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Kenny Florian finds new home in featherweight division at UFC 131

Florian appears in his fourth different weight class against underrated Diego Nunes

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Alejandro A. Alvarez / Philadelphia Daily News

UFC fighter Kenny Florian speaks at a press conference.

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Las Vegas Sun sports reporters Case Keefer and Ray Brewer discuss UFC on their weekly radio show, which airs Monday at 5:30 on 91.5 KUNV. They preview this weekend's UFC 131 fight card in Vancouver and briefly look back at last week's "The Ultimate Fighter" 13 finale.

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VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA — UFC mainstay Kenny Florian’s 35th birthday passed two weeks ago without his favorite component of the celebration — cake.

Florian (14-5 MMA, 11-4 UFC) hasn’t eaten much of anything lately in preparation for his UFC 131 co-main event bout against Diego Nunes (16-1 MMA, 1-0 UFC) Saturday at Rogers Arena. That’s where Florian, the two-time former top lightweight contender, will make his debut in the 145-pound weight class.

He’ll become the first fighter in UFC history to compete in four different divisions, as he started his career in the organization at 185 pounds on the first season of “The Ultimate Fighter”.

“The skinny jeans I was wearing before are now big on me,” Florian joked. “I’ve got to get a whole new wardrobe.”

Florian is one of many fighters to drop from lightweight to featherweight since the UFC introduced the division after merging with the WEC earlier this year.

Other recognizable names who followed the same course include Tyson Griffin and Joe Stevenson, who both make their 145-pound debut in two weeks. ‘TUF’ season 11 winner Jonathan Brookins has also announced his intentions to go to featherweight and Darren Elkins will make his switch his official with a preliminary bout against Michihiro Omigawa Saturday.

But no one has captured the attention of fans, media and other fighters like Florian. He was the central discussion at Wednesday’s UFC 131 open workouts.

“It’s incredible,” said Krysztof Soszynski, a light heavyweight who faces Matt Massenzio at the event. “I was just talking to him and asked, ‘how’s your weight?’. Then I said, ‘hold on a sec, you’re fighting at 145?’ He said everything was going good. That’s amazing for someone to go in four different weight divisions. I really hope to see him succeed Saturday night.”

Florian, who at 5-foot-10 has a major height advantage at featherweight, understands the intrigue with his decision. Forty pounds is a drastic difference, even if it’s been six years since he started in the UFC.

But he said he always knew it was a possibility. Florian only fought at middleweight so he could get a shot in the UFC through the first season of ‘TUF’, where he finished as the runner-up to Diego Sanchez.

The UFC had temporarily gotten rid of its lightweight class at the time, so he dropped to welterweight immediately after the show. Florian only stayed there for two fights, both victories, before UFC re-introduced the 155-pound division and he joined.

“I knew 155 was my weight class then,” Florian said. “Even back then, 145 might have been easier for me because I was a chubby 174 pounds.”

He’ll be the polar opposite of chubby at Friday’s weigh-in. Florian even warned fans to shield their eyes because he’s not “going to look too good.”

But he said he took off all the weight in a healthy manner. Before making the decision earlier this year while he was out with a knee injury, Florian consulted with doctors to ensure the move was plausible.

Coach and nutritionist George Lockhart has planned every gram of every meal, according to Florian. His diet has consisted almost totally of chicken breast and green vegetables.

He had to stop strength training a couple weeks ago because his muscles were getting too big. Some fighters are concerned about a speed disadvantage or being drained after dropping to a new weight class.

But Florian said he wasn’t worried about that. Nunes agreed that Florian wouldn’t be affected.

“He’s a great fighter, so he’s not going to be debilitated in any way,” Nunes said through a translator. “He lives in the States, so he’s got the best supplements and the best nutritionists you can get.”

Nunes is the forgotten piece in all of this. The Brazilian is no ease-in to the weight class for Florian.

Click to enlarge photo

Diego Nunes kicks Mike Brown in the head during UFC 125 Saturday, January 1, 2011 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Nunes won by decision.

He trains with featherweight champion Jose Aldo and says those sessions have given him confidence that he can become “an icon” in the division. After upsetting former WEC champion Mike Brown to start the year at UFC 125, Nunes hoped his next booking would be against someone with name recognition.

“I was online looking at news about Kenny dropping to 145 and I thought to myself, ‘man, that would be a great fight for me,’” Nunes said. “In my heart, I really felt like I wanted to fight Kenny. Then, about a week later, I got the call.”

A win might give Florian an immediate shot at Aldo and the featherweight belt, according to UFC President Dana White. But only after Florian devours one other thing.

“My birthday will come June 12th as opposed to May 26th,” Florian said. “I have probably not one, but two or three cakes waiting for me. And pizza, that’s the one thing I miss. I haven’t had bread in a long time.”

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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