Florian's 'fire' keeping him in the game

Ultimately, we probably shouldn’t be too surprised by Kenny Florian’s confirmation over the weekend that he’s not yet ready to retire from MMA.

Whether he knew it or not, Florian’s decision may well have been made the moment he initially balked at retirement after his UFC 136 loss to Jose Aldo, instead saying he needed to “take some time” to decide his fighting future.

Given a couple weeks to think it over, let the sting of a loss fade a little bit, most guys end up feeling like they’ve still got a couple of fights left in them or, in Florian’s own words, that the fire still burns.

“I know myself and it’s not even just being competitive, but it’s just being there learning and competing,” he told the Boston Herald on Sunday. “There’s still very much a fire burning there, so I’m going to do it."

This decision is probably the right one, at least for the time being. At 35 years old and 20 fights deep in his professional career, Florian still appears at the top of his game, still in control of his faculties. Though he’s earned a reputation as guy who can’t win the big one, his last four career losses -- all in championship bouts or title eliminators -- likely have more to do with the level of competition than any notable personal failing on his part.

How many lightweights on the planet could have defeated Sean Sherk in 2006, B.J. Penn in 2009 or Gray Maynard in 2010? How many featherweights could have beaten Aldo two weeks ago? Not many.

To decide that Florian ought to retire on the basis of those losses, well, you’d have to be pretty ignorant of his overall career accomplishments.

Yet, even as he declares his intentions to soldier on, there is a noticeable shift in Florian's focus here. His words to the Herald make him sound less like a three-time No. 1 contender and more like exactly what he is at this point, a guy admitting he’s in the latter stages of his career who isn’t sure he’ll ever get another shot at UFC gold.

"I didn't get in this to be second-best, of course, but at the same time, not everybody can be a champion,” Florian said. “I'm just going to go back to 155 [pounds], work my way up, take it one fight at a time and see where it puts me ... I don't necessarily have the title in my eyes, but I do have my own personal goals as far as the technical level that I want to get to."

Can Florian earn another title shot in the time he has left? It’s possible, especially at lightweight, where upsets have been the order of the day recently and the list of top contenders seems to change with the wind. But even Florian seems to admit that’s not his primary ambition anymore. On the contrary, he’s just a guy who isn’t quite ready to pull the plug yet.

All professional athletes know it can be dangerous to let that competitive fire make your decisions for you. We've all seen examples where it kept burning long after it should. At least for now, however, Florian deserves to give it a shot. If he wants to make one last run at lightweight, so long as he can prove he’s still competitive, you’ll get no argument from me.