Kenny Florian will transform once again and enter the 145-pound trenches. | Photo: Joe Harrington/Sherdog.com
Kenny Florian is about to break new ground.
After spending the majority of his UFC career at lightweight, the Massachusetts native will make his featherweight debut against well-rounded and world-ranked Brazilian Diego Nunes at UFC 131 “Dos Santos vs. Carwin” on Saturday at the Rogers Arena in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
Florian has long been considered one of the more technical fighters in the game, but brute strength has never been the 35-year-old’s strong suit. That might not be the case much longer.
In preparation for his bout with Nunes, Florian has dedicated himself to an unprecedented amount of strength and conditioning training, a fact that could pay major dividends come fight night. Following an August defeat to Gray Maynard, which cost Florian a shot at Frankie Edgar’s lightweight strap, the fighter was scheduled to return to action against Evan Dunham at UFC 126 in February. However, Florian suffered a knee injury that forced him out of the match and into rehab.
As his injury prevented him from hitting the mat room, Florian instead hit the weights under the watchful eye on Jonathan Chaimberg, owner of Adrenaline Performance Center in Montreal.
“After Kenny’s knee injury, he started with his strength and conditioning right away. I’ve been working with him probably the longest in the camp, because he wasn’t allowed to do that much grappling or wrestling [right away],” Chaimberg tells Sherdog.com. “So he was basically just trying to get big and strong and didn’t know if he would go to 145 [pounds].”
Florian -- who debuted with the UFC in 2005 as a blown-up middleweight during the seminal season of “The Ultimate Fighter” reality series -- eventually made the call to drop to featherweight, and as the health of his knee improved, so did the diversity and intensity of his training.
“With Kenny, he has always [had] very good cardiovascular [fitness], but he was always really lacking in his strength and in his wrestling, so those were two aspects that we really needed to focus on in this camp,” says Chaimberg. “He really addressed his wrestling situation. He’s been wrestling like a madman, which, in turn, has gotten him some basic strength, and it’s also given us the ability to work [specifically] on his strength and his power. It [sounds] kind of crazy because he’s going down in weight, but he’ll be significantly stronger than he’s ever been in his life. So it’s kind of exciting as long as he makes weight.”
The fighter continued his growth over the course of the camp, shocking even his coach with his drastic improvements between training sessions.
“Honestly, he surprised me in the gym a couple of times, and Kenny never surprises me. [In the past], I was impressed with some of the cardiovascular stuff he did, but he would never push a large amount of weight on a sled or do a max set of an exercise that would [impress] me,” says Chaimberg. “But this camp, pretty much every time we met up, he was impressing me with how strong he was getting, even as he was getting lighter.”
A problem soon arose, however, complicating the continual strides being made in the strength department. Though the southpaw was building strength that he had previously never known, he was also failing to shed the pounds required to make the featherweight limit.
“Kenny stayed heavy for a lot longer than he wanted to,” Chaimberg says. “He got a bit nervous, because it’s his first time at 145 [pounds]. Obviously, if you’re going somewhere that you’ve never been before, it’s a challenge.”
Chaimberg asserts that neither he nor Florian’s nutritionist, George Lockhart, expressed worry that Florian would fail to hit his contracted mark, but the pair still adjusted Florian’s training as the camp wore on to address the fighter’s concerns.
“We had to adjust, which we normally wouldn’t have to do. We had to cut down a bit of his strength protocol because he was actually getting very strong, but he was keeping too much muscle on his frame,” says Chaimberg. “We had to give [Kenny] a bit more cardio and help him take some of the weight off, as
opposed to keeping him muscular.”
Florian’s training regimen was not the only facet undergoing changes. Lockhart, a sergeant in the Marine Corps famous for heading Brian Stann’s cut to middleweight, also regularly altered Florian’s diet to meet the fighter’s needs.
“I absolutely [changed his diet regularly]. You have to constantly monitor the diet and monitor the reactions of the body,” says Lockhart. “You want to build muscle, but it needs to be very sport-specific, because muscles use a lot of oxygen. That’s why, especially in the earlier UFCs, you’d see big, muscular guys gas out.”
In fact, Lockhart asserts that fighters under his guidance follow a specific, tailored diet designed to help them reach their various goals, and Florian is no different.
“We have very specific ratios. We have a program that we send out with fighters, and each one is specific for [each individual],” says Lockhart. “They type in the intensity of their workout on a scale of one to 10 and then the duration of the workout, and it tells them exactly how many carbs and protein they need to take and when they need to take it. A lot of nutritionists think that [the specific ratios] only amount to a minute difference, but as anybody who has ever cut weight will tell you, two ounces might as well be 50 pounds.
“The fighters will text me their weights every morning,” he adds. “Body weight fluctuates, so a lot of nutritionists will say to weigh yourself once a week, but in this case, by having them weigh themselves each morning, I have a strong indication of how the fighters’ bodies are responding to certain foods and certain workouts. With that information, when it comes time to cut weight, I can tell them exactly what foods to eat to cut the weight while still keeping them strong.”
Cutting weight is a necessary aspect of the fight game for most competitors, Florian included. According to Chaimberg, “KenFlo” has typically spent the day of the weigh-in cutting about five pounds in the sauna to reach the lightweight limit of 155 pounds. Chaimberg expects the featherweight cut to mimic that of previous bouts, as he asserts that Florian will likely once again sweat out about five pounds in the hotbox.
However, Lockhart says the use of the sauna can typically be avoided if the fighter so chooses.
“This is my first weight cut with Kenny, so it will take some dialing in, but with most fighters, I can get them to cut 20-some-odd pounds without hitting the sauna. The first time, there might be a five-pound difference or something,” says Lockhart. “It just depends on the fighter. Some guys love to eat, and they don’t mind cutting five pounds in the sauna. Some guys hate the sauna, so we have to cut back [on the calorie intake].”
Regardless of how the two-time lightweight title contender makes the weight, both coaches agree that Nunes will likely face the strongest Florian to date.
“I really think Kenny is going to be a monster at 145 [pounds]. He’s actually gotten stronger, and his reach will be longer [by comparison] at featherweight,” says Lockhart. “He’s also going to be quicker, because he’ll weigh less. Being a really big 145-pounder, he’s got every advantage you could think of.”