TURNER – Travis Wells’ Jiu-Jitsu class survived a grueling three-hour workout and then stood in line to be photographed with the man who put them through the grind..

Kenny Florian, once known to some as an instructor, now known to many more as one of the top lightweights in the Ultimate Fighting Championships, smiled and congratulated his adult students for the session at Kids Camp daycare. He went through at least two pens doing a favor for his former student, Wells.

“These people are great,” he said. “These are the guys I love coming out to see because these are the hardcore fans. These are the people who are always going to support me.”

A lot more people may yet climb aboard the Boston-based brawlers’ bandwagon, especially if he wins his fight next month against UFC newcomer Alvin Robinson on the pay-per-view UFC 73 card, then gets another shot at the lightweight (155) title.

Only four years ago, instructor Florian had more students than fights under his belt. Then UFC President Dana White saw some of his MMA bouts and was impressed enough to invite Florian to take part in the Spike TV reality show Ultimate Fighter.

Florian, who holds a communications degree from Boston College, made it to the finals as a middleweight. His official introduction to UFC came a short time later.

“MMA relly wasn’t on my list of things I wanted to do. I just wanted to teach Jiu-Jitsu,” the 31-year-old Westwood, Mass. native said. “I ended up kind off falling into the Ultimate Fighter and it just kind of snowballed.”

He fought for the championship last October, losing to Sean Sherk by unanimous decision. He hopes the July 7 Robinson fight puts him back on track to fighting for the title again by next year.

“I’m looking forward to it,” he said. “I just fought and won on April 5 so I’ve got to keep winning. This kid is supposed to be very tough.”

Florian (5-3) was himself a kid not that long ago. But back in those days, UFC wasn’t on the cover of Sports Illustrated, covered by ESPN or the subject of so much buzz as that surrounding the most recent pay-per-view.

“A lot of things have changed so much,” he said. “The sport’s blown up so much since then. You start doing this and you have no idea how it’s going to turn out. It’s been fun so far.”

“I think everyone in the sport knew that if the general public was able to see how we train and get to know some of the characters, literally the characters, in the sport, ultimately they would fall in love with the sport.”.

The former college soccer player knows how fortunate he was to get in on the UFC ground floor. And he’s thinking this would be a good time to get back into the lightweight spotlight. ix days a week, 2 or 3 times a day.

“This is still just in its infancy. The athletes are just going to get better and better,” he said. “More and more people are becoming intrigued with the sport. The best is definitely yet to come.”


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