MMAFighting's Ben Fowlkes has been doing a compelling series called My First Fight, in which prominent MMA Fighters discuss, well, their first fight. This week, he turns to Kenny Florian.
New England fight gyms then and now tend to be collegial - Massholes as pretty rough on everyone, but if you like to fight, too, you are okay. However, Nuri Shakir had recently faced Florian's teammate John Frankl in a controversial bout that ended with Shakir's disqualification for a then illegal knee to the face, so it was personal. Florian wanted to defend his academy (then Boston Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, now Gracie Barra Boston, then as now under the direction of the father of New England BJJ, Roberto Maia) and his style.
It was the Winter of 2002, at Taunton's Matrix night club, originally called the Roseland Ballroom, notorious in local martial arts circles as the home of an early attempt at Mixed Martial Arts called The Taunton Death Matches. The bouts were organized by Count Dante (the guy in the back of every comic book in the country, and ended up being closer to the Taunton Bloody Nose Matches, but that is a different story.
"I kind of had that old school mentality of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu versus everybody else," said Florian. "That was my mentality at the time, so it was kind of a revenge match for my school and my buddy John Frankl. That was what was going on in my head, anyway, and that's why I wanted to do it so badly."
"There was this kind of machismo thing about it, like kind of entering into manhood. I thought I just had to try it once. There was something inside me that wanted to be able to say, I really did apply my martial art at least once against another man who was training to beat me up."
"My striking training consisted of people trying to punch me during practice, and that was about it," he said. "I think I did that for two weeks and then fought. ...I didn't know how to go about preparing for a mixed martial arts bout at all. I had no interest in it, really. I was there to prove that Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu was going to work. That was it. I didn't want to learn the other arts or be a pro fighter. I was just there to see if my jiu-jitsu would work against another skilled fighter."
"It was funny, because you could see guys getting their medicals done, guys warming up, and everybody was right there together. I didn't think much of it, because being new to fighting, I didn't have a standard for what was right or wrong. I just went with it."
"I just went out there with that old school Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu style, plodding and probing with my hands and kicks a little bit to get him to come forward. At one point he rushed me and hit me and I kind of got stuck under the rope. That was early on. Like, the first 30 seconds."
"I clinched with him, took him down, got the mount position, and just started raining down punches from the mount. Then he tapped out."
"I have to say, it felt pretty cool to be able to hit somebody in the face without any repercussions. There was also definitely a bit of pride to know that your skills really work. There was certainly an adrenaline rush that went with it, but I didn't really know whether I'd do it again. It felt good, but a few days later I was back to just doing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu."
"Looking back, it's crazy. The way that I trained, the way I ate, it was terrible. It was so far from what I do now."
"Ignorance is bliss, I guess, even when I was fighting on The Ultimate Fighter, weighing in at a chubby 178 pounds for a [185-pound fight], it was all kind of like I was just too dumb to know better."