UFC 131 proved to be one of the better pay-per-view cards that Zuffa has put together in quite a long time. The event was chalk full of exciting fights and memorable moments. So how did Boston, Mass. product Kenny 'Ken-Flo' Florian steal the show?
Leading up to Saturday night, Florian's career was in turmoil. Though possessing a very impressive 14-5 record (prior to his last fight), Florian had lost 2 of his last 4 fights, and was easily manhandled by Gray Maynard in his last fight.
After doing some serious soul-searching, Florian decided that he needed to cut weight and move down to the UFC's featherweight division if he was going to make a serious title run.
Initially, the move made a lot of sense. Florian had never been one of the bigger 155'ers, and had problems with some of the division's bulkier fighters.
That being said and considered, there were many who were very critical of the move down. Florian's critics accused him of moving down in an act of cowardice. The same critics were also openly skeptical of Florian's ability to make the weight cut down to 145 pounds. If you missed it, 'The Underground Forum' had a somewhat entertaining (probably not to Florian) thread comparing Ken-Flo to Christian Bale's character in the movie 'The Machinist' (view the thread HERE).
I admit, I personally thought he looked emaciated and drawn out at the weigh-ins. I was concerned about whether it was healthy for him, and if he'd have the stamina to make it three rounds.
On Saturday night, Florian silenced us all (including an arena full of over-zealous Vancouver Canuck fans who boo'ed him over the fact that he was from Boston). Florian looked fantastic in his bout against featherweight phenom Diego Nunes. Though many felt Florian may have lost the first round (due to Nunes activity near the end of the round), no one could dispute the fact that he dominated round 2 and 3 on his way to a very nice decision win.
So where does Florian go from here? It would be easy to give way to the temptation on jump aboard the 'Florian Hype Train'. I won't go that far. It was Nunes' first UFC fight (EDIT: This was his 2nd UFC fight - my mistake). Not only was he working through a ton of nerves, he clearly has a ton of work to do on his wrestling and takedown defense. I'm not ready to give Florian an automatic pass to the title fight just yet.
Interestingly enough, Ariel Helwani reported Friday that Japanese fighter Hatsu Hioki is negotiating with UFC brass, and may soon make his home in the octagon. During his interview with Helwani, Hioki said he'd like to fight sometime in September or October. Perfect. Florian can absolutely be ready by then. It's a fight that I think a lot of fans would love to see.
The issue becomes: 'Who will be the next opponent for Jose Aldo Jr.?' I say let him rest. Apparently he is battling some past injuries and needs to heal up. Let him heal. Let Mendes fight Yahya in August as planned. Have Florian fight Hioki in September. The more impressive winner gets the title shot against Aldo in December or January. It's a timeline that I think can work.
It will certainly be interesting to see how it plays out, but one thing is for certain; I won't be counting Kenny Florian out anytime soon in the near future.