History in the Making: Kenny Florian barrels through the lightweight division en route to a title shot

Photo via UFC.com

Four weight classes and 40 pounds.

When Kenny Florian made his official UFC debut in the finals of the first The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) tournament, he did so as a middleweight. It was out of necessity moreso than choice but "KenFlo" made the most of the opportunity. 

He promptly made his return to welterweight before dropping another weight class two fights later. One win at 155-pounds -- along with his exposure on TUF -- put him inside the Octagon opposite Sean Sherk to decide the first UFC lightweight champion since Jens Pulver vacated the title.

Was it undeserved? An argument could be made either way. The division was in a rebuilding stage and Florian had the name recognition that could reel in casual fans but one win in the weight class doesn't exactly scream number one contender.

What one can't argue is whether or not "KenFlo" earned his second title shot. We'll take a look at that impressive run leading up to his bout with B.J. Penn as we look forward to UFC 136: "Edgar vs. Maynard III" next week (Oct. 8) and Florian's opportunity to become featherweight champ four weight classes and forty pounds later.

Let's take a stroll down memory lane, shall we?

After coming up short against Sean Sherk at UFC 64, it was back to the drawing board for Florian. He returned six months later and rattled off three quick submission wins over the likes of veterans Dokonjonosuke Mishima and Din Thomas. After ending 2006 with a disappointment, "KenFlo" bounced back with a clean sheet the following year.

It was after the win over Thomas that "KenFlo" infamously stated inside the Octagon, "I finish fights!" As cocky as it may have been, there was no arguing with results.

His next bout was a headlining tilt against fellow TUF alumni Joe Lauzon. A member of the talent-rich fifth season cast, Lauzon actually made his Octagon debut before his stint on the reality show. He welcomed back Jen Pulver to the UFC fold and did so in particularly brutal fashion.

What was supposed to be a warm homecoming for "Lil Evil" turned into a very short evening for the former champ. Lauzon barreled a knee into Pulver's chin and then finished him off with a hook that dropped the former Miletich Fighting Systems fighter to the mat.

"J-Lau" continued to impress on TUF 5 and also after, winning his next two official bouts. His performances put him on a collision course with Florian in a fight that had title shot implications.

The first round saw Lauzon pushing the pace and getting his opponent on the mat but Florian came out stronger after the break. He secured a takedown on "J-Lau" and swiftly advanced to full mount where a barrage of punches put an exclamation point on his win.

Florian's next test would come in the form of Roger Huerta. "El Matador" was coming off a brilliant and thrilling win over Clay Guida and was poised to become a potential poster boy for the UFC. Huerta was young, good looking, and an incredible talent inside the cage.

Florian didn't care. He dominated him just like he had everyone else.

"KenFlo" controlled the action in the first round, getting Huerta on the mat and moving quickly to full mount. Once back on their feet, Florian bullied his opponent around the Octagon, not allowing him to put together any significant offense.

The next 10 minutes were nearly all Florian as the TUF veteran exhibited superior footwork and mixed his striking and grappling well enough to keep "El Matador" out of his rhythm. Huerta suffered his first UFC loss and second overall that night, dropping all three rounds to his opponent.

Florian was now riding a five-fight win streak and had his eyes dead set on another title shot. But lightweight champion B.J. Penn was keeping himself busy at 170-pounds, preparing for a rematch with Georges St. Pierre. Rather than wait on the sidelines, "KenFlo" decided to keep busy.

He was booked against fellow former title contender Joe Stevenson at UFC 91. "Daddy" was one fight removed from his shot at championship glory and was also looking to get another crack at the 155-pound belt.

Stevenson muscled his opponent early on but "KenFlo" was able to take control midway through the round when he got the fight to the mat. Just like he was able to do against Lauzon and Huerta, Florian got to full mount and began raining down ground and pound.

"J-Lau" couldn't survive the beatdown, Huerta managed to escape after giving up his back. Perhaps trying to replicate "El Matador's" strategy, Stevenson did the same but with disastrous results. Legs wrapped firmly around "Daddy's" waist, Florian refused to give up position and sunk in a rear naked choke, forcing his opponent to tap.

The original TUF runner-up finally earned his second title shot. His dominant run through the lightweight division -- combined with Penn's loss to "GSP" -- convinced some that he may very well be the fighter to upend "The Prodigy" as the 155-pound king.

But at UFC 101, Penn proved himself to be on another level when he easily dispatched of "KenFlo." A year later, Florian dropped a bout to UFC 136 headliner Gray Maynard which prompted his decision to cut down yet another weight class. A successful featherweight debut now places him in front of current 145-pound champion Jose Aldo in the co-main event next Saturday.

Will third time be the charm for "KenFlo"?

Or is he destined to be remember as a good -- but not great -- fighter; always the bridesmaid, never the bride?

What do you think, Maniacs?

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