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Ultimate fighter Kenny Florian ’99
It’s August 28, and Kenny Florian steps onto the floor of Boston’s TD Garden, home to the Bruins and Celtics. The public address system blares Florian’s choice of music—the Dropkick Murphys’ frenetic rendition of the Boston College anthem “For Boston”—and the capacity crowd roars.
Florian, five feet 10 inches and 155 pounds, is a competitor in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), a mixed martial arts (MMA) league that in 2008 Forbes magazine estimated was worth more than $1 billion. He’s on the card to fight former Michigan State All-American wrestler Gray “The Bully” Maynard for a shot at the UFC lightweight title. The two will enter a 750-square-foot octagonal chain-link cage, barefoot and armed with four-ounce gloves.
A communication major and varsity soccer midfielder in college, Florian took up Brazilian jiu jitsu, which stresses grappling as opposed to punching and kicking, while an undergraduate, eventually earning his black belt from a gym in Newton. After graduation, he found work translating financial services documents into Spanish and Portuguese for a local company, continuing to fight in national and international Brazilian jiu jitsu and grappling competitions. In 2002, he shifted to mixed martial arts. “I did it more as a test of my Brazilian jiu jitsu than out of any desire to be a mixed martial artist,” he says. “This was something different. . . . You were going to get punched, you were going to get kicked.”
After just four bouts (of which Florian won three), the president of UFC invited him to join the league’s new reality TV competition, The Ultimate Fighter. Florian lost in the final round of the show’s tournament but gained a UFC contract.
Heading into his Boston fight against the undefeated Maynard, Florian had amassed an 11–2 UFC record. He came up short against Maynard, losing by unanimous decision, but three weeks later, after a visit to Peru—where his parents were born—he was back in the gym, looking “to crush my training” for a bout early next year.
In April 2008, Florian started a side career as an analyst for ESPN2’s MMA Live. Soon, he and his brother opened a gym in Brookline, the Florian Martial Arts Center. “Some guys, all they have is fighting,” Florian says. “I knew if it didn’t work out I could do something else with my life. . . . It’s always given me the confidence to go for it in mixed martial arts.”
Read more by Tim Czerwienski