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UFC 107:

Kenny Florian hopes third time’s a charm

After disappointing loss, Florian begins quest for third title shot in lightweight division


Alejandro A. Alvarez / Philadelphia Daily News

BJ Penn puts Kenny Florian in a rear-naked choke during their lightweight championship fight on Aug. 8, 2009. Penn retained the title with a submission victory.

UFC 107: Workouts

Six of the biggest names on the card for UFC 107 share insight and strategy on their opponents for Saturday's fight in Memphis.

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Kenny Florian is shown moments after losing to UFC Lightweight Champion BJ Penn at UFC 101 on Aug. 8, 2009.

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — At certain moments during his UFC lightweight championship fight in August, Kenny Florian was just positive he knew what was coming from B.J. Penn.

He had studied and analyzed Penn so well before the fight that Florian felt sure he knew where the fight was going and how to handle it.

Florian's preparations were so extreme, though, that in the critical moments when Penn did do the unexpected, it had the potential to throw off the entire fight.

"We do take a very analyzed approach to a fight," said Florian's brother Keith, who corners his fights. "It was almost like everything was so detailed that if it didn't go a certain way, things seemed to topple for us.

"When Kenny got taken down he thought, 'Woah, wait a second. We were expecting something else.' And while he was thinking about that, B.J. was passing guard. He was just one step behind."

After earning the lightweight title shot with a first-round win over Joe Stevenson in November 2008, Florian basically had nine months to prepare for Penn.

It was a big difference from the standard three to four months off he had taken between fights during the six-fight win streak he took into the Penn match.

With all that extra time to prepare for one opponent, Florian admitted, it was difficult not to overanalyze Penn given Florian's sometimes "overactive mind."

"It's funny. It's one of those things where I used to make fun of other fighters for saying they overdo their training sometimes," Florian said. "But sometimes you become so consumed with the idea of the title shot and that this is the biggest shot of your life, when in reality it was just another fight.

"I had too much time to overanalyze it. That's the benefit of fighting every three or four months because training goes up and down. It usually becomes two months of training hard, where mine was six or seven months."

Florian now faces the task of working his way back up to another opportunity at the lightweight champion, a journey that starts this Saturday with a scheduled fight against Clay Guida at FedEx Forum.

Although the fight with Penn officially was his second shot at the lightweight title, Florian considers it his first real opportunity at becoming world champion.

The first chance came against Sean Sherk in 2006 for the vacated lightweight belt and was just the second time Florian had fought in the 155-pound weight division.

Three title shots awarded to one fighter is rare, but not unheard of, in the UFC. Florian, 33, remains optimistic he will fight for the belt again if he continues to win.

"It sounds to dumb to say, but I really don't count the first title shot because it was a long time ago and very early in my career," Florian said. "I'm confident that if I fight the best guys, eventually I'll get another shot.

"It's possible, but right now I have to be concerned with my next fight. We'll see what happens after that."

Approaching his preparations for Guida and another run at the title, Florian made the decision to leave coach Mark DellaGrotte in favor of Firas Zahabi, who is known in most MMA circuits for his work with one of the top pound-for-pound fighters in the world, Georges St. Pierre.

Florian alternated his recent camp between Montreal and Boston, embracing St. Pierre's camp as his new home and the welterweight champion as a training partner.

According to Florian, one of the biggest benefits of switching trainers was to simply learn new things after he had fallen into a pattern under DellaGrotte.

"Sometimes you need to mix things up, and I knew that Firas was doing some things that no other coach out there was doing," Florian said. "I think he's a great guy to take me to the next level.

"We did a lot of things I had never did before where he was like, 'How the heck did you get to this level not doing this?' I said, 'I don't know. I didn't know any better.'"

In November, Florian won a different type of battle when his home state of Massachusetts became the 42nd state to regulate the sport of mixed martial arts.

Although he's doing his best to concentrate his entire effort on Guida this weekend, it's been difficult to not think of the opportunity to fight in Boston, which should happen in mid-2010.

"We'll go to Boston Gardens every now and then, whenever a free ticket comes along," said Keith Florian. "It's funny because right before you hit the highway, the Garden is right there. We're always saying, 'Imagine being able to fight right here. We could take the train in instead of having to fly out.'"

Brett Okamoto can be reached at 948-7817 or [email protected].

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