It's been roughly three years since Kenny Florian's first title shot in which he lost a bloody, five round battle to mixed martial arts veteran Sean Sherk at UFC 64.
Needless to say, a lot has changed since that juncture in his career.
Six consecutive victories over top lightweight contenders including Roger Huerta, Joe Stevenson, and Joe Lauzon and Florian once again finds himself in the familiar number one contender spot.
This time around, however, he's a little older and a little wiser -- and some may argue a completely revamped and weakness-free fighter.
Enter UFC lightweight champion BJ Penn, who will be looking to spoil Florian's quest to reach his ultimate goal to be a champion in his own right.
Will Florian be able to upset arguably the best lightweight fighter in the history of MMA? Or does Penn have something else in mind?
The Wachovia Center in Philadelphia, PA will play host to UFC 101 on August 8, where all unanswered questions will be resolved.
In the meantime, "KenFlo" took some time out of his busy schedule to discuss training with Georges St. Pierre, welcoming the underdog role, Diego Sanchez and the aforementioned "Prodigy."
Check it out:
Derek Bolender (MMAmania.com): I want to start by going back to your UFC 64 fight with Sean Sherk. If you could go back right now and speak with that version of Kenny Florian what advice would you give yourself?
Kenny Florian: I think I did everything that I could have done for that fight at the time. My heart was there. Everything was there. I lacked the technical ability to really do well. The strength and conditioning aspect of it was not there at all. That's the main thing. The experience, the technique, and the physical aspect were lacking tremendously.
I was training hard but I was only training hard when I got a call for the fight. I wasn't training year round. I wasn't putting in all the effort. I lacked experience for obvious reasons. I tried to win that fight every second of every round. I never gave up. I was strong to the end and that really wasn't an issue.
The issue really was being able to hang on a technical and physical level with a guy like Sherk. Ever since that fight I have been putting in a tremendous amount of hours in my training year round. I've sacrificed more than anyone out there.
Derek Bolender (MMAmania.com): It's been roughly nine months since your fight with Joe Stevenson at UFC 91. Does it seem like longer than that and how bad are you itching to just get back into the cage?
Kenny Florian: I'm definitely itching to get back into the cage. I've been preparing for a long time. It is what it is. I think it has been useful for my preparation for this fight. I actually had an opportunity to get my tonsils removed, which were infected for the last year really badly. I finally actually had the time to do it. I'm in better shape because of that. I'm healthier because of that. I've been able to work on a lot more skills because of it (the layoff) as well.
Derek Bolender (MMAmania.com): Everybody knows by now that you did some training up in Canada with Georges St. Pierre for you upcoming fight with BJ Penn. Did you decide to go up there to get help with a game plan since GSP just fought him or were you going simply to hone your overall skills?
Kenny Florian: Really I was there to hone my overall skills. I've been wanting to train with Georges St. Pierre and his camp for a long time now. I started working with Jonathan Chaimberg, his strength and conditioning coach. He's my new strength and conditioning coach. I've been working with him for the last three months in preparation for this fight. I got to work with Firas Zahaby as well who is a phenomenal trainer. And, of course, I got the chance to learn and spar and train with Georges St. Pierre.
Anytime you get the chance to train with one of the best pound-for-pound guys and feel that pressure and intensity in training it's going to help you grow as a fighter. Were there things we talked about with BJ? Yeah, there were things that I already knew, but as far as game planning, everybody is different. I'm a much different fighter than Georges St. Pierre. Some of the things he can do I'm not going to be able to do so I have to come up with a completely different game plan for BJ Penn.
Derek Bolender (MMAmania.com): Someone put a couple of video clips of BJ online recently. One of him jumping out of a pool and one where he puts his legs behind his head without using his hands. Are you impressed?
Kenny Florian: (laughs) It's good. That's good that he can do that. That's cool. He needs to be able to apply that with a sustained effort throughout the fight for it to be impressive. It's not really fight related stuff. If we fight in the pool and the game plan is to try to jump out of the pool without using your hands then maybe he has an edge. I haven't tried that before. We'll see if it's really applicable to this fight.
Derek Bolender (MMAmania.com): I'm still waiting for the Kenny Florian parody with you jumping out of a kiddie pool or something?
Kenny Florian: (laughs) I was actually thinking about doing it.
Derek Bolender (MMAmania.com): I'm hearing a lot of chatter on various forums about how you can't take BJ down, how you can't match his boxing, and on and on. I think you're officially the underdog at this point. Are you okay being the Rocky Balboa figure in this matchup?
Kenny Florian: 100%. I think I've been the underdog once or twice in my career so it's nothing new. That just puts more pressure on BJ, I think. For me, I just see it as a wonderful opportunity to test my skills. I'm confident I can get the job done. I think this is by far the biggest challenge of my career.
It's going to be an honor to go out there and test myself against someone with the skill of a BJ Penn. I believe I've done all the work. Not just for this fight. Everything I've put in since I was a kid has been for this fight. I'm looking forward to it.
Derek Bolender (MMAmania.com): For the record, what is your favorite quote from any of the Rocky movies?
Kenny Florian: You know what, as bad as Rocky Balboa was it actually had one of the more memorable lines - "It's not about how hard you hit. It's about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward."
Derek Bolender (MMAmania.com): You posted a quote on your frequently updated Twitter page a short time ago - "The reflection on a pool of water does not reveal its depth." Do you feel like the fans and media haven't seen your ‘depth' up to this point and is proving the world wrong added motivation for you?
Kenny Florian: Oh yeah for sure. That is always the way I've been portrayed. People see me as this regular guy who doesn't really look like a fighter. They don't really take me seriously, which I think is great. I think the assassin that you don't take seriously is the most dangerous one. I've never been a big talker so people maybe don't take me seriously or think I'm dangerous. Then if I do say I'm confident going in that I'm going to win a fight then they say that I'm cocky.
People don't believe in me but that's fine. The main thing is that it starts with me. You have to believe you can do it. Hopefully I can turn some more people around. I know I have in the past. For me, I'm just focusing on what I need to do to win this fight. I'm sure there will still be doubters even if I beat BJ Penn. I can't change everybody's mind. I just need to go out there and focus on what I need to do to become a better fighter.
Derek Bolender (MMAmania.com): I'm not going to ask what your game plan is for BJ since nobody has ever answered that question. BJ, on the other hand, was quoted recently in an Online interview saying, "I'm not really the kind of guy that goes out there and makes a game plan, I just go out and fight." Are you buying that and, if so, is not having a game plan a good idea?
Kenny Florian: It's not necessarily a bad thing depending on what kind of training he did. I'm sure there is some half truth to that. There is some truth to that with myself as well. When we look at BJ's strengths and we say we need to be able avoid this or avoid that and try to implement your strengths which is this and that. In doing that maybe it's not a complete game plan, but in saying that and in training (technically) that it is a game plan. I'm sure BJ is looking at things that I do and looking at things he does and trying to match it up so I'm not sure I really believe that. The way that he trains should have prepared him for some kind of game plan.
Derek Bolender (MMAmania.com): Would you like to make an official prediction for the fight?
Kenny Florian: I don't know man. I don't know how I'm going to get it done but I'm predicting a win. Obviously I go into every fight expecting to win. I sacrifice too much to let anybody else win. I won't allow it. I train too hard for it.
Regardless, I think it's going to be a highly technical fight. It's going to be a very tough fight. I expect from every second of every round I'm going to have to work for it against BJ Penn. He's as good as it gets. I have my work cut out for me but I'm confident I'll come away on August 8 the champ.
Derek Bolender (MMAmania.com): Is this fight going the full five rounds?
Kenny Florian: I'm not sure but I know I've been doing five rounds for the last two months now. I'm confident I can go five ridiculously hard rounds. I'm ready for that. Whatever it may be. I'm ready for a first round win or five hard rounds.
Derek Bolender (MMAmania.com): If you win the belt do you promise not to spit in the camera and say you need a Coors Light and all that stuff like Brock Lesnar did at UFC 100?
Kenny Florian: (laughs) I'm solemnly swear not to do that.
Derek Bolender (MMAmania.com): Maybe it's a Sam Adams in your case, some Boston lager.
Kenny Florian: (laughs) That would be acceptable.
Derek Bolender (MMAmania.com): What was your take on how Lesnar reacted after his victory over Frank Mir at UFC 100. Are you okay with it and, in general, is Lesnar good for the sport of MMA? Where do you come out on him?
Kenny Florian: It's tough man. Anytime you have a dominant champion in a sport it's never a bad thing. He certainly has proven to be dominant of late. I don't see too many people who can beat him at this point. It turned me off a little bit seeing the way he acted towards Frank Mir and his camp and all that stuff. I definitely was a little upset about it.
I know that Brock apologized later but there are some people watching the sport who already have these preconceived notions that we are barbarians and things like that. Seeing that fight kind of just confirms what they already thought about the sport perhaps.
It's tough man. Brock's a great fighter. I think he realized he made a mistake. He apologized so for that I don't have a problem with him. He definitely needs to be careful. Not just Brock but any fighter needs to be careful because there are kids watching and other people watching and it can give the wrong impression.
Derek Bolender (MMAmania.com): Rumor has it that Diego Sanchez has been guaranteed the winner of this fight. Do you think he deserves a title shot after coming off decision victories over Joe Stevenson and Clay Guida at 155?
Kenny Florian: I'll say yes and no. For me, I'd love to fight Diego. I'm excited if that would happen. Obviously, I'm just focused on BJ Penn but I do think that Gray Maynard and Frankie Edgar have done more in the lightweight division to deserve a shot over him. A fight between myself and Diego is a more marketable fight. That is fine with me.
Derek Bolender (MMAmania.com): Like you said, not to look past BJ in any way but is there a ‘Wanted' poster at the Kenny Florian Martial Arts Center with Diego's picture on it?
Kenny Florian: (laughs) No definitely not. BJ Penn is the only one up there right now.
Derek Bolender (MMAmania.com): Forrest Griffin and Anderson Silva are going to go at it at UFC 101 as well. Who do you got and why?
Kenny Florian: That's a tough fight. Forrest is a friend of mine. Anderson Silva, in my opinion, is one of the best fighters in the world - one of my favorite fighters. Right now you have to think Anderson Silva is going to be the favorite going into this fight. The guy's skill level is at a very high level. I believe it's at a higher level than what Forrest is at right now. I think Forrest will have the size advantage. Being the underdog is always a good thing for him. Forrest always does better when he's the underdog - when not much is expected of him. That's when he seems to perform at his best. We saw him when he was a favorite against (Keith) Jardine. He didn't do as well. I'm sure he felt the pressure as a champion when he fought Rashad Evans.
I think when he's the underdog that's when he really shines, which makes him a very dangerous fighter. It comes down to how smart of a game plan Forrest comes in with. He's going to have to really control his emotions out there. A more aggressive Forrest Griffin is more likely to get knocked out against Anderson Silva. That's when he's at his best - when guys are coming forward against him. I think he just needs to be careful but you have to give Anderson Silva the edge. Anytime Forrest Griffin goes in there anything can happen so it will be an exciting fight.
Derek Bolender (MMAmania.com): Let's stay with Anderson Silva. His last couple of fights he's won easily but he appears different. People say he may have lost his killer instinct, he's being too cautious to protect his belt and his legacy, whatever. As an observer what is your take on him at this juncture in his career?
Kenny Florian: As a fan of the sport he hasn't had the most exciting fights recently. You want him to put more on the line. You want to say, "Listen, his skill level is so far above that of Thales Leites. Why didn't he go out there and just try to take him out?" The reality is that Anderson Silva has always been a tactician. He's always been a guy who has been a very calculating assassin. He needs to see those openings. He needs to see those opportunities to attack and expose his opponents. If those aren't presented to him he's not going to take them. He's patient. He's experience and will take his time to wait for that perfect opportunity.
It takes two to tango and not all the blame should be on Anderson Silva. Would I like to see him in more exciting fights? Sure, but I don't think you can blame Anderson Silva 100% for that. If you're looking for a brawl you're probably not looking for a fight with Anderson Silva. He's a guy who will be exciting but at the right time when it's most beneficial to him, which I agree with.
Derek Bolender (MMAmania.com): Before I go I also wanted to ask you about your commentary on MMA Live and on the WEC and UFC telecasts. Do you feel like a pro at it yet and, if not, what would you say is the toughest part about it?
Kenny Florian: Definitely not a pro at all as of right now. I think I do a decent job. I still need more training. I'm never satisfied with anything that I do. I always think there's room for improvement. Just getting used to going in there and doing it over and over again helps. Certainly the stuff I'm doing for ESPN has helped me tremendously to become comfortable in front of the camera.
I'm trying my best to educate the common fans first and foremost and then the hardcore fans as well. I do my best and know that I still need to work on that stuff. I love doing it. I feel really blessed that I have the opportunity to do things like that. I'm looking forward to continuing to do stuff for both the UFC and the WEC.
Derek Bolender (MMAmania.com): Should Joe Rogan watch his back in about four or five years? Are you coming for him?
Kenny Florian: No, by no means. He's a guy that has been involved in martial arts probably longer than I've been alive. He's been around a long time. He knows the sport inside and out. Not only that but he does a great job of delivering his lines with excitement and passion. You can see it, it's very genuine.
Derek Bolender (MMAmania.com): He looks like he could get in the cage if the UFC ever need a replacement fighter at the last minute?
Kenny Florian: Yeah, he's that skilled. People forget that the guy is very skilled in stand-up and in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, obviously. He's a bad ass in his own right. No doubt about it.
Derek Bolender (MMAmania.com): That's all I had for you Kenny. Would you like to pass along a message to your fans or thank any sponsors at this time?
Kenny Florian: I want to thank all the fans for their support. I want to encourage everybody to check out KennyFlorian.com. I would like to thank all my coaches and teammates. Check out Florian Martial Arts Center. I would like to thank Tapout as well.
Derek Bolender (MMAmania.com): Thanks again Kenny and best of luck in a few weeks. We'll do it again soon.
Kenny Florian: Thanks buddy.
Derek Bolender is a staff writer for InsideFights.com. He is also syndicated to FoxSports.com and CNNSI.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/DerekMMAwriter and on Facebook. Look for future articles from him on MMAmania.com.