Fresh off his title shot loss to lightweight champion B.J. Penn at last weekend’s UFC 101: "Declaration," Kenny Florian appeared on MMAmania.com’s exclusive presentation of Pro MMA Radio on Monday.
Not a lot of fighters go on a media tour following a loss, but Florian was a terrific sport, fielding questions from host Larry Pepe about his game plan going into the fight, what lessons he takes away from the loss, and where he goes from here.
Describing the loss as "heartbreaking," Florian conceded that the nine months he spent awaiting his title shot "definitely hurt" him. Florian earned his number one contender status in November 2008 after submitting Joe Stevenson at UFC 91: "Couture vs. Lesnar"; however, he was forced to wait for his title shot until Penn moved up a division to challenge welterweight champion George St. Pierre in January 2009.
The wait took its toll mostly on his striking game, according to "KenFlo," specifically with getting his timing and range down to where he felt comfortable in the fight.
He also felt his wrestling needs to improve. While his entries were good and his timing was "okay," his finishing "wasn’t what it should have been," as he wasn’t able to secure an effective takedown in the fight. But again, he points to being a little rusty for why he couldn’t find his rhythm.
"I think that comes down to just being a little more active. I can’t be away from the cage for more than three or four months. I just can’t. I knew it would be a factor, but in my head I didn’t want it to be, and I tried to be as positive as possible."
There’s been some talk of Florian’s game plan heading into the fight. Penn criticized his opponent’s efforts to take the action to the ground, suggesting that his unsuccessful takedown attempts just tired Florian out.
But Florian disagrees, saying he was never tired in the fight — he also gave Penn credit for being in "probably the best shape he’s ever been in."
Florian stuck to his game plan — work the clinch, press Penn to the cage, and put him on his back — which, he says, differed from his friend Georges St. Pierre’s successful game plan against the lightweight champion at UFC 94.
Whereas GSP looked to force his weight specifically onto Penn’s shoulders, his "finishes really came off of leg attacks, not really from the clinch position," said Florian. "George St. Pierre is really more of a leg-type finisher. He’ll go for singles and doubles and high crotches."
Regardless, Florian admits he needs to work on his wrestling, as "B.J. has always been a very difficult guy to take down, regardless, and even more so at 155." He plans to invest in a regulation size cage with the same type of canvas as the UFC’s Octagon — something he’s never had in his career — for his own gym, so that he can get a more authentic feel in training.
So how does Florian score the first three rounds, leading up to the fourth, when Penn was able to take control of his back and sink in a rear naked choke?
At the time, he felt he was up two rounds to one. While Penn likely secured the first round, he felt "confident" he had won the next two. In fact, after the fight, Florian says, he was approached by the commissioner who mentioned that at least one of the judges, if not a majority of them, agreed.
Later, in the fourth, when both fighters ended up on the ground with Penn on top, Florian realized he had lost the round, and he went into survival mode, hoping to stay alive so that he could come back strong in the final frame.
"At that point, I had made too big of a mistake, and I knew against a guy like B.J. you can’t make those kinds of mistakes. … And I did, and that was that."
The mistake Florian refers to was not being able to pin his legs up against the fence when "The Prodigy" shot in for a double leg. As Florian says, "If you’re on your back with B.J. it’s going to be very difficult."
In the end, it was Penn’s night, and Florian confirmed that the champion looked to bury the hatchet, saying to "KenFlo" after the fight, "Let’s be friends again. Let’s be friends again."
While he is disappointed in the loss, Florian appreciates the experience to test himself against the very best his division has to offer. He may have come up short against the "master" of the lightweights, but he will forever be a student of mixed martial arts.
"I said it was about being a master, but even if I won this fight, I wouldn’t have been a master. I’ll always be a student."
Until then, he makes no excuses.
"There’s things that I know I could have done better. Was it my best performance? No. But … I hate going back and saying after a loss, ‘Well I coulda beaten that guy’ … At the end of the day, I gotta go back and prove it (in a fight). For me, right now, it’s about getting back in the gym, getting better, stepping up my game."
Florian now looks to jump right back into the thick of things with whoever the UFC throws at him. But make no mistake, he wants one of the toughest guys in the division.
One of those guys is The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) Season 1 winner Diego Sanchez, who finished Florian in the first round to capture the TUF title way back in 2005. Florian fought a whopping 30 pounds out of his weight class to make it to the finals, and is widely considered to be one of the most-improved fighters from that inaugural season.
He’ll have to wait for a highly anticipated rematch, however, as Sanchez will likely get the next crack at Penn’s belt. Florian, a regularly featured commentator on ESPN’s "MMA Live" program, broke down "The Nightmare’s" chances:
"I don’t think (Diego) has the striking to get it done, I don’t think he has the wrestling to get it done. He has phenomenal cardio, phenomenal heart, great ground skills, but I think he’s going to have some trouble with B.J. … You gotta have B.J. as the favorite going into that fight, no doubt about it."
Keeping his "MMA Live" hat on, Florian also commented on another UFC 101-featured fighter in Anderson Silva, whose three minute, 23 second destruction of former light heavyweight champion Forrest Griffin may have secured "The Spider’s" place as the very best pound-for-pound fighter in the world.
"It’s between him and George St. Pierre, really. Maybe I’m a little biased because I’m friends with Georges. Both of those guys are very well-deserving. … But Anderson Silva, that’s his home out there. That’s the difference. … Anderson Silva is the perfect person for you to show a fight and say, ‘Listen, guys, this is an artist. He’s not a fighter. He is an artist. He’s an absolute master.’ It’s beautiful to watch him fight."
And speaking of Griffin, what was Florian’s take on his friend’s exit from the cage immediately after being tooled by Silva?
"It must have been a tough reality for him, and I feel bad for Forrest. I know how much work he puts into it. There are a lot of emotions going on in there. We saw with Brock Lesnar, he reacted (after winning) in a weird way with some emotions, and Forrest did as well. They weren’t the first, they won’t be the last. It’s a tough thing in there, man. So many things are going (on) in your head after a fight."
Always a class act, Florian remains one of the best lightweight fighters in the world and a terrific ambassador to the sport.