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Lightweights standing in each other’s path

Florian, Stevenson say win on Saturday propels them towards title fight

UFC 91

Steve Marcus

UFC president Dana White laughs at a recent press conference as lightweight fighters Kenny “KenFlo” Florian, left, and Joe “Daddy” Stevenson pose during a photo opportunity.

Couture vs. Lesnar

UFC heavyweight champion Randy Launch slideshow »

Lesnar vs. Couture

Brock Lesnar and Randy Couture met with media members Wednesday afternoon to talk about their upcoming heavyweight championship fight Saturday night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.

UFC 91

Alex and Andy Samuelson delve into the stories behind the Couture-Lesnar main event.

Fight facts

  • Main event: Randy Couture (16-8 mixed martial arts) vs. Brock Lesnar (2-1)
  • At stake: UFC heavyweight championship
  • Featured bouts: Kenny Florian (12-3) vs. Joe Stevenson (34-8), lightweights; Gabriel Gonzaga (9-3) vs. Josh Hendricks (18-4), heavyweights; Nate Quarry (16-2) vs. Demian Maia (9-0), middleweights; Dustin Hazelett (13-4) vs. Tamdan McCrory (11-1), welterweights
  • Time/site: Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena; doors open at 4:15 p.m.
  • Tickets: $75-$1,000,
  • TV: Pay per view, $44.95

Joe Stevenson knew he didn’t have a drinking problem, but he also felt that the only opportunity he had at a future lightweight title fight was to cut alcohol completely out of his life.

Six months later the California native hasn’t touched a drop, not even his former tradition of a post weigh-in beer, and Stevenson says he’s never felt better.

“Training has been great, it’s awesome not to work out hung over,” said Stevenson, who dedicated his training transformation to his family, especially his deceased grandfather and second wife, Maia, and his four sons.

“Mentally it’s also been a big step. In my family casual drinking is a big thing. Ever since I was 16 we’d sit at the dinner table and drink a little bit. To me it’s a small sacrifice that shows my commitment to the sport. I have to know in those late rounds that I’m giving it everything I got, and nothing is holding me back.”

Stevenson, who recently moved back from Las Vegas to Victorville, California, gets to show off his sans suds physique Saturday night in a UFC 91 bout against Kenny Florian at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.

While the main event of Randy Couture and Brock Lesnar has MMA fans in a frenzied state, the Stevenson-Florian match offers a pair of hungry lightweights who each want to get back to the championship fight that recently eluded them.

“It’s a huge fight for both of us. Having been there and fought for the title before, I definitely want to get back there,” said Florian (12-3), who has won his last five matches after losing to Sean Sherk two years ago for the then vacant lightweight championship.

“I believe I have one more to go and Joe Stevenson is in my way. That’s the way I see it, and I’m sure that he sees me as a roadblock.”

The 34-8 Stevenson certainly does, especially considering he’s a +170 underdog according to betting site

“First of all I think Kenny has tremendous heart, and I’m just gonna straight up take that away from him and snatch it,” said Stevenson, who lost to B.J. Penn in a lightweight title fight last January.

“Not at any point in this fight, am I going to let him feel like he’s winning. Not on his feet, not on the ground. Not with cardiovascular, strength-wise, flexibility — I don’t care. There’s not going to be one time where he says, ‘I got him there.’

“I’m not going to let that happen, there’s not going to be any rest," Stevenson continued. "His elbows aren’t going to be a factor, because I’m not going to sit there and let him elbow me. I’m going to be hitting him repetitively over and over and over.”

Of course, Florian said he sees things differently.

“I could have been a 6-to-1 underdog and it wouldn’t have mattered. Why people see me as the favorite, I don’t know,” the Massachusetts native said.

“Hopefully they see me as the more well-rounded fighter. That’s the way I see it. I think I can win the fight in more ways than he can. He’s still very tough. Either way, hopefully I can go out there and prove it with a dominating performance.”

When he’s not on the mat, lately Florian has moonlighted behind the mic — doing work for ESPN’s MMA Live show on the Internet.

“It’s fun. Definitely something I can do when I’m done fighting. You can’t get hit in the face forever,” said Florian of his analyst position with ESPN, which will be airing expanded coverage this weekend from Las Vegas.

“It’s a cool opportunity for me to be able to work for them. Hopefully educate the fans and help take the sport to another level.”

Stevenson expressed similar sentiments, but said he would put on a free seminar for “Ken Flo” on Saturday night.

“I’m looking to finish this fight as soon as possible and end it in an exciting manner,” he said. “The only problem with ending a fight quick is my wife says I’m a jerk for two weeks because I didn’t get it out in the ring.”

Andy Samuelson is a sports writer/editor for the Las Vegas Sun. He can be reached at [email protected] or 702-948-7837.

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