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Kenny Florian reflects on loss to Penn

On Aug. 8, 2009, Kenny Florian had the most important fight of his life at UFC 101 against “The Prodigy” B.J. Penn. It was a lightweight title fight that ended up going four rounds.

Penn kept it standing most of the fight despite Florian’s repeated attempts to take him down. Florian also could not seem to find his rhythm with his striking. In the fourth round, Penn got his own takedown, mounted Florian, and ended up choking the number one contender until he tapped.

Two days after his biggest fight, and undoubtedly his biggest loss, Pro MMA Radio spoke to Kenny Florian about the tough defeat, what went wrong, what he learned from the fight, where he goes from here, and more.

“Physically I feel great but inside it’s heartbreaking,” explained Florian about how he is dealing with the defeat. “You put so much time and effort into training and you work so hard for it, it’s very tough, you feel like you let a lot of people down aside from just the hard work you put in.”

Florian’s last bout before meeting Penn had been a win over Joe Stevenson in Nov. 2008. Florian discussed whether or not ring rust was a factor from the layoff. “I didn’t think it would be a factor just because I had stayed busy throughout. …but it definitely was,” said Florian.

“Being almost nine months away from the cage it hurt me,” explained Florian. “I found I couldn’t get my range and my timing going during the fight and I felt I wasn’t effective there. That was the main thing, I just felt uncomfortable with my striking. I didn’t get my normal range and timing that I wanted.”

Florian had planned to get B.J. on his back during the fight. “It was a little bit of what the game plan was, obviously work in the clinch, try to get B.J. on his back a little bit,” said Florian. “As far as the striking aspect, I wasn’t as effective as I wanted to be. I wanted to strike a little bit more with him and mix it up. That was crucial. I blame nobody but myself.”

Kenny did not sense B.J.’s conditioning level wearing down much during the fight. “I thought it was relatively consistent [B.J.'s conditioning],” said Florian. “I thought he was in great shape, probably the best he’s ever been in. Were there times he was tired? I believe so. …I know there were some times he was slowing down, but who knows?”

Kenny explained how he saw the fight going from inside the Octagon. “I knew it was close going into the fourth. I figured I definitely won the second and third,” said Florian. “The first, he caught me with a good shot, I was kind of off balance so it looked like I got knocked down and I said ‘Well, maybe he took the first.’ The second and third I was confident that I won, but going into the fourth, where he was ending up, where he ended up with the takedown on top, I knew he was going to win that round.”

“My goal was to try and survive and just try make it to the fifth and push and try to squeeze out the win. But at that point I had made too big of a mistake and I knew that against a guy like B.J. you can’t make those kind of mistakes and I knew that if I was able to catch B.J. in a mistake, I was going to be at an advantage, and at the highest level you just can’t make those mistakes, and I did, and that was that.”

Kenny explained the technical error he felt led to his defeat. “The mistake pretty much was me not being able to pin my legs up against the fence when he shot in. He was able to get behind my legs and get a nice double leg and that was it,” saidd Florian. “Pretty much if you’re on your back with B.J. it’s very difficult… and I just couldn’t get things going. Once I was on my back, I tried my best to defend but that’s B.J.’s best position, and that’s my best position, when I’m on top so I knew it was going to be difficult fighting off my back against a guy like B.J. Penn, and I made a little mistake and he was able to mount and that was that.”

According to Kenny, a couple of the judges had him winning the fight but in his mind he still considers it “a failure,” and whether he was winning or not “is irrelevant.”

There was quite a bit of bad blood between B.J. and Kenny prior to their fight. After the bout, B.J. walked up to Kenny in the cage and let him know how he really felt about the Sityodtong fighter. According to Kenny, B.J. said, “Let’s be friends again.”

Kenny explained how he feels about B.J. now. “I’ve always had respect for B.J. as a fighter and have even more for him after our fight,” he said.

Smack talk does not seem to get to Kenny. Quite a few things were said before the fight but Kenny did not take it personal. “For me, I didn’t have any hard feeling against B.J. really. My focus was on the fight going into that,” said Florian. “I’m not going to let what someone says about me, or say something, I’m not in high school anymore. Rumors and what people may say about me or say things, it doesn’t bother me, I’m still going to go in there and do my job.”

Kenny is one of the most improved fighters in the game. He learns from his mistakes. After Kenny lost his last title shot, which was against Sean Sherk, he went on a six-fight tear. So what happens now? “Now it’s about getting back in the gym, getting better, stepping up my game,” said Florian. “I know already little things I’m going to do to make it better and make my training even better and at a higher level.”

He explained what some the things are he plans to work on. “Obviously the wrestling, me being able to finish there with my takedowns,” said Florian. “I think my entry was very good, me being able to get in, my timing was OK for the entries for the takedowns, but obviously the finishing just wasn’t there and wasn’t what it should have been.”

Anyone who knows Florian could tell his striking did not look like what we are accustom to seeing. He blames that on the ring rust. “My striking, my timing was off and I think that comes down to me just being a little more active,” he said. “I can’t be away from the cage for more than three or four months, I just can’t.”

One thing you may be surprised to hear is that Kenny Florian has NEVER had a cage to train in on a regular basis. “I have to get my hands on an Octagon. I’ve got to get a cage to work out in,” Florian said. “I’ve never had a cage my whole career. I think that would definitely help to simulate the same feeling that I would experience in the cage on fight night. So I need to get my hands on a real Octagon, regulation size, try to get that same canvas and I think that would help with my overall training and help with the sparring.” — Ya think?

Prior to the fight Kenny said it was time to “kill the master.” He clarified that statement a little. “I’m always going to look for ways to get better. I said it was about being a master but even if I had won this fight I wouldn’t have been a master. I will always be a student,” said Florian.

Kenny wants those fights that will put him back in line for a title shot as soon as possible. He is interested to see who the UFC has in store for him, and figures he is one or two fights away from another shot at the belt. “It’s going to have to be someone tough, at least once or twice for me to get back in there for the belt… It’s going to have to be a big name fighter,” he said.

The next opponent for B.J. Penn will be the “other” original Ultimate Fighter, Diego Sanchez, who won the first season of the SPIKE TV reality show at middleweight. Kenny shared his thoughts on the match-up. “I don’t think he [Diego] has the striking to get it done. I don’t think he has the wrestling to get it done,” said Florian. “He has phenomenal cardio, phenomenal heart, great ground skills but I think he’s going to have some trouble with B.J. I see B.J. winning that fight. I just think B.J. is going to be a little too much for him.”

Finally, Kenny shared his thoughts on the world’s top pound-for-pound fighter, Anderson Silva, after watching his performance against Forrest Griffin. “He’s not a fighter. He’s an artist,” said Florian.

Listen to Kenny Florian’s complete interview with host Larry Pepe on episode 58 of Pro MMA Radio. The show airs live every Monday night at 6:00 p.m. PT/9:00 p.m. ET at www.prommaradio.com.

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