When Renan Barao steps into the cage with Michael McDonald for an interim bantamweight title fight, Kenny Florian will be sitting cageside and offering color commentary on the UFC on Fuel TV 7 broadcast.
In advance of Saturday's event, which will take place at Wembley Arena in London, England, Florian took some time to speak with Bleacher Report about the fight card and some other topics near to him.
Before retiring into a full-time role as a UFC commentator, Florian challenged featherweight champion Jose Aldo for the 145-pound title. Although he came up short on the scorecards in that bout, Florian looked just about as competitive as anyone against the dominant Brazilian titleholder.
In his most recent outing, Aldo defeated former lightweight champion Frankie Edgar, looking unstoppable in the opening frames before fading a bit in the championship rounds.
While he believes the best way to dethrone Aldo would be to test his conditioning as much as possible, Florian also feels there is one fighter out there who can challenge the champion in the early stanzas of a fight, and that competitor just so happens to be Aldo's next scheduled opponent.
"I think there is someone who can test (Aldo) in the opening rounds," Florian said, "and that's Anthony Pettis. I think he's the only guy. Pettis, in my opinion, is the second most dynamic striker in the UFC of course to Anderson Silva. I think he can challenge (Aldo) because he has that explosiveness and he has that technical ability. I think that's why he can match Aldo early. With that said, I think the best way to beat Aldo is to bring him into the later rounds."
Despite Aldo's conditioning issues, Florian does believe the featherweight leader took himself to another level by beating a former UFC champion like Edgar.
As a fighter in one of the UFC's newer divisions, Aldo hasn't really gotten his due attention, but he may finally be approaching middleweight champion Anderson Silva and welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre in terms of accomplishments.
"People saw, as far as technical ability, that (Aldo) was up there with the best," Florian explained. "But they wanted to see him really tested against top-level competition. I think beating a guy like Edgar certainly puts him in that league. Yeah, I have him right there at No. 3 pound-for-pound."
Aldo wasn't the only champion that Florian challenged during his very respectable UFC career. The TUF runner-up also met B.J. Penn in a lightweight title bout in August 2009.
Penn defeated Florian by submission to further his legacy as one of the greatest lightweights in MMA history. Now that Penn is on a skid of three straight fights without a win, Florian would like to see him move back to 155 pounds and try to finish his career on a high note.
"I'd like to see (Penn) fight a top guy at 155 pounds and fight one more at the weight class where he was his best," Florian said, "a weight class where I think he should be and go out on a win or start a title run. Because B.J. Penn is a legend and still has the skills to compete with the best in the world."
UFC on Fuel TV 7
Like many overseas fight cards, UFC on Fuel TV 7 features several matchups between fighters between the hosting country and fighters from outside the hosting country. In this case, that means a lot of British competitors will be taking on opponents who have to fly in for the event.
Does this home Octagon advantage really make a measurable difference?
"I think it does," Florian said. "Competing in your home country, you have everything there at your disposal, things that you're used to and foods that you're used to, as far as diet leading up to the fight and your training camp. The financial part of it as well, as far as flying your coaches, it's not as much of a burden if it's in your home country. Of course, the ability to impress the hometown crowd, I'm sure it gets them fired up. So, I definitely see a lot of advantages in fighting in your home country, for sure."
Although this event has flown under the radar being sandwiched between two huge pay-per-view cards, UFC on Fuel TV 7 features some important fights between up-and-coming competitors looking to break through and become contenders.
Bleacher Report asked Florian, outside of the main event between Barao and McDonald, which fight he was most excited about.
"The Cub Swanson-Dustin Poirier fight is going to be amazing," Florian said, "but one that a lot of fans are probably are overlooking is the Jorge Santiago against Gunnar Nelson fight. That's a fight between two phenomenal grapplers and a lot of people believe Nelson may be the next big thing."
Nelson vs. Santiago
Nestled near the middle of the six-fight main card for UFC on Fuel TV 7, a welterweight bout between Nelson and Santiago is one of the fights fans should be paying close attention to. Nelson is coming off of an impressive win in his UFC debut against DaMarques Johnson, while Santiago is a UFC veteran returning to the organization on a winning streak.
Undefeated in 11 fights, Nelson is one of the most promising 170-pound fighters in the world. A fight with a battle-tested opponent like Santiago will give the Iceland native a chance to test himself.
"I think this one against Santiago is really going to show what kind of fighter Nelson is," Florian said. "Santiago is a true veteran of the sport, been around for a long time, competes at a high level, and is an excellent jiu-jitsu practitioner as well. [Nelson] has all the tools to be a top guy, no doubt, and I think we're going to find out what kind of fighter he is in this fight against Santiago."
Santiago has been in and out of the UFC multiple times in the career, but a move to welterweight could be exactly what he needs to make a permanent home in the world's top MMA organization.
Although Florian never had to deal with being cut from the big show, he's certainly been close to some who have, and he doesn't believe the result is always negative.
"(Being released) can definitely have an impact on a fighter," Florian said. "I think as far as a fighter goes and his approach, he's going to take it as a positive. I gotta go out here, prove myself, prove that I belong to be here and belong to stay here. He's coming in at 170 pounds, a weight class we haven't seen him at in a little bit, but I think he's best suited for that weight class and he's going to be a tough go for anybody."
Light Heavyweight Bouts
In addition to the bout between Nelson and Santiago, the UFC on Fuel TV 7 main card will feature two intriguing light heavyweight matchups.
With Quinton Jackson leaving the UFC roster and some other 205-pound greats beginning the fade. The door is opening for light heavyweights like the ones on the UFC on Fuel TV 7 main card to make their mark and become contenders.
James Te-Huna and Ryan Jimmo will open the main card, while Jimi Manuwa and Cyrille Diabate will also compete later on in the Fuel-televised portion of the event. Among these rising 205-pound strikers, there are two in whom Florian sees the most potential.
"Te Huna, I've been very impressed with his athleticism and how quickly he's picked up this sport," Florian said. "He hits as hard as any any 205-pound fighter out there. Manuwa's a beast with knockout power. His fight against Diabate is going to be real interesting because of the size difference. All those guys are fun to watch and right at that point where they're on the brink of really breaking into that top-tier of that weight class."
Cub Swanson vs. Dustin Poirier
A bout between entertaining featherweights Cub Swanson and Dustin Poirier will set the stage for the UFC on Fuel TV 7 main event.
Since losing to Ricardo Lamas in his UFC debut, Swanson has turned it up considerably and finds himself on the verge of earning a rematch with Aldo that previously appeared highly unlikely.
"It's part an improvement in (Swanson's) boxing and his ability to find his range," Florian said. "I think now it's his confidence. Fight after fight, you see him get more and more confident, more and more relaxed. I think Swanson was always one of those guys you'd see the way that he moves, the way that he would compete, you could see he was very athletic, one of the most athletic guys in the UFC. But, somehow, he just wouldn't pull the trigger or he had bad luck and now he's really putting together and he's a dangerous package for anybody."
Likewise, Poirier recently bounced back from a loss to Chan Sung Jung by beating Jonathan Brookins. Although he'll need a couple more wins to get back into title shot conversation, Poirier has a long and bright career ahead of him and should have plenty of opportunities to earn a shot at UFC gold before all is said and done.
"Poirier is one of those guys, so much potential and you see his maturity level and the way he competes at such a young age," Florian said. "He's got another 10 years to become a champion, so he's doing everything right and I definitely expect him to, at the very least, be challenging for that title in the next couple years."
With so much well-rounded talent between them, it's tough to say where Swanson and Poirier hold advantages over one another. Luckily, as a former fighter, Florian was able to break down the matchup much better than this writer ever could.
"Both of those guys are very dangerous," Florian said. "I think for Poirier, he wants to keep Swanson on the outside. Swanson really does most of his damage inside with his boxing. It's going to take a lot of movement from Poirier. He's going to have to do a lot of circling. He can't go straight back against Swanson because Swanson's too fast, too explosive and has too much power."
"The other thing, Cub Swanson is also a very good counter-puncher as well. We saw that against Ross Pearson, so Poirier definitely has to make sure he keeps him on the outside and is careful when he charges against Swanson. He has to use a lot of feints, and I think Poirier should try to challenge him on the ground as well. I think Poirier can go submission for submission with anyone out there."
Barao vs. McDonald
Since bantamweight Dominick Cruz was not able to heal quickly enough from a knee injury to compete in a title-merging bout with Barao, the 22-year-old McDonald has been given the chance to steal the opportunity to fight Cruz from the Brazilian titleholder.
While McDonald is young and hungry, these might not be the best circumstances for him to receive a fight of this magnitude. The rising bantamweight star has been out of action for nine months due to hand surgery.
Nonetheless, Florian feel McDonald is prepared to bring a tough fight to Barao.
"I absolutely think McDonald is ready," Florian said. "This is another kid who is so young and competes at such a high level and you can see his joy when he's out there competing. We're actually going to see him 100 percent for the first time. He's coming back from surgery. His knuckle now is fully recovered. So, a guy who was knocking guys out before and now he has that much more confidence and he feels like he's never felt in awhile, that's going to be a dangerous guy to deal with."
As promising as McDonald is, Barao is also still just entering the prime of his career and will be a force to be reckoned with for years. Outside of one of these fighters competing against Cruz, this is the best matchup out there in the 135-pound division, and it's almost too close to call a winner.
"McDonald's excellent on the ground," Florian said, "but I think Barao has the advantage there. I think McDonald has the advantage with the boxing. Barao may have the advantage with the kicking. I think it's a very even fight."
Thankfully, we probably won't have to wait long for one of these young guns to challenge Cruz for the undisputed 135-pound title. It seems likely that the long-reigning titleholder will be next for the winner of the UFC on Fuel TV 7 main event.
"Both of those guys are very dangerous opponents and have the tools to challenge Cruz," Florian said. "I'm not sure if they can beat him because Dominick's style is a difficult matchup for anyone. It's tough to say at this point, but you get the winner of Barao and McDonald and you have a beast there. I think they have the ability to challenge anyone out there in the weight class. Whether they can beat Cruz, I don't know, but it's definitely a fight that I want to see."
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