BattleBots commentator Kenny Florian dishes on robot combat

BattleBots personality Kenny Florian knows a lot about combat, and told Hidden Remote how robot fighting isn’t that different from MMA.

Kenny Florian is an expert on combat. He’s a veteran mixed martial artist and well-known from his commentary work in the UFC. Being one-half of the commentary team on Discovery‘s BattleBots is just a different form of what he’s already great at.

With BattleBots season 9 now underway, Kenny took time away from calling robot versus robot fights alongside Chris Rose to give Hidden Remote some behind-the-scenes perspective. Has his MMA knowledge come in handy on the show? And would he consider building his own ‘bot?

Meet Kenny Florian and learn more about the series in our interview below, then tune into an all-new episode of BattleBots tonight on Discovery at 8 p.m. Don’t forget that the show also airs on Wednesdays, also at 8 p.m., on Science Channel.

Hidden Remote: You’re experienced in human fighting, but what kind of preparation did you have to do in order to prepare for the robot fights on BattleBots?

Kenny Florian: There’s a lot of different materials that we get. We get a binder that is quite thick and extensive on the bios of the builders [and] the bot itself. We go through a long process of interviewing each of the bot builders, and talk to them about the bot and the various modifications they make throughout the season.

There was a lot of film study and things like that, talking to the bot builders—which was extremely helpful—and honestly, I think my best preparation was just being as attentive as I could during the matches.

We also have what we call the Bot Whisperer—Peter Abrahamson, who is a former bot builder and former BattleBots competitor. [He] gives us a lot of valuable information. There’s just a lot of reading, and a lot of research that we go over, and [we] prepare our best to know the sport as much as possible.

HR: Since they’re both combat sports, how much of your UFC knowledge is applicable to your BattleBots commentary?

KF: I think there’s a tremendous amount. No matter what it is, in general, the main rule is if you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse. And I think that at the highest level of combat there needs to be cross-evolution and cross-adaptation. I’ve seen that throughout my career in martial arts.

I still train martial arts every single day, and coach every single day, and try to get better every single day. I think it’s the same thing with engineering and combat in robotics. You have to constantly know what you’re dealing with as far as your competition—know the weapon, know the other bot and know how to adapt and be prepared to win that battle.

HR: How has working with Chris Rose compared to working with MMA commentators like your former UFC Tonight colleagues Michael Bisping and Daniel Cormier?

KF: The value of working with someone like Chris Rose is just his vast amount of experience. Every single time I work with him, I learn something. Just the ability to be as authentic as possible on camera and to bring forth that passion is something Chris Rose does extremely well. He’s very articulate and always seems to know the right times to insert humor. It’s just a lot of fun working with him. Every person I work with is a lot of fun, but I think Chris is a great balance of passion, humor and delivering high-quality knowledge.


Chris Rose (left) and Kenny Florian in the commentator’s booth of Discovery’s BattleBots. Photo Credit: Dan Longmire/Courtesy of Discovery.

HR: He spoke to us about how you try to approach BattleBots as a serious sport, and not just a TV show or a gimmick event. What made you two decide that’s the approach that fit this show?

KF: Honestly, I think speaking to the bot builders. These guys work so dang hard. I can equate a lot of their experiences to my experiences coming up in mixed martial arts, where I don’t know if we had so much respect. I think we had some respect, but I think a lot of people don’t understand what it takes to be successful in different ways. They see you reach a certain level in the sport and think, well that person probably always made it there.

To get to a high level in something like mixed martial arts or BattleBots, it’s a rollercoaster ride of emotions. Failures and successes and it’s an up and down constant battle. Listening to these guys’ stories, and seeing [that] these guys are barely sleeping in these weeks that they’re doing the season, and knowing how many thousands of dollars they put into their bot, and in literally seconds that bot can be destroyed—how can you not respect these guys?

A lot of these guys are doing this as a hobby and it’s a labor of love, but at the same time it means a lot to them to win. They’re trying to prove they have great engineering skills, that they can adapt throughout the season. For a lot of these guys, it has ruined a lot of their relationships or put a strain on their relationships or marriages [as well]. I think we wanted to portray that and give them the respect they deserve, because there is a lot of blood, sweat and tears that go into those robots, and I can definitely relate to that.

HR: You’re not competing as a martial artist anymore, but would you ever consider competing in robot fighting?

KF: You know what? I would love to. It would have to be something much smaller than BattleBots. I wouldn’t want to embarrass myself. I know a little bit about the sport compared to these guys. These guys have literally decades of experience of fighting robots, so the level they’re at is just ridiculous.  I would definitely love to be a part of a team and help out any way I can. That would be fun, but to think I could go in there and actually build a bot, or be the team leader of a bot, is probably ridiculous.

HR: You’ve been doing this for several seasons now. Have people started to recognize you as Kenny Florian, BattleBots commentator, or is it still primarily UFC fans?

KF: One of my most favorite things is when someone comes up to me because of BattleBots and not fighting. It’s hilarious. One of the best comments I got on Twitter was, I used to host UFC Tonight on FOX Sports, and someone tweeted at me and said what the heck is the BattleBots guy doing on television talking about fighting? I thought that was the greatest thing ever.

I ran into a couple NASCAR guys and [one of them was] like I definitely want to talk to you about fighting, but we have to talk about BattleBots, and I thought that was awesome. I love getting surprised by comments like that. BattleBots is a lot more popular than people realize. The people that are into it are really into it, and I think this is just the beginning.

I just hope that people understand how much work goes into these robots. How little sleep these guys get, and how passionate they are. I think that’s the most impressive thing about it. These guys aren’t competing for hundreds of thousands of dollars or anything like that, but the amount of hours they put in during the season, before the season, it’s significant.

I hope we can get to a time where these guys can get compensated and one day we can have a true professional-type league or season where these guys can do it full-time. Not only would it be great for the bot builders, but I think that the bots themselves would be even better. The competition would just get to an insane level. I do envision that one day, and I hope that for all the competitors.

BattleBots airs Fridays at 8 p.m. on Discovery, and can also be seen Wednesdays on Science Channel at 8 p.m. For more on this and other Discovery shows, follow the Discovery category at Hidden Remote.