We were treated to a vintage Kenny Florian performance on Saturday night in the MGM Grand Arena in Las Vegas.
Determined, precise, and impressive.
Understated, overlooked, and severely under appreciated.
Ah yes, It was a familiar script for Ken-Flo at UFC 91. Despite delivering arguably the most impressive performance of his career in a first round dismantling over perennial lightweight contender Joe Stevenson, Florian woke up on Sunday morning as little more than an afterthought to casual MMA fans.
The frenzy created by Brock Lesnar's stoppage of UFC Heavyweight champion Randy Couture completely eclipsed any attention that the 155 pound Florian may have garnered. That's not a surprising concept, however. Not only is it easy to get lost in the shadow of a man who is literally twice your size, but the position of "beneath the radar" is one that Florian must be getting awfully used to by now.
After arriving on the MMA landscape with his participation on the original Ultimate Fighter reality series, Florian defied the odds by reaching the middleweight division finale against Diego Sanchez despite his relative anonymity and the fact that he moved up two weight classes to compete on the show.
If you don't remember Florian from the first season, you're probably not alone. His quiet nature and calm disposition made him an easy individual to overlook. He didn't abuse alcohol. He didn't cro-cop any doors around the house. He never isolated his housemates with selfish behavior or egotistical remarks.
He trained hard, fought even harder and did both with the type of class and dignity that is sorely missing from most TUF episodes. Unfortunately, most people don't tune into Spike TV to watch level headiness and maturity, and therefore Florian became "the other guy" behind his much more heavily hyped housemates—Chris Leben, Josh Koscheck, and the aforementioned Sanchez.
Florian would drop to his natural weight class of 155 pounds following his TUF experience where he rattled off three consecutive stoppage victories. This prompted Dana White and the UFC brass to grant Florian a LW title shot against Sean Sherk—with the victor grabbing a vacant lightweight strap that had been collecting dust since UFC 41.
Florian entered the fray as a considerable underdog and ended up dropping a unanimous decision loss to Sherk in a bloody, five-round war. Looking at a steep climb back up the 155-pound division (which Florian had a large hand in re-establishing) would be enough to discourage even the most steel-willed competitors, but seemed to have little effect on the psyche' of Florian.
He re-dedicated himself to his training, with another title shot serving as his light at the end of the tunnel, his pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, or any other metaphor you'd like to use that describes achieving your goal after a considerable struggle.
That mission has to be considered a resounding success.
Florian's victory over Stevenson marks his sixth consecutive victory since losing to Sherk, a streak that has saw him finish all but one fight while squaring off against some of the top competition that the lightweight division has to offer.
Din Thomas, Joe Lauzon, and Roger Huerta all rode their own respective waves of momentum into their match-ups with Florian, but none could solve the increasingly well-rounded Florian. Thomas fell prey to a submission loss, Lauzon got pounded out via TKO while Huerta was systematically taken apart over three rounds in another Ken-Flo victory.
Finally, Florian has secured another chance at the lightweight championship gold. But with B.J Penn's upcoming superfight against George St. Pierre scheduled for late January, there's a whirlwind of uncertainty surrounding the fight. Will B.J Penn return to the lightweight division if he's victorious? Will Sean Sherk's lobbying for his own shot at the title convince the UFC to set up a re-match between him and Florian?
Regardless of how the scenario plays out, there's one thing we can be sure about. Kenny Florian will show up, wherever he is asked to, and fight with the determination that has become his calling card. He will be prepared. He will be disciplined. He will be impressive.
Just don't expect Florian to make much noise while doing it.