There comes a time in everyone's life where an opportunity is presented to re-evaluate your life, your career, your circle of friends, etc. In a fighter's life it is no different. Of course, the situation is much more amplified when millions of people watch you struggle, watch you lose and watch you fade.
UFC 118 was one of those times for a lot of fighters.
We saw Kenny Florian hit a crossroad in his career. Already well into his 30’s, and failing in two title fights, he lost a number one contender bout in the same fashion he has always struggled with: Being dominating by positional wrestling.
We next saw Randy Couture do what was expected, nothing overly impressive. He is in his late 40’s, well past what many expect to be the physical prime of athletes and participated in a squash fight that did little to nothing for his career path if he wants to stay at the elite level.
Then we saw BJ Penn, the one time kingpin of the 155 pound division, a pound-for-pound elite caliber fighter and easily one of the most gifted fighters in the sport lose a second straight fight to a fighter many thought didn’t belong in the cage a second time.
That fighter was Frankie Edgar, who saw his career propel into mainstream after beating the longtime champ. It wasn’t entirely that he beat him, it’s how he beat him: In impressive fashion doing what nobody thought would be done by thoroughly dominating the champ.
The rest after the jump.
On October 14th, 2006, Florian was given a title shot against Sean Sherk. After losing his debut against Diego Sanchez at middleweight, Florian fought twice at 170 and once at 155 against Sam Stout to earn his title shot. Sherk had just beaten Nick Diaz and was pitted against Florian for the vacant UFC lightweight title.
Wrestling would be the deciding factor in the fight as Sherk showed superior skills by taking down, slamming and controlling Kenny at will. It should be noted that Sherk reportedly fought with a torn rotator cuff. Kenny would find some success in his elbows from the bottom that opened up cuts on Sherk that bled profusely.
At the end of 25 minutes however Kenny fell short on the score cards. 50-45, 49-46, 49-46 all for Sean Sherk.
Kenny would bounce back, winning six in a row which included Roger Huerta and Joe Stevenson which was the number one contender fight. This time however, the title shot meant a showdown with division kingpin BJ Penn.
While Penn had won the belt by beating Sean Sherk and defended it versus Joe Stevenson; he had just lost a Superfight to George St. Pierre which was contested at welterweight. Kenny tried to implement a GSP-esque game plan wearing down and grinding Penn, which could have scored him some rounds if the fight were to go all five rounds.
Unfortunately for Florian, his wrestling was once again a contributing factor to losing the title fight. In the fourth round BJ Penn took Kenny down seemingly effortlessly and proceeded to advance position until he secured a fight ending rear naked choke.
Many questioned Kenny’s heart and elite status atop the ranks of the UFC’s lightweight division. He would go on to be impressive in stopping Clay Guida in the second round and derailing the hype of the debut of Takanori Gomi which saw Kenny unleash wicked jabs and finish with a rear naked choke.
After beating two solid fighters, the UFC saw fit to reward him with another number one contender fight for a crack at the belt once more held currently by Frankie Edgar. He would face Gray Maynard, an undefeated wrestling powerhouse who had just strung up nine wins notably defeating Frankie Edgar, Rich Clementi, Roger Huerta and Nate Diaz.
This fight played very similar to the Sherk title fight as Kenny was taken down and controlled en route to a decision loss. Kenny would present no answers or troubles for Gray’s dominating top game and once again came up short.
Where does Kenny Florian go from here? Dana White may indeed have a point when saying Kenny just chokes in big fights. Sure he has beaten a lot of big name guys but when he enters the realm of upper echelon elite fighters he loses.
His Achilles heel clearly is his wrestling defense. He has shown his ability to be an effective offensive grappler but has been susceptible to being taken down and controlled. In my opinion Kenny needs to truly work on his wrestling to ever be relevant at 155 again. In order to display that he is serious, he should get back into training as soon as possible and is pit against another talented wrestler in the division.
Randy man-handled boxer turned mixed martial artist James Toney with relative ease. What did this fight do for Randy’s career? In one hand you can say nothing, it was a meaningless squash fight but on the other hand it did a lot for Randy’s marketability, for his new movie and for his overall image of Captain America – Super Hero of MMA.
Randy showed the world what we already knew and that’s you can’t join MMA and expect to be elite without proper training. But still, what’s next for Randy?
Couture is currently riding a three fight win streak with wins over Brandon Vera, Mark Coleman and James Toney. At the ripe age of 47 does Couture have what it takes to hang in there with some of the top 10 Light Heavyweights in the world?
Some question Randy’s chin after taking a few solid shots from Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira in their epic clash. I guess it really is a toss up since exactly a year before the Nogueira fight Randy took very solid shots from the powerful Gabriel Gonzaga.
As a legend of the sport, Randy’s marketability alone will propel him into super fight situations that may have title implications. His fights with Toney and Coleman were nothing more then spectacle style fights that are for popularity instead of rankings.
Dana White in the press conference mentioned Randy would be mixing it up with one of the top guys in the stacked 205-pound division. Randy is even more impressive through this all because he always remains focused on the next task at hand while keeping us all happy as MMA fans.
One of the most gifted fighters to ever grace our sport, his legend precedes him in both Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and MMA. He has always been a gamer who wants to challenge himself since the moment he entered the sport. Fighting Caol Uno, Jens Pulver and Matt Serra before leaving the UFC entirely to pursue what he felt were bigger fights.
He fought in his home of Hawaii against Takanori Gomi who would of course go on to be Pride’s number one lightweight fighter. He would return shortly after to beat UFC golden boy Matt Hughes for the title at 170 pounds, only to leave once again this time to take Rodrigo Gracie at 185 pounds, Duane "Bang" Ludwig, a heavyweight fight vs. Lyoto Machida and another middleweight bout with Renzo Gracie.
BJ Penn has always stepped up to challenges, however he may have met his match ironically in a much smaller fighter then he has been used to facing. In his last two fights we have seen what looks to be a slower and less aggressive fighter. Clearly not the same fighter that beat Kenny Florian and walked right through Diego Sanchez. He was beat to the punch all night; he was taken down and controlled. At lightweight we never saw anyone do that to BJ Penn.
What is next for BJ Penn? That’s a question we would all like answered, some have speculated a move to 170 and others have pondered retirement. BJ Penn is still relatively young, but is he caught in the same web that Mirko Cro Cop is stuck in.
Does he have the same fighting/warrior mentality to come back fully focused and ready to get back in the mix? Or will he enjoy a nice tour on the mega fight express similar to that of Matt Hughes? As one of my idols I hope he takes these losses and puts the hard work to improve for his upcoming fights. I don’t think its necessary he goes to 170 pounds as there are plenty of fights at 155. I am on the bandwagon with the suggestion he fights Gomi again.
At 28 years old, Edgar has the whole world of MMA in his grasp. He has an impressive record of 13-1 with notable wins over Tyson Griffin in his UFC debut, Sean Sherk, Hermes Franca and Matt Veach and he now has two wins over BJ Penn both in lightweight title matches. Frankie Edgar is a very small 155er, but has defied the odds and the logic of cutting down to be a much bigger 145er.
Edgar fought BJ Penn in a fight almost nobody expected him to win back UFC 112 in April of 2010. He was quick on his feet and beat BJ Penn frequently in exchanges. His outstanding cardio propelled him to victory as he went five rounds toe-to-toe with the champ even taking Penn down which is a huge accomplishment.
He mixed up his agile footwork with quick hands and level changes to disrupt the rhythm for Penn. Although many were upset with the decision, Frankie won unanimously that night.
This past weekend the two had their rematch. Edgar recycled his original game plan and improved on it. I sat in disbelief as Frankie took BJ down almost easily and slammed him down to the mat. But that’s not what impressed me, his ground game and scrambling did. BJ had his back, nearly had the mount and Frankie escaped them all.
Frankie showed us why he deserved the first fight by indisputably winning this fight in a very lopsided decision victory. Up next Frankie will have the change to avenge his only career loss when he faces the bigger and smothering wrestler, Gray Maynard.
The Bigger Picture
There are a couple themes that have been shared by all fighters mentioned in this post. Heart and humility.
Heart isn’t just a cliché, heart is an actual skill that fighters either have or don’t have. Are you willing to take some shots coming in to strike, are you willing to fight out of submissions when you’re in high danger and the submission is deep?
When you are down two rounds to one, are you coming out in that third and final round to end it and make up for the last two rounds mistakes? That answer was displayed when Kenny Florian did little to nothing in that final round when his corner knew he was down two rounds. Kenny didn’t let it all loose. Instead, he remained cautious and didn’t let his kicks or punches loose because he was trying to avoid the takedown.
Maybe Kenny has heart, maybe he doesn’t, but he didn’t display any against Gray Maynard.
Humility is a lost characteristic it seems in this world, or at least a fading one. Randy Couture may be the classiest and most humble man in our sport. James Toney trashed talked his way into an MMA bout and the trash talking was quickly focused on Randy as soon as the bout was signed.
Randy smiled the entire time; he trained hard and didn’t get trapped into the verbal warfare. Humble in both victory and defeat, Randy Couture shows us that hard work and dedication pays off. He is 47 years old and has the fitness level superior to a lot of us in our 20’s.
What makes Randy so marketable is his clean image, his soft way of speaking and his natural charisma that has men idolizing him and woman attracted to him. Did Randy know he was going to win? Only he knows, but the rest of us knew; but yet even after he was the first to be gracious towards Toney and show his appreciation to all of us…. The fans.
BJ Penn has been the subject to a lot of hostility citing reasons like making up excuses, being a cry-baby, etc. After this fight he was humbled. He talked in a low demeanor, he said he would need time to evaluate things and just looked beaten.
He has always had the weight of being the "Prodigy" on his shoulders and with so much expected of him BJ Penn crumbled. Who knows what is in store for Penn, but hopefully he can silence his many critics by staying out of the media spotlight, getting back to basics and coming back to show us all why we should never count out the Hawaiian.
The big story of the night. Frankie Edgar displayed all three aforementioned traits. He showed heart. He was the underdog twice vs. Penn even though the second time around he was the champ. The chips were stacked against him as many believed a new and improved Penn would demolish him.
He didn’t crumble under pressure; he didn’t read into all the fight hype that BJ wasn’t BJ in their last fight. Edgar went in their and absolutely beat BJ Penn down for five rounds in all facets of the game. He was humble in victory; he spoke graciously of his opponent and welcomed all future obstacles down the road.
With all that he showed humility as well. He is an easily adored fighter and a soon to be fan favorite. Say what you want about his lack of finishing ability but someone of his stature, with his heart and his humble nature and humility and it’s hard to not say the guy is fit to be champion.
In MMA nothing is guaranteed, expect the unexpected. Its the beauty of the sport.