Friday, August 7, 2009

FWP: Penn vs. Florian

Stupid job and domestic responsibilities interfering with my daily routine! I've been waiting all day to write this preview...

24 hours before the fight, everyone knows the stories by now, so there is no need to rehash them.

What there is a need for is complete objectivity in breaking down the main event of UFC 101.

"The Prodigy" BJ Penn (13-5-1) versus Kenny "KenFlo" Florian (13-3)

Since BJ's training and preparation is one of things he's often criticized about, that seems like a logical place to start.

You know what you're going to get with Florian.

Training with his brother Keith (congrats on the baby!) and Team Sityodtong's Mark Dellagrote and Peter Welch, Florian has transformed into a visibly different fighter since his loss to Sean Sherk.

His boxing is better. His Muay Thai is better. His cardio and game plans have been better. Essentially, every aspect of his game has improved to a point where he is, as he said when we spoke two weeks ago, at the top of his game in every aspect and ready to prove he can compete with the best in the world at 155.

Then there is BJ.

Reports from the weigh-ins say he looked great; I believe the word Jake Rossen used was "lean," which is a welcome change from "pudgy" or "doughy" when we last saw BJ step on the scale.

The question mark going into this fight is what kind of difference will we see in the champion after leaving Hilo to train in California with Marv Marinovich?

Personally, I think anyone who would push their own flesh and blood (son Todd was an NFL mega-bust) to the brink in pursuit of professional athletic stardom wouldn't have much of a problem putting the boots to a relative stranger and his entourage.

To me, this isn't one of those fights where you can look at each skill category and pick apart the fight from that angle. The totality of the skills of both of these fighters is what makes them as dangerous as they are.

Florian has better all-around stand-up because of his length and Muay Thai, but Penn has outstanding boxing and ridiculous athleticism. On the ground, both hold black belts in BJJ, but only one of them earned a World Championship at the 2000 Mundials.

Looking at mutual opponents, both ran through Joe Stevenson. While Florian managed to finish the fight in quicker fashion, Penn left the former Ultimate Fighter winner an utter mess of his own blood at the close of their encounter.

Obviously, Sean Sherk stands as the only shared opponent and the outcomes of the two fights are polar opposites.

"The Muscle Shark" was left dead in the water at the close of the third round when he challenged Penn for his Lightweight title back at UFC 84, a finish now somewhat famous for Penn licking the blood of his gloves in celebration.

Things went drastically different when Florian faced Sherk for the strap 20 events earlier.

Sherk, then in his prime and dropping to lightweight for the first time, used his superior wrestling to throw the inexperienced Florian from pillar to post in earning a Unanimous Decision and the Lightweight title.

But if anyone believes that the Florian who faced off with Sherk then is the same as the Florian stepping into the cage tomorrow, you clearly haven't been paying attention.

Normally, in breaking down fights, we have no real insight into the minds of the fighters. While we really don't here either, I'd be remiss not to mention the recent quote and subsequent apology from BJ Penn in regards to Georges St-Pierre and steroids.

Personally, if I'm the lightweight champ and anyone other than the fighter I'm squaring off with comes up in an interview, especially my nemesis, I tell the interviewer that I'm focused on Fighter X and move on.

Not BJ; he offers opinions that become major stories, forces himself into a mea culpa situation and gives everyone the opportunity to question his focus heading into a very tough title defense.

Well, that's all of it.

We've covered every inch of this fight and the card in total.

All that's left now is to make some Punch Drunk Predictions and settle in to watch the fights tomorrow night.


Tell us what you think - good, bad or indifferent - and get ready for a counterpunch.