By: Steven Schneider
One of the match-ups on the recently aired November 15 UFC 91 card was Ken (KenFlo) Florian vs. Joe (Daddy) Stevenson. Stevenson acknowledged that he felt slighted that the odds-makers had him as the underdog. They apparently knew something he didn’t, because Florian easily submitted Stevenson in the first round. It took a bit more than four minutes for Florian to sink in a rear naked choke to stop Stevenson in his tracks. He dominated the fight in every respect. Early on, Florian landed a hard blow that rocked Stevenson. It soon went to the ground and ended with Florian’s arm wrapped tightly around Stevenson’s neck. He had a choice to either tap or go unconscious and Stevenson chose to tap.
Florian is a force to be reckoned with. His career began in 2003, with his first loss coming a year later to Drew Fickett. Soon after, the Ultimate Fighter reality television show aired and Florian was invited to fight as a middleweight. He now fights in the 155 lb. division as a lightweight, but when he was on “TUF” 1 reality show he fought as a middleweight.
In the first middleweight TUF 1 semifinal match, Florian defeated Chris Leben at 3:11 of the second round after a doctor stoppage due to opening a gash above Chris’ eye. Florian possesses vicious elbows and he has stopped many opponents with them.
Besides losses to Sean Sherk and Drew Fickett, Florian’s only other loss was to Diego Sanchez. Florian and Sanchez fought each other on TUF 1 with a victorious Sanchez capturing the title of Ultimate Fighter. Sanchez beat Florian by a TKO at 2:49 of the first round in the middleweight division. Florian was dominated from the onset, and at no time did it seem that he had a chance to win the title of Ultimate Fighter. Florian must have taken this devastating loss to heart because he trained incessantly, dropped down to the 155lb. division, fought as a lightweight, and won his next three fights. He was then offered a chance to fight Sean Sherk for the vacant lightweight championship title.
It was a good decision to drop his weight because Florian only lost once in this weight category. This sole loss as a 155 lb. lightweight was to Sean Sherk, when they fought for the title. This epic five-round battle occurred during UFC 64 in October, 2006. This decision loss must have invigorated and energized Florian further because he reinvented himself as a much new and improved fighter. If this battle were fought today, the referee might very well hold up Florian’s hand at the fight’s conclusion instead of Sherk’s.
Besides the preceding, Florian holds wins over some widely recognized names. He has beaten Sam Stout, Din Thomas, Joe Lauzon, Roger Huerta, Alex Karalexis, Kit Cope and Alvin Robinson. Florian has a black belt in BJJ and recently opened a new gym in Brookline, Massachusetts. He often does not get to showcase his ground skills, as he has greatly improved his striking and ends the fight standing. His Muay Thai is off the charts and it appears that Florian no longer has chinks in his armor. Is all this enough, however, to beat a man widely recognized as one of the greats? I’m naturally referring to B.J. (The Prodigy) Penn.
Penn began his career in 2001 and won three straight fights. He was offered a chance to fight Jens Pulver, who at that time was the lightweight champion. Penn lost the decision, won his next two bouts, then had a draw with Caol Uno (they first met in the ring approximately one year earlier when Penn KO’d him 11 seconds into the fight), won his next four fights and then lost a decision fight to Lyoto Machida. He is now 13-0 and will probably soon be given a light heavyweight title shot — so when Penn lost to a decision to a man with Machida’s great strengths and capabilities it says a lot about Penn’s ability as a fighter.
Penn’s only two other losses were to George St. Pierre and Matt Hughes. These were back-to-back losses for Penn and when he lost to Hughes, like Florian, Penn reinvented himself as a fighter. Penn’s biggest obstacle in the fight game was his cardio. I write “was” because this is no longer an issue. Penn finally is doing what he must. He trains very hard, eats properly, and has his cardio where it should be. Penn has the uncanny ability to stay on his feet when it seems that anyone else would be down. It’s amazing to watch Penn hop around on one foot while simultaneously striking, as his opponent is doing everything possible to get him to the ground. Penn seems more than comfortable fighting on his back. He trains out of his gym in Hilo, Hawaii, and is world known for his BJJ skills.
Penn last fought in May, 2008 at UFC 84. He was and still is the lightweight champion, and Sean Sherk wanted the belt. Sherk fought valiantly but Penn was simply too much for him. During round three, Penn unleashed a wrenchingly powerful knee to Sherk’s face which caused him to instantly buckle. Sherk could not continue when round four was scheduled to begin.
Penn holds notable wins over big-name fighters such as Din Thomas, Jens Pulver (Penn slapped on a devastating rear naked choke on Pulver during TUF 5 finale), Matt Serra, Takanori Gomi, Matt Hughes, Duane Ludwig, Rodrigo and Renzo Gracie and Joe Stevenson. It can be said that B.J. Penn has never fought an easy match and all of his losses were to highly respectable opponents. Now that Penn’s cardio is at an optimum level, opponents will have a difficult time taking down or beating “The Prodigy.”
It would be interesting to see how Florian’s BJJ skills match up to Penn’s. They are both black belts in BJJ, and if I had to describe how well they both are on the ground, the word would be scary. That’s how good they both are on their backs. If the fighters stay on their feet, the question becomes “who would have the advantage?” As mentioned above, Florian’s Muay Thai skills are off the charts but Penn has serious power in both of his hands. When Penn fought and lost to St. Pierre in March 2006 in UFC 58, he lost by a split decision. Some people thought that Penn won that fight. But that’s why there are referees. By the end of this fight it was evident that Penn was seriously spent. He hit St. Pierre with many powerful shots that almost ended the fight and if his cardio was what it is today, this outcome might have been very different. Granted, St. Pierre is now a totally remade fighter himself, and if he and Penn meet in an upcoming battle, there will be no easy choice to pick as to who will win.
If Penn fights St. Pierre for the 170 lb. welterweight title and wins, the question will be asked, “Will Penn remain a welterweight or continue as the lightweight and welterweight champion?” If he wants to continue fighting as a 155 lb. fighter, he will most likely face Florian. I write “most likely” because in MMA, anything can happen.
Despite Dana White acknowledging that Florian will get a crack at Penn, plans occasionally go awry. I’m sure though that Dana will do everything he can to ensure that Florian either fights Penn for the lightweight title or Florian will fight the #2 contender of the “vacant” lightweight title if Penn moves up to and remains as only a welterweight champion (if he beats St. Pierre).