heavy reliance on his jab. In this matchup with Kennedy he is going to have the speed advantage and will most likely stick to the format he's found so much success with. That said, in some of Kennedy's previous fights like the one with Luke Rockhold, he struggled against an opponent who was able to keep him at range.

Kennedy eventually became frustrated in that fight, and do you think the tools Bisping uses have the capability of giving the decorated War Hero fits in Quebec City?

KF: I absolutely think Bisping's style could present problems for Kennedy, but I think the key is going to be Tim's head movement. He needs to get off that center line, find angles and frustrate Bisping as well. I think he has to shut down that jab. Bisping does everything off that jab, and if you can shut that down and take it away, it is really going to be hard for Bisping to set everything else.

On the flip side, Kennedy also needs to be able to pressure Bisping. One of the things that makes this fight interesting is the potential problems each fighter's style could present for the other. This is going to be a tough fight for both of these guys, and I wouldn't be surprised if we see a five-round close decision here.


B/R: This fight will mark the end of a long layoff for Bisping as he's been on the sidelines dealing with a serious situation involving his eye. Injuries are always tough to come back from, but anytime the eyes are involved, the severity jumps up a few notches.

How much do you think the situation surrounding his eye is going to be a factor in this fight, and do you believe it could cause Bisping to come out hesitant?

KF: I assume Michael has been doing a ton of sparring, and I don't foresee that being a big issue. But taking that first big shot and taking a kick without shin guards for the first time is going to be a big issue he's going to have to deal with. You do have a point there, and Bisping is going to have to get used to that feeling again. He's going to have to find his confidence as the fight goes, and that could be a tricky thing. When he takes that first hard shot, that is going to be somewhat of a challenge, but Bisping has been there many, many times before. I know that he's been rocked in other fights and has found a way to come back.

That said, it could be something Tim Kennedy could capitalize on. Kennedy could find an opportunity if Bisping takes that hard shot and is trying to recover. That could be a factor for him, and it is going to be a tricky thing.

Also, being out of the cage for as long as Bisping has can be difficult. I had the chance to ask him about that this week, and he said it is not going to be an issue. He stressed that he's been competing his entire life and has been in combat sports for a long time and he's ready to go. But I think we are definitely going to have some questions answered on Wednesday night.


B/R: Two of the biggest moments on this card will come when two more competitors are named "the next Ultimate Fighter" when the tournament finals from the season are completed. Sheldon Westcott and Elias Theodorou will trade leather to determine who wins the middleweight contract, while Chad Laprise and Olivier Aubin-Mercier will settle things in the welterweight division. This is a unique situation, and one you have experience in as you fought Diego Sanchez in the finals for the inaugural tournament.

What kind of emotions are these fighters dealing with heading into Wednesday night?

KF: It's huge for these guys. I can't explain how nervous and how crazy it was when I was in there for my season finale heading in against Diego Sanchez. This is the biggest fight of their lives. They kind of need to focus on what they need to do technically in the fight. To start thinking about how big of an opportunity it is, how much money they can make and who will be watching at home are all mistakes I made going into my fight.

They have to go out there and just focus on the task at hand. They have to keep their minds on the fight and beating their opponent. That is the main thing. They will have to keep their emotions in check and realize it is going to be very different from fighting in the house. 

When you are fighting in the house there are not a lot of people around. There are maybe 20 people on hand to watch the fights. This is going to be very different. There are going to be thousands of people in the arena and a lot more noise. The scene backstage is going to be very different, and everything from the weigh-ins to fight night is going to be on a totally different level. These are all things that are very new to them, and they are going to have to take it in stride and keep their emotions in check.


B/R: Let's talk about the co-main event between the coaches from this season, Kyle Noke and Patrick Cote. Noke will be looking to start a new chapter in his career at welterweight, while Cote is eager to take the next step in his resurgence.

How crucial is this fight for both of these guys at this particular juncture of their respective careers?

KF: It's a very important fight for both of these guys. Obviously, the 170-pound division is stacked right now. The way the division is going with how many quality guys are in the division; every fight matters right now. Every fight matters regardless, but the situation at 170 pounds has things amplified. Look at a guy like Jake Shields, who was recently released by the UFC. You are going to have to be on top of your game every time out and winning is of the utmost importance.

On top of that, you are going to have to be exciting, and the Shields situation is a reminder to everyone out there that it goes beyond just winning now. You are going to have to be exciting in your wins, and I think both Noke and Cote understand the importance of this not only rankings wise, but to keep their jobs with the UFC.


B/R: Staying with the theme you just mentioned, there is a big fight on the preliminary portion of the card between Sam Stout and K.J. Noons. Not long ago both of these fighters were on the positive side of things at 155 pounds, but things have taken a turn for them over their past several fights that have their backs against the wall.

Would you say the pressure is equally on both guys for this fight?

KF: For sure. This fight is a great example of how fast this sport is evolving. There are a lot of other fighters people are talking about nowadays, and they are kind of forgetting about excellent fighters like Sam Stout and K.J. Noons. Again, the 155-pound division is similar to the 170-pound division where there are a ton of quality fighters and there is little room for error. I think it's the largest division in the UFC, and the most competitive in my opinion. That creates a situation where the pressure will be on both of these guys going into this fight.


B/R: Over the last two years things have really heated up in the featherweight division, and Dustin Poirier has been one of the fighters helping push it into the spotlight. That said, when his next fight was announced against Akira Corassani it seemed to be a strange pairing. Poirier is a staple in the top 10 of the division, and Corassani is nowhere near him in the rankings.

This is a dangerous fight for both men, but do you see it as a bout where there is an equal amount of risk and reward for both? Or do you see a situation where Corassani is facing a tremendous amount of upside if he can get the win?

KF: For Poirier, I think the rest of the top 145-pound fighters who are ranked above him are all scheduled for fights in the coming weeks or months. I think Poirier just wanted a fight, and there are a lot of positives in beating a guy like Corassani, who is very good and very experienced. I think that is a tough fight regardless of who is ranked where. Poirier is still young, and this is a great opportunity to get some more experience and potentially a tough win over a guy like Corassani.

For Akira, if he beats Poirier, he elevates his ranking tremendously. This is a huge fight for him and what a way for him to elevate his status in the UFC with a win over Poirier.


Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand, unless noted otherwise. 


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