Kenny Florian's debut in the UFC's featherweight division was a successful one on Saturday night at UFC 131. After an early scare in the first round, Florian turned to an effective top game to damage Nunes, tire him out, and eventually sway the judges in his favor. Nunes, who wasn't given much of a chance by the more uninformed fans, showed us exactly what he's capable of during the fight, catching Florian early with a downing shot and nearly crushing Florian in the final moments of the bout. His dynamic kicking game frustrated the former UFC lightweight contender early, but the 35-year-old Florian persevered.
In the aftermath, many fans began to opine the outcome of an eventual showdown with title holder Jose Aldo. Most of the opinions had Aldo winning a future match-up, and Nunes' ability to catch Florian was one of the major talking points. If Nunes could stun Florian twice during the fight, Aldo's speed and power would surely put the stamp on Florian, right?
In reality, Florian's presence in the UFC's featherweight division is both a godsend for the prominence of the division and a test for Florian's future in the sport. Florian was able to defeat one of the best in the division last night at UFC 131, but he didn't convince many fans that he can challenge Aldo. The more pertinent point, however, is that his presence can legitimize the division in the eyes of casual fans. That may be exactly what the UFC wants.
Florian is far from a bonafide pay-per-view draw or one of the most popular fighters in the sport. He is, however, a fighter that fans across the spectrum know is a legitimate talent, a fighter who has had a plethora of success in the UFC's lightweight division.
The UFC's featherweight division is an unknown to most casual fans. Ask any fan who regularly watches UFC bouts and nothing else, and you'll likely get a blank stare when talking about Jose Aldo and Mark Hominick, even if they've obviously watched both men fight. It's a new division, and it will take time for those fans to recognize it.
Florian's presence may quicken that process. Those same fans know who Kenny Florian is, and they understand that he was one of the better fighters in the UFC's lightweight division. Surely a cut down to 145 lbs. where many of the fighters are unknown to those same fans will be an easy run at a title for Florian.
Those fans may be surprised at what they find. Jose Aldo could potentially reign supreme at the top of the division for years to come, and technical strikers like Mark Hominick will create problems for veterans looking to make the cut. Add in a guy like Hatsu Hioki and think about the talents rising from the depths of the division, and you have the makings of a premier division. It's far from that at this point however.
The division needs a veteran to legitimize the skills of its fighters, and Kenny Florian may be the man to provide that legitimacy. If he somehow beats Aldo, he brings prominence to the division and intrigue from fans. If he loses to Aldo emphatically, fans should recognize that the fighters in the featherweight division, specifically Aldo, are legit talents. In any case, it's a win-win for the UFC.
In my mind, the latter is much more likely. Aldo is far too speedy and powerful to succumb to Florian's striking. And he isn't an easy mark in the takedown department. I think he'll easily dispatch of Florian, and some fans will be shocked by how dominant Aldo looked. Hopefully, that brings new interest to a division that has provided loads of excitement for the hardcore fans over the years.