Several seconds passed before Kenny Florian would utter a word. But those few seconds must have felt like hours to the perennial lightweight contender.
Days removed from announcing his retirement as a competitive mixed martial artist, Florian was finally coming to grips with his decision.
Reaching the decision was extremely difficult for him. Being a competitor in UFC, the biggest stage in mixed martial arts, requires complete commitment and attention to detail. And when it came to commitment or paid more attention to detail -- be it training, diet, technique or fight planning -- Florian never gave less than his all.
“I’ve dedicated my life to fighting and the art of studying the martial arts for so long; that has become my identity, that has become me,” Florian told ESPN.com. “It became extremely hard to move on to a different chapter, knowing that you must go to a different part of your life. It was very, very difficult for me.
“I didn’t think it would be, but it was. It was extremely difficult.”
By all accounts, Florian has been adjusting quite well to no longer being a competitive fighter.
A graduate of Boston College with a Bachelor’s degree in Communications, Florian is as intelligent as he is competitive and has his options outside the cage, including a fulltime gig as MMA television analyst.
Still, is there the slightest possibility of him competing in UFC again?
Florian took several seconds to contemplate whether or not to provide an answer, then decided to open up.
“It’s possible,” said Florian, who has compiled a 14-6 professional record. “I’ve learned to never say never when it comes to professional athletics.
“The fire still burns inside me. It all depends on what level I feel I’m at, and what point I’m at in my life to be able to go off and get back to fighting. If those things are right, I would definitely consider it.”
Florian has fought for a UFC title on three occasions, twice at lightweight, once as a featherweight. And while he came up short each time, Florian never fell from high-contender status.
After losing by unanimous decision to featherweight champion Jose Aldo on Oct. 8, Florian was preparing for his return to lightweight and one more run at the 155-pound title shot.
However, nagging pain in his back took a turn for the worse during a training session in May, forcing Florian to call it a career -- at least for now.
At 35, Florian feels can still compete at the highest level. It’s the reason he has left the door slightly ajar for a possible return to the Octagon.
The chances are slim that we will ever see Florian fight again, but it’s not completely beyond the realm of possibility. If this is indeed the end, Florian exits with no regrets.
He is ready for life after the cage.
“I miss training and I miss fighting so much, but knowing that I have something to fall back on has made [the transition into retirement] easier,” said Florian. “I have another life, outside of fighting.
“I’m satisfied with my career, the way it went down. Especially this past year with my training; I took it to another level and what I had to do to get down to 145.
“Fighting has given me so much, it’s unbelievable. It’s made me such a better person. It’s shown me what I can do physically, emotionally and spiritually.”