UFC 118 was supposed to be the night that Kenny Florian earned his third opportunity to fulfill his dream, his destiny, of becoming a world champion. In front of his home town crowd Florian was expected to go in and proved to the world that he was ready for this opportunity. Instead, Florian lost a three round decision in a fight where he did little to prove his critics wrong.
Florian, who is one of the best lightweight fighters in the world, has been criticized for his performance in big fights. Even Dana White said at the UFC 118 post fight press conference that "Kenny Florian chokes in big fights." In his first title fight at UFC 64, Florian was dominated on the ground by Sean Sherk. Florian offered very little in the way of take down defense and Sherk took advantage of it. Sherk took Florain down every round and used his superior wrestling skills to earn a five round decision. Florian was able to inflict a nasty cut on the head of Sherk but he did little else offensively. Florian was timid in the fight and let Sherk dictate the pace of the fight and use his wrestling to control the outcome. Florian got his second opportunity at the title at UFC 101. In this fight, Florian attempted to impose his will against B.J. Penn but he did not stick to his strengths. Instead of using his Muai Thai striking skills to set up the rest of his arsenal, he attempted to press Penn up against the cage and wear him down, hoping to set up a takedown. Florian did this for two rounds before Penn decided to change things up. Penn allowed Florian to press him up against the cage and attempt a takedown; Penn then hit a switch, got Florian down, took his back and choked him out. Though Florian was not dominated in this fight, he again did very little to silence his critics. He certainly did not fight like the he had done in his previous fights, victories that earned his shot at the title. He was not aggressive with his striking; he was rather flat and complacent. Against Gray Maynard at UFC 118, Florian again came out flat, did not use his superior striking to set up his offense, and failed at defending take downs. Instead Florian allowed Maynard to sit outside, get off first in the striking game and set up his takedowns. Florian allowed Maynard to dictate the pace of the fight, take him down and earn the victory.
In three fights with title implications, Florian has come up short every time. So where does he go from here? There is no question that Florian is one of the best in the world and really there is no doubt that Florian on paper could win any of those fights. So with that in mind, what should Florian do next? In addition to going back to the drawing board, Florian is going to have to rethink his career. He will have to decide whether or not he should consider dropping out of the UFC and competing for the WEC in the 145lbs division. If he could make that weight, he would be very dominate and possibly the man to defeat Jose Aldo. If Florian wants to stay in the lightweight division, then he needs to rethink how he prepares himself mentally for these big fights. Florian is and has always been a mentally strong person and takes his Samuri beliefs very seriously, however he has not looked that way in any fight that had title implications. Florian will have to get back to his dominate ways and prove to Dana White that he is not a choke if he ever wants another opportunity at UFC gold. It will be interesting to see what Florian chooses do to at this point in his career and to see if he can bounce back from another devastating defeat that knocked him down the mountain.