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Thornton and Florian both punch a ticket to Vancouver

By Nancy Marrapese-Burrell
Globe Staff / June 9, 2011

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For two of the toughest athletes in Boston, the road to success goes through Vancouver.

Shawn Thornton is working toward bringing a Stanley Cup championship here, as the Bruins battle the Canucks. UFC fighter Kenny Florian is looking to make a name for himself in a new weight class, featherweight, when he takes on Diego Nunes Saturday night at Rogers Arena in the Canadian city.

The two of them, who have built a friendship over the last couple of years, will cross paths in the Pacific Northwest, with the Bruins playing Game 5 of the Cup Final tomorrow night and the UFC taking over the building Saturday.

Thornton had hoped to make it to tomorrow’s weigh-in to cheer on Florian. However, with the game starting just three hours later, it would be impossible to make it work.

But the Bruins veteran will be represented. He and Florian cooked up a plan for the fighter to make a dramatic entrance into the weigh-in wearing a Thornton jersey. So the Bruins training staff made one up, and Thornton will present it to him today.

Thornton said it was Florian’s suggestion.

“He said, ‘I might have to rock a jersey for the weigh-in,’ ’’ said Thornton. “I said, ‘I’ll take care of that, it’s not a problem.’ ’’

Thornton joked that Florian, who is a Dover native, shouldn’t expect a warm welcome from the crowd.

“He’s definitely not going to be the hometown hero,’’ said Thornton. “He’s going to be hated, and hopefully he feeds off that a little bit. He’ll be the villain.

“It’s been good to get to know him over the last few years. He’s been to a few games — obviously not lately because of his diet and stuff — but he’s been to a few throughout the playoffs. It’s been good to have him there.’’

One area in which Thornton can’t relate to Florian at all is weight. Florian started out as a middleweight (maximum 185 pounds), dropped to welterweight (170), then lightweight (155), and now featherweight (145).

“I don’t know how he is going to do it,’’ said Thornton. “He’s going to, but the mentality and the discipline of those guys, it’s extraordinary to me.

“I couldn’t imagine me going from 220 to 180. I can’t even imagine walking around at 180 pounds. I have a tough time losing 5 pounds in the summer.

“He’s disciplined, I’ll give him that.’’

Florian, who is expected to fight for the UFC featherweight title against Jose Aldo if he gets past Nunes, said he is feeling terrific.

“This is the best camp of my life, and so far, the weight has been going great,’’ said Florian. “The challenge is making the weight and being very disciplined, but I’ve never really had that problem in my career.

“It’s just making sure you’re hitting all the points, and I’ve been doing that for months. I’ve had the strongest performances in my training that I’ve ever had by far.

“I’ve actually been stronger, I’ve been faster, and the numbers in the gym prove it. I’ve never trained so hard for a fight. I don’t want to say this in a cocky way, but I’m not sure there are many people who have trained more hours than I have for this fight.’’

One area that has been Florian’s Achilles’ heel is wrestling, which was evident in his loss to Gray Maynard last Aug. 28 when he fought in Thornton’s house — TD Garden — for the first time.

“I’ve been really working my wrestling extremely hard,’’ said Florian, who is being guided by Boston University associate head wrestling coach Sean Gray. “That has been a weakness of mine in my career. It’s a thing I’ve dedicated myself to. It’s probably the hardest thing that I do. It’s made me a more technical fighter.’’

Thornton has been so inspired by Florian that he wants to add to his athletic repertoire in the offseason. Although he already has a boxing coach, there are other challenges he’s interested in (such as jiu-jitsu), and he is hoping to work out with Florian a couple of times a week once their schedules open up.

“I’m going to try to work on the other stuff just to see what it’s like,’’ said Thornton. “It’s probably going to be very humbling for me.’’

And if the Bruins go all the way, chances are Florian will get a first-hand look at the hardware.

“I’m excited for those guys,’’ he said. “I’m excited for Shawn and I hope those guys get the Cup.’’

Nancy Marrapese-Burrell can be reached at marrapese@globe.com.

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