by Tom Hamlin – MMAWeekly.com
Two days before his fight with Joe Stevenson, UFC lightweight contender Kenny Florian was asked which two fighters he’d put together in a dream match-up for a video game. Without much hesitation, he chose himself and B.J. Penn.
“He’s a great, great, fighter, I have a lot of respect and admiration for BJ,” Florian told MMAWeekly.com. “He’s one of the guys I’ve really looked up to. I consider him a legend in the sport.”
After decimating tough lightweight Joe Stevenson – almost exactly one round faster than Penn did at UFC 80 – Florian was a little more pointed.
“I want B.J.’s belt,” he told Joe Rogan inside the Octagon. “B.J., you’re one of the best fighters out there. I’m here to test myself. I think you’re a great fighter, someone I look up to. I consider you a master. It’s time to kill that master.”
According to UFC president Dana White, Penn was skeptical of the match-up.
“Right before that fight, (Penn) said, ‘I don’t know about this fight, is this a good fight? Joe Stevenson wins this, I already fought him once,'” White told ESPN during a post-event telecast. “I said the winner of this fight is the next 155-pound challenger.”
White, no stranger to giving Penn a pep talk or two, felt he’d made the right choice in giving the winner of Saturday night’s fight a title shot.
“I was blown away by Kenny’s performance,” White said. “Joe Stevenson is no joke, and on the ground especially. You can say whatever you want about Joe Daddy’s stand-up, but his ground game is superb. Kenny looked phenomenal tonight, and did exactly what he said he was going to do.”
Florian said it was easier to get motivated for Stevenson knowing there was a light at the end of the tunnel in his second quest for the belt. He had none of the weight-cutting problems that previously made his job difficult.
“The weight cut was easy, really easy this time around,” he explained at the post-fight press conference. “It went quite smooth. (It was) just consistent training, following the nutrition plan. I didn’t let myself blow up.”
White gauged Florian’s seriousness by his unwillingness to eat the standard junk on the road.
“I was with him in New York and he was eating like a supermodel,” he said.
“Coffee and cigarettes?” Florian shot back with a smile.
Florian has now taken home six straight victories since dropping a unanimous decision to Sean Sherk at UFC 64. He has sharpened every facet of his game, and meticulously laid the groundwork for a fight against “the master.” With Penn’s restlessness within his own
division and apparent skepticism towards a fight with Florian, the burden of motivation might rest on him.
“B.J. better stay on his game and stay focused,” White warned.