David Maialetti / Philadelphia Daily News
Friday, Aug. 7, 2009 | midnight
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Every fan of the Kenny Florian that lost to Sean Sherk in 2006 doesn't have a favorite fighter anymore. Even fans of the Kenny Florian that dominated Joe Stevenson just a short nine months ago are out of luck.
Sorry guys. Those Florians no longer exist.
"I don't have too many fighters under me so my main concentration is Kenny," said Florian's brother and jiu-jitsu trainer, Keith. "That let's me change what we're doing for every fight. I have basically an entire book with a strategy for every fight. If Kenny doesn't hit the mark for all the points I've laid out for him, they carry over to the next one. That's why he keeps evolving - the game plan is never the same."
Every fighter has their own strategy when it comes to dealing with the time off in between fights. Back when he joined the UFC in 2005, Florian's was to rest until learning of his next fight and then train for two to three months.
These days, his down time is a bit shorter. Win or lose, 48 hours after his UFC lightweight championship with B.J. Penn (13-5-1), Florian (13-3) will be back in the gym reinventing himself for his next challenge.
"About two days after the fight I'll start training again," Florian said. "Earlier in my career I thought I was training hard, but really what I was doing was waiting until I got the call that I had to fight and going nuts for 60 days. The reality is I never had a strong foundation, my body wasn't strong. Now I'm training year-round and building up my skills. I used to have to relearn everything. Instead of relearning skills, I'm learning new ones all the time."
For a significant change to happen in a fighter's training methods, a significant event usually has to occur first.
In Florian's case, that event was the 2006 loss to Sherk for the vacant lightweight title in which his opponent beat him in nearly every possible aspect of mixed martial arts. According to Florian himself, Sherk was the faster, stronger, smarter and better prepared fighter that night.
While part of that may be attributed to the fact Sherk was on top of his game in 2006, Florian has been the first to admit he wasn't ready for the opportunity when it first came to him. At the time of the fight, Florian was just four fights into his UFC career.
"Fighting for the title and losing helped me a lot, I've learned from it," he said. "Having the opportunity to fight Sean Sherk was huge for me. The fight was all about getting the belt, but that early in my career I wasn't ready to take advantage of that opportunity. Which is why I don't see this fight with B.J. as a second chance. This is my first chance."
The biggest example of the difference in Florian from then until now (besides his perfect 6-0 record since then), is comparing his reaction to both times he received the news he would fight for the UFC lightweight championship.
While in 2006 he looked on it as a gift, this time he's looking at it as an opportunity he has worked non-stop the past two years to earn.
"The mood the first time was, 'Woah, we're fighting Sean Sherk for the title,'" Keith said. "This time it was, 'Finally, we're fighting for the title.' Except for Brock Lesnar, I don't know anybody who was ready to win a title less than seven or eight fights into their career. It's been a totally different mindset this time and the expectations are totally different."
Nobody had lower expectations of Florian on first impression than UFC President Dana White.
In 2004, when White was in the middle of a search for contestants on what would be the first season of the reality television series 'The Ultimate Fighter', friends had to convince him to go to an MMA event in Boston to watch an up and coming talent.
The fighter was Drew Fickett, fighting an unknown opponent by the name of Kenny Florian.
"I go to the show and Fickett is fighting this little kid, I'll call him a little pudgy kid, from Boston with a record of like 2-0," White said. "And I'm like, 'This kid is going to get killed, I can't even believe they would put him in this fight.' They fought and I actually thought that Kenny won the fight (judges awarded the decision to Fickett). After the fight I walked back there to meet him and told him we were filming a show and he needed to come try out.
"The crazy thing about that story is had I not gone out there that night, Kenny wouldn't have been on TUF and who knows what would have happened."
A lot has changed since Florian's first encounter with the UFC president, but nothing more than the fighter himself.
Considering the way it happened, it would be easy for the Boston native to be frustrated by his road to the UFC lightweight championship. Had he received his first opportunity later in his career when he was more ready to handle the pressure, maybe things would have been different.
As it is however, Florian couldn't be happier of the path he's taken. He knows what defeat tastes like, now he's ready for a different flavor.
"I would love to be sitting here and telling you that I'm undefeated, but it's made me into the fighter I am today," he said. "I remember that loss to Sean Sherk every single day, I don't want to experience that feeling again. The pursuit of perfection, as impossible as it is, that's what pushes me now."
Brett Okamoto can be reached at 948-7817 or firstname.lastname@example.org.