Is UFC 136 Florian’s last stand?
Saturday night, Kenny Florian steps into the Octagon trying to walk out with UFC gold for the third time in his career.
The challenge is no less daunting than either of the previous two. In fact, facing the 25-year-old Brazilian buzz saw named Jose Aldo might be worse than going toe-to-toe with Sean Sherk in 2006 or B.J. Penn in the summer of 2009.
In a different time, Florian probably would have won a championship; he just happened to come around at the wrong time for a fighter of his size. A couple years to either side of his UFC start date and a successful championship reign might have been in the cards, but as it stands, Florian has missed out so far.
For what it's worth, the oddsmakers don't give Florian much of a chance in making the third time the charm, either; Aldo's nearly a 3-to-1 favorite over Florian at the time of this writing.
When I got to thinking of what could be next for "KenFlo" if he were to lose Saturday night, a previously unexplored possibility hit me: he might just retire.
With a myriad of other opportunities available to him, I just can't see what would bring Florian back to the cage if he came out of Saturday night with another championship loss on his resume.
I understand the competitive fire and the desire to test yourself against another man, and that could be the lure that makes him continue on. But I can just as easily see Florian congratulating Aldo, thanking the crowd and riding off into the sunset.
And by the sunset, I mean the bright lights of a potential TV gig.
Unlike some of his contemporaries, Florian has other challenges ready and waiting for him whenever he decides to hang up his gloves. He has activities where he can push himself to get better without putting his body through the torture of cutting down to 145 pounds every three to six months or catching punches with his face.
If he were to lose Saturday night, could you really see Florian making another run at the featherweight title?
The division is growing deeper and deeper with each event, and with the incoming crop of talent soon to arrive from "The Ultimate Fighter," you'd have to assume a three or four-fight winning streak and a couple of lucky breaks would be needed to get Florian back into the title picture.
He's not going to get the Urijah Faber "win one fight and we'll give you another shot" treatment, especially not with viable challengers waiting in the wings. That means he'd need at least two more wins to get back into a championship fight, and I don't know if that would be appetizing to Florian at this stage of his life and career.
Florian is 35 years old, something that surprises a lot of people the first time they hear it. It's the baby face/can't-grow-a-real-beard combination, a blessing and a curse I, too, know all too well.
Having fought just twice a year for the last three years, winning two fights and taking going through a training camp for a title fight would put him on the verge of 37 by the time he's ready to stare down the champion again, hypothetically speaking.
I might be wrong, but I would guess Florian isn't overly keen on draining his body of water and getting beat up by 25 year olds now, and that kind of thing doesn't become more appealing with age.
That's why I think winning Saturday is the only way we see Florian compete again. Getting up to defend the belt is a lot easier than motivating yourself to start over at the bottom; at least I would assume that to be the case.
It's not that there are a lack of options or opportunities for him in the featherweight division. He's the ideal combination of talent and name value needed to be a gatekeeper to the upper echelon of the weight class, and there would be a collection of up-and-comers dying for the chance to test themselves against him.
But is that really the future he wants from here on out — playing gatekeeper to the next generation of fighters?
If ever there was a guy who you hoped would get to win a title, Florian would be at or near the top of that list for me. He's one of the most personable, funny, entertaining and genuinely nice guys I've had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing, and in the grand scheme of things, he's had a very successful UFC career.
But if reaching the summit escapes him again Saturday night, I don't know if he'll be interested in trying to make the climb again. It's a difficult choice and an unenviable position.
Florian can render this whole discussion moot if he leaves the Octagon with the UFC featherweight title wrapped around his waist.
Then again, maybe he'd decide to go out on top.