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Florian set for debut in fourth different weight class at UFC 131


The guy walking around the Vancouver waterfront in the Boston Bruins jersey Friday afternoon need not worry about being ganged up on by Canucks fans. Kenny Florian is capable of taking care of himself -- even if he's not as much of a man as he used to be.

That last part is not a knock on the toughness or masculinity of Florian, who'll be at Jack Poole Plaza in the British Columbia harbor city to weigh-in for his bout against Diego Nunes on Saturday night's UFC 131 card (9 p.m. ET, PPV). It's just that the Massachusetts-based fighter, who told the Boston Globe the other day he's going to show up wearing the black-and-gold sweater of his NHL tough-guy friend Shawn Thornton, will tip the scales at a lighter weight than ever before during his MMA career.

Florian, a Boston College graduate who trains just a Green Line ride away from the spoked-B rink at TD Garden, will be weighing in just three hours before the Bruins and Canucks take the ice for Game 5 of the Stanley Cup finals at Rogers Arena, the same venue that one night later will be the site of the UFC fights. Considering the tenor of the last couple of hockey games in Boston, in which the Bruins pummeled the Canucks to tie the series, it's debatable which event will be more violent.

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This much we know: A No. 22 Bruins jersey will be worn by a 145-pounder at the afternoon's UFC weigh-ins, and one in a much bigger size will be donned for the evening's hockey game. But while Thornton is an NHL heavyweight at a rough-and-tumble 217 pounds, he gives away considerable bulk to the MMA heavies who'll do battle in the UFC 131 main event, Junior dos Santos and Shane Carwin, both of whom will weigh in somewhere in Zdeno Chara territory.

As for Florian, he made a name for himself as a fighter on the first season of the UFC's reality TV show, The Ultimate Fighter, competing as a middleweight. He made it to the final, and despite loss to Diego Sanchez, earned a UFC contract. He immediately moved down from the 185-pound weight class to 170. After two wins at welterweight, he dropped another 15 pounds to fight as a lightweight.

It was in that weight class where Florian saw his marquee moments. Twice he fought for the UFC title, against Sean Sherk in 2006 and B.J. Penn nearly three years later. Florian fell short both times. He continued to win everything other than his title bouts, however, so he was on the verge of earning a third shot at the belt last summer. Fighting in his hometown at UFC 118, the organization's first event in Boston, Florian was manhandled by Gray Maynard in a No. 1 contenders bout. (In case you're wondering: Kenny wore a Larry Bird jersey to the weigh-in at the Garden.)

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Now Florian is shedding an additional 10 pounds to drop down another weight class. Saturday's bout will be his featherweight debut.

That makes it four weight classes in six years. This isn't Roy Nelson fasting away the flab so he can drop down to light heavyweight, then middleweight, then welterweight. (Wouldn't that be a sight?) Florian always was a fit athlete, even when he was fighting at 40 pounds heavier than he will this weekend.

It's like Florian is the bizarro Manny Pacquiao, moving from weight division to weight division, except in the reverse direction of boxing's Filipino buzzsaw.

But while it's tempting to characterize Florian as the incredibly shrinking man, the reality is that he never really belonged at middleweight in the first place. That's just where a spot was available on TUF, and he was ambitious and confident enough to go for it. He then put in time at welterweight because, at the time, the UFC had no lightweight division. As soon as Dana White & Co. created a home for 155ers, though, Florian dropped down to where he naturally belonged.

So why isn't he still there? Florian is a smart guy, and after his loss to Maynard he saw a logjam of contenders for Frankie Edgar's lightweight belt: Standing in line behind Maynard was WEC champ Anthony Pettis and Jim Miller, to name a couple of folks ahead of Florian in the pecking order. Now Pettis is out of the mix, having lost last weekend to Clay Guida, but with Strikeforce having become part of the Zuffa family, you've got to factor in its champ, Gilbert Melendez.

The featherweight division, meanwhile, was looking like Jose Aldo and just a bunch of other guys. That perception was tweaked six weeks ago when Mark Hominick gave the champion a fight, tarnishing the Brazilian's aura of invincibility. But even before that, Florian saw an opportunity, one for which he might not have to wait so long.

To get to Aldo, however, Florian first must get past his training partner. Nunes is 16-1, his most recent victory coming against the division's former champion, Mike Brown. That's the biggest name on Nunes' resume, though, while Florian (14-5) has been in the cage with a succession of elite fighters. And while Nunes is the one being hyped as an explosive striker, he's gone to decisions in his last six bouts. Florian is the finisher, with just one of his wins going the distance.

But it's been a long time out of the cage for Florian, who had to cancel a January bout to rehab a knee injury. With this fight being a first test for both the knee and the new weight cut, it seems there are two strikes against him.

Florian can take solace in the recent history of his favorite hockey team. The Bruins were down by two games in the Cup finals before battling back. And I do mean battling, which is something their 145-pound fan in Vancouver knows a little about.