Kenny Florian at the UFC 131 weigh-ins. Photo by Esther Lin of MMA Fighting.
The "big announcement" of Dana White turned out to be the public unveiling of Kenny Florian's retirement from competitive mixed martial arts. The easy thing to do with this revelation is to think back upon Florian's very solid career, give him a few cheers and then watch as he settles into his Talking Head TV gig.
But what if we could do something else - drop the flagging Ultimate Fighter TV show and give Kenny his own FX show in the mode of Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations series?
I came to this idea after thinking about ways to spice up the Ultimate Fighter. Celebrity TUF? Khloe Kardashian would win the women's bracket every year. The men would probably give us something akin to a hybrid of Zoolander and Celebrity Boxing. Stick the cameras in one specific, big time camp? Following Donald Cerrone and Leonard Garcia around their ranch would be excellent. Motorcross, fighting, intestinal inversions, Cerrone being awesome, Garcia hypno-toading us into liking him even more. Same goes for Jose Aldo and the Nova Uniao camp. They have enough talent down there to flood the ranks, it is Rio de Janeiro and Jose is maybe the single most lovable fighter on the Zuffa roster. But that's too much like the Countdowns, would disrupt training and it'd leave too much bargaining power in the hands of an active fighter.
A retired fighter might be able to do it though. He or she would need considerable personal charisma, some very good skills to be able to gain the respect of the fighters, coaches and managers, a solid resume and excellent communication skills combined with serious wit. Unfortunately, Chuck Liddell isn't really so hot on the last one - he valiantly tries, but it's not his thing. Gina Carano is the same way.
Maybe the idea of Kenny Florian as MMA's Bourdain isn't so crazy after all.
After the jump, I attempt to make a case for this idea.
The show No Reservations built its massive popularity and cult following by essentially letting the brilliant curmudgeon that is Anthony Bourdain loose with a like-minded crew to deliver what are essentially the best sardonic, yet genuine vacation blogs of all time.
From a Bourdain interview with Joel Keller from the AV Club:
AB: Well, you know, No Reservations' focus changes all the time. They're like mini-movies, and they're often about what people aren't eating. More often than not, they're just about me trying to have a good time, or satisfy my curiosity about a place. Whether or not there's a takeaway, whether anybody can actually recreate that experience if they choose to, was never a concern. They're personal essays: "This is what I did when I went to that country." It was never my intention to show people experiences that they could themselves enjoy. [The Layover] is an attempt to take a very traditional format and do something interesting with it. These are places, destinations, restaurants, hotels that, yeah, you could go to all of these places. You could do these things if you choose to, and secure in the knowledge, or disturbed by the knowledge, that these are places I either have been or would go to myself.
This is something MMA could really use. Nobody currently doing anything like this in the MMA world has the budget, the team or the charisma that Bourdain does. The combined brawn of FX and Zuffa could make someone potentially very, very able to deliver these things.
Yes, there have been shows like Deadliest Warrior or that show where guys travel around the world and go fight in that local art. But those are done with the equivalent of martial arts bums. Florian is the furthest thing from a bum. He's a near-champion in two weight classes. In Thailand, he'd be able to box at a fairly high level. In a wrestling room somewhere in Middle America, he'd be experienced enough not to look a fool. In a jiu jitsu class in Brazil, he'd be competitive with just about anyone in and out of the gi.
What makes No Reservations work though is Bourdain himself. He has the life experience - the roller coaster rides of professional success achieved through hard work and considerable talent, drug addiction, failure of restaurants and more success gave him that - as well as possessing an interestingly cynical, yet hopeful outlook on life and he is one smooth talker. The sheer joy for life Bourdain has comes across in everything he publicly puts out and the time afforded to him and his crew let them ratchet up the drama, plan things out, do cool things and meet interesting people in a sustainable way. It's made the Travel Channel many millions of dollars and made Bourdain a near household name.
Call me crazy, but I think Kenny can do a lesser version of that. He's used to being on TV, although putting on the theatrics to be a true ESPN-style Talking Head takes some time and there are rough spots. He knows and loves the sport of MMA and its companion sports to a degree that few will ever match. He makes friends all over the place. And he's bleepin' funny when given some lead time, as his Twitter account consistently proves.
Of course, this is all contingent on him actually being willing to do this. That is asking quite a bit from a busy Bostonian, but I suspect he would at least try it out for a season.
So put him on FX, where the brand already shades a bit darker with Justified, Louie, Archer, Breaking Bad, Sons of Anarchy and more. They have the demonstrated patience to allow true talent to work things out over longer periods of time and it has paid off. Let Kenny cuss a bit and show the world who he really is - a charismatic someone who has a near-monomaniacal desire to get better at fighting and is unfortunately too old to really be world class in divisions full of younger superstars. Allow him to travel to places all over the United States, to Russia, to Brazil, Senegal and more.
I think he'd surprise us all with what he finds and what he shows us.
As the video above shows, Kenny already does travel all over and train with quite the smorgasbord of grapplers, strikers and more. Because of who he is, he gets invited in and immediately accepted. His skills then take over. If he can be as funny as he is on Twitter and as genuine about learning, teaching and experiencing what MMA and its related sports have to offer, it is fully doable.
And maybe we'd get to hear the dulcet tones of Keith Florian once more...