On August 8th, Kenny Florian (11-3) will square off against reigning UFC lightweight champion BJ Penn (13-5-1) in Philadelphia. Penn is often considered to be one of the top pound-for-pound fighters in the world and will surely be the toughest test that Florian will face in his young career. However, even with this enormous challenge on the horizon, Florian has been answering questions about another fighter on a regular basis. Diego Sanchez (21-2), who defeated Florian by TKO in the UFC’s very first Ultimate Fighter finale, believes he should be in line for a shot at the title. Sanchez explained on a UFC conference call, “…I walked through him (Florian) and it wasn’t even a fight, and he is the No. 1 contender. So in my mind, I am the No. 1 contender right now.” Sanchez credit’s Florian’s success as a primary reason for moving to the lightweight division from the welterweight division where Sanchez went 7-2 in the UFC.
Since the Ultimate Fighter finale in April of 2005, both Florian and Sanchez have flourished in the UFC. Sanchez was on the path to fighting for the title at 170 pounds until back-to-back losses to Josh Koscheck and Jon Fitch derailed his hopes at the welterweight crown. Since dropping to 155 pounds, Sanchez has defeated two highly ranked fighters in the lightweight division in Joe Stevenson and Clay Guida. Both wins were via decision. Florian has won 9 of 10 fights in the UFC since his loss to Sanchez. The only other loss on Florian’s record in the UFC came to Sean Sherk via decision for the then vacant lightweight title in October of 2006.
In an interview with BostonHerald.com, Florian isn’t shying away from Sanchez’s challenge. “That’s a fight I’ve wanted for a long time now,” Florian said. “He should definitely be careful what he wishes for. If he thinks the same thing is going to happen, or I’m the same fighter at the same experience level, he’s going to be in for a surprise. I think he’s going to be saying, ’Yes, yes, yes’ on the way into the ring and, ’No, no, no’ on the way out of the ring if he faces me.”
“He’s fought at 155 twice already and he has yet to finish any opponent,” Florian continues. “He’s seen what I’ve done in the weight class and the fighters that I’ve fought and I think he realizes that, although he won the show, I’ve done bigger things in my weight division than he did at 170.”.
With all the talk of Sanchez, Florian needs to be sure he is focused on the task at hand. BJ Penn has world class BJJ skills and is rarely outmatched on his feet. His only perceived weakness is his endurance as he has faded later in some of his past fights. After losing a controversial battle with UFC welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre in his last outing, Penn will surely be prepared for his fight with Florian.
Florian insists that he’ll be ready for Penn. “I’ve been training all along and staying busy with that,” Florian said. “The only thing I can do is just take it day-by-day and keep training. Finally the fight is here. It definitely feels good. I’m ready to go. This is a dream fight for me and I’m not going to let anybody take this dream away from me.”