With the sports of mixed martial arts ever growing and evolving, the Burbank Gracie Barra studio on Saturday afternoon was very much a microcosm of that notion.
Along with his brother, Keith, former three-time Ultimate Fighting Championship title challenger Kenny Florian dropped by the Burbank gym to host a seminar on Brazilian jiu jitsu in mixed martial arts.
“MMA is in its infancy right now,” said Keith Florian, who cornered his brother throughout his standout UFC career and, like Kenny, is a jiu jitsu black belt. “People are learning and adapting every day.”
Saturday’s seminar was very much a session on how best to apply jiu jitsu in the world of MMA, while also driving home the point that no matter how experienced the MMA fighter or jiu jitsu player, there’s always something to learn.
“Never stop learning,” Kenny Florian told the group in a speech to close the seminar.
Throughout the session, which ran just more than two hours, the Florian brothers demonstrated myriad techniques, positions, submissions and submission defenses, as well as how best to incorporate ground-and-pound offense through jiu jitsu.
“There’s different aspects of Brazilian jiu jitsu,” said Kenny Florian, who owns eight submission victories in a 14-6 MMA career. “And there’s the aspect of Brazilian jiu jitsu for mixed martial arts, which is a different animal.”
Those in attendance, which included Glendale resident and Gracie Barra Burbank proprietor Alberto Crane, varied from youngsters to novices to even current UFC fighter Jared Papazian, whose training home base is the gym.
“It was pretty cool to meet Kenny Florian and Jared Papazian, as well as Keith,” said 12-year-old Burbank resident Omar Ibnoujala, who regularly takes classes at Burbank Gracie Barra. “We learned a couple transitions and escapes that were really helpful.
“It’s actually really cool to train with them. They’re professional fighters.”
Kenny Florian was part of the landmark first season of “The Ultimate Fighter” in 2005 that truly launched the UFC into America’s living rooms. He would fight in the season’s middleweight final before going on to an ultra-successful career in the lightweight division, where he was a perennial top-10 fighter and twice challenged for the title before dropping down and fighting for the 145-pound belt in 2011 before announcing his retirement earlier this year. Now he’s a color commentator on UFC on FX and Fuel TV broadcasts.
But on Saturday, he and his brother were doing what they’ve been doing for quite sometime and that’s teach.
“It was a dream come true to be able to train with these guys,” said 27-year-old Monta Wiley of Los Angeles, who said he was a longtime MMA and jiu jitsu fan. “It’s almost surreal. They live on the East Coast, so it’s very rare to get guys that come out here to Los Angeles to train.”
While Keith still resides in the brothers’ native Boston, Kenny has moved to L.A. and the brothers have known Crane, also a Brazilian jiu jitsu black belt and a former UFC fighter, since roughly 1999.
“We’ve known Alberto for years,” said Kenny Florian, who, along with his brother opened their own martial arts training center in Massachusetts in 2010. “We’ve always been in the same circles.”
Not that long ago, many in MMA came from a background of striking or wrestling or jiu jitsu. Now, though, many are training in MMA and learning a combination of all three and how to incorporate them all. That was part of Saturday’s lesson and a big part of what Crane is trying to provide at Burbank Gracie Barra.
“I’m a big fan of Kenny and his brother Keith. They’re some of the smartest guys in the game,” said Crane, whose gym has a cage, rolling mats, a boxing ring and offers MMA, jiu jitsu and muay Thai classes and also welcomes men and women of all ages. "[Burbank Gracie Barra] kind of is like a one-stop place for MMA.
“I’m looking forward to what we can accomplish here. ... And just being a good place for the community.”