The UFC featherweight title is on the line this Saturday night (October 8, 2011) in the co-main event of UFC 136 as champion Jose Aldo takes on previous two-time lightweight title challenger Kenny Florian.
Aldo is one of the most dangerous fighters in the entire world and his top five placement on the pound for pound rankings proves that. He's consistently brought home "Knockout of the Night" and "Fight of the Night" awards in his sting with Zuffa and he's hoping to add to that collection while retaining his title.
For Kenny Florian, this may be his last shot at becoming a champion. He's 35 years old, which is practically Randy Couture-esque for a lighter weight class. He's been labeled a choker by Dana White in the past for repeatedly coming up short when it was all on the line. He's hoping to finally break through and win the big one.
Will Aldo showcase his tremendous skill and defend the title with style? Can Florian finally rise to the challenge of a big fight and fix his reputation? Who will be the UFC featherweight champion after this fight is all said and done?
Record: 19-1 overall, 1-0 in the UFC
Key Losses: none
How he got here: After making waves in Brazil, Aldo migrated to the WEC and immediately began wrecking the place. He tore through his first four WEC bouts with deadly striking and decided to cap it off by earning a title shot with an unbelievable eight second knockout of Cub Swanson at WEC 41. Believe it or not, the time of the knockout was the least impressive part of it. Aldo flew through the air and connected on poor Cub's chin with not one but two flying knees at once and finished the stunned Swanson off with quick ground and pound.
The Brazilian made the most of his opportunity and manhandled then-champion Mike Brown, finishing the turtling titleholder with ground and pound from behind. His victory set up a WEC super-fight with the incredibly popolar former champion Urijah Faber at WEC 48. "Scarface" would work a different gameplan for that fight, massacring Faber's legs with sharp kicks until they turned into linguine and "The California Kid's" corner needed to carry him to his stool in between rounds. The champ retained his title one final time, viciously knocking out Ultimate Fighter (TUF) season five finalist Manny Gamburyan early in the second round.
After the UFC/WEC merger, Aldo was handed the UFC featherweight title and got an opportunity to defend it against Mark Hominick this past April. The Brazilian controlled much of the first four rounds, but an illness and a really rough weight cut caught up to him in the final frame where Hominick took over and put a beating on him. Hominick couldn't finish though and lost the decision. Now, Aldo will defend his belt one more time against two-time title challenger Kenny Florian and he's hoping he can look better this next time around.
How he gets it done: Jose Aldo has a very diverse set of skills. He's got heavy hands and some of the nastiest leg kicks you will ever see. His background as a soccer player may be a factor in that.
Look for Aldo to try to keep this fight standing and really go to work with his kicks. He does a terrific job of closing off combinations with a leg kick. If he can connect a few times, it's going to slow Florian down and make him an easier target. If Florian begins to lose some of his lateral quickness, the champion could swoop in with a flying knee or some other devastating frontal attack.
Aldo also mixed in some takedowns with his striking in his last fight so that's not out of the realm of possibility. Kenny Florian has a pretty strong ground game, but if Aldo can put him on his back, he's got some pretty lethal ground and pound. He won his title originally by grounding and pounding Mike Brown, a strong wrestler and he recently knocked Manny Gamburyan out cold with ground and pound after hurting him with an uppercut.
Aldo is such a terrific athlete that you could literally expect anything from him in this fight. At just 25 years old, he can definitely still be learning new tricks.
Record: 15-5 overall, 12-4 in the UFC
How he got here: Kenny Florian earned an invite to the UFC after Dana White watched him lose an incredibly spirited split decision to Drew Fickett. He got his start in the UFC as a cast member of the first ever season of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) as a middleweight. Despite his size disadvantage, the Bostonian made it all the way to the finals before losing to Diego Sanchez in the show's finale.
Florian would then drop to welterweight where he scored consecutive second round stoppages. Not satisfied, "Ken-Flo" would cut even lower to lightweight where he would earn a title shot against Sean Sherk at UFC 64. Florian gashed Sherk with his razer-sharp elbows but he couldn't withstand the "Muscle Shark's" tremendous wrestling and core strength, losing a unanimous decision.
After stringing together five straight victories, he would again earn a shot at the title but would put on a perplexing show against the-champion B.J. Penn. Florian tried to work a clinch gameplan that left many confused before losing in the fourth round via rear naked choke to "The Prodigy." Florian would work his way back to the top again but dropped a unanimous decision in a number one contender match to Gray Maynard. While recuperating from an injury, he decided to try a cut to featherweight, his fourth weight class in the UFC.
In his 145 pound debut, Florian got hurt a couple times against scrappy Brazilian Diego Nunes, but his all-around game was enough to give him a decision victory and earn him yet another shot at a UFC title.
How he gets it done: Kenny Florian has a strong area of well-rounded skills. He's put the time in to become a solid striker with excellent Muay Thai and his Brazilian jiu-jitsu game is very aggressive. If he ever has an opponent hurt, his killer instinct takes over and the fight is finished soon after.
What Florian needs to do against Aldo is get inside, whether it's putting him on his back with takedowns or getting up close in the stand-up. He can't stay on the outside and eat kicks or throw punches that Aldo easily avoids with his stellar subtle head movement.
If he can get inside standing, "Ken-Flo" needs to get to work immediately with short attacks of knees and elbows. He's got the sharpest elbows in the business and they've won him numerous fights in the past with doctor stoppages. We've never really seen Jose Aldo bleed before, but if anyone can do it, it's Kenny Florian.
The Tristar fighter needs to really push the pace in this fight. He's been overly cautious in big fights in the past but he needs to get over that mental block and get in Jose Aldo's face from start to finish, similar to what Demetrious Johnson was able to do to Dominick Cruz in the stand-up portion of his title fight last week. If he can do that and not be put on his back, he might have a chance.
Fight "X-Factor:" There are two X-Factors for this bout. The first is Kenny Florian's change of gameplan in big title fights. He's a finishing machine in most of his bouts, but he steps off the gas pedal for his title fights or for important matches in his career. He needs to realize that what got him here is his aggression and killer instinct, who cares if there's tape of it. If he can put that behind him, perhaps he has a chance. A passive "Ken-Flo" will be an unconscious "Ken-Flo."
The other factor is the weight cut, and that's for both fighters. Kenny Florian was a pretty good sized lightweight and he had to be extremely disciplined to drop down to 145 pounds. It may have cost him some of his ability to take a punch as Diego Nunes dropped him at least twice at UFC 131, something no one had really done to him before in a UFC fight. Jose Aldo had some serious issues making weight for UFC 129 and he's still a young fighter and getting bigger. As he gets older, it's going to be increasingly more difficult to make featherweight. At some point, cutting all that weight is going to be counterproductive and it will benefit his opponents. Perhaps this is that time.
Bottom Line: The major thing about this fight is, when both men are at the top of their game, they are straight up killers. Kenny Florian has had only 25 percent of his UFC fights go to a decision. Aldo is in a similar boat with 25 percent of his career fights going to a decision as well. These guys are finishers, they're aggressive and they usually bring it every time out. There's some potential for some serious fireworks with this match-up and especially if Florian's chin has begun to chip, Aldo could score that brutal knockout he needs to put him over with the UFC faithful. Aldo won "Fight of the Night" in his UFC debut despite not being even close to himself. If he's fully healthy, this should be a lot of fun.
Who will come out on top at UFC 136? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!