Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Fall from cliff focuses Boston fighter on mixed martial arts career

By: Neil Davidson

(CP) - It took a headfirst fall off a cliff to get mixed martial arts fighter Kenny Florian's attention.

In 2003, Florian fell while mountain climbing in Brazil. He dropped five metres, landing on a rounded rock. "When I got up, I looked where I was and I was just at the edge of another very high cliff, so I was pretty damn lucky," Florian recalled in an interview. "If I didn't fall on that rock, I definitely would have fallen a couple of hundred feet surely to my death.

"It was one of those things where you come to appreciate life very quickly and you realize how fragile life is and you only have so much time here."

So the former Boston College soccer player decided to focus on his jiu-jitsu and MMA career, giving up his job as senior project manager of a firm that translated financial reports.

"I didn't want to be that old guy in the rocking chair saying 'I could have done that, I should have done that,"' Florian explained. "I wanted to know that I tried it, I did my best and it was something that made me happy and I really enjoy.

"I get to wake up, work out and live a healthy lifestyle every day and that's my job. I get paid to work out which is phenomenal. I'm blessed."

On Thursday night, the Boston fighter puts that training on the line when he tackles Japanese lightweight Dokonjonosuke Mishima in Las Vegas on the Ultimate Fight Night card (Spike TV, 8 p.m. ET).

It's Florian's first fight since a five-round loss in October to Sean Sherk for the 155-pound title at UFC 64.

Florian survived the mountain fall, and the jiu-jitsu black belt started adding to his fight game.

An early bout with Drew Fickett in 2004 proved pivotal. Florian lost a split decision, but did enough to grab the attention of UFC president Dana White, who was in the audience. White invited Florian to try out for Season 1 of The Ultimate Fighter reality TV show,

Florian made the cast and fought his way to the welterweight finale, where he was ultimately beaten by Diego (Nightmare) Sanchez.

While Florian survived his fall, he has endured a bad back since March 2006 that only now is beginning to come around. A joint in his back was inflamed from overuse, with the muscles and ligaments in the area weakened.

"It's awful and it's just one of those things that really immobolizes you, literally," Florian said.

It was been so painful he was unable to train his ground game. But the back has responded in recent months, thanks to a full-time strength and conditioning coach.

"It's been helping me significantly. And training is kind of fun again."

The Sherk fight was an ordeal, but Florian's opponent was the one who came out damaged, albeit with the win. A bloody Sherk underwent shoulder surgery after the bout.

"It was a frustrating fight, but Sean proved to be the better fighter that night. Unfortunately I couldn't do what I wanted that night," Florian said. "I learned a lot from it, it was a five-round war. It's something I really gained a lot of experience just from that one fight. I feel I'm a much, much better fighter because of it, I've revamped all my training because of that fight."

The 30-year-old Florian (7-3) says Mishima will be another handful.

"He's a very experienced fighter, he's very tough. He's fought some of the best in the world. . . . He's very good at taking people down and grounding and pounding - and grinding out a win, similar to Sean Sherk.

"I'm taking this fight as a personal challenge to myself of trying to keep it standing, avoid the takedown, either get on top of him or try to knock him out."

Mishima is 17-5-2 with experience in Pride, but is coming off a UFC loss to Joe Stevenson at UFC 65.

Mishima had better pay attention to Florian's elbows, which thanks to coach Mark DellaGrotte can carve open opponents.

"He really instilled that in me, learning the elbows and being proficient with them," Florian said. "Especially in those short close-quarter combat situations, it's really important to be able to use your elbows. A lot of people don't even see them coming. That's the trick, they're very sneaky.

"It's a great tool, as far as injuring your opponent, hurting your opponent. I've end up cutting a lot of opponents. I've actually never thrown an elbow with the intention of cutting them, I always throw it to hurt them first and try to actually get the knockout. For whatever reason they end up cutting people."


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