UFC 91 was billed as having only one title fight but a second quasi-title was at stake when Kenny Florian entered the cage last night to take on Joe Stevenson.
Following August’s unanimous decision victory over Roger Huerta at UFC 87, Florian had been promised a second shot at the UFC lightweight title. However, plans were put into flux when it was determined that incumbent champion B.J. Penn’s next fight would take place against UFC welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre at UFC 94 in January.
After this week’s revelation by UFC President Dana White that the winner of last night’s lightweight title between Florian and Stevenson would receive a future shot at the 155 pound title, Florian was essentially put in a position where he had to defend his title shot.
Instead of trying to wait to cash in on his title shot until after Penn had fought St. Pierre, Florian rolled the dice last night against Stevenson, a recently-christened black belt who is not only one of the best lightweights in the UFC, but also the world.
However, the gamble paid off. Florian not only managed to stay active and earn an additional payday in the process, but his title shot remained in tact following his rear naked choke submission of Stevenson at 4:03 of round 1.
After having been passed over by Penn once before, Florian used his mic time following the victory to give Penn added incentive to fight him.
“This is exactly what I to do out here now I want B.J.’s belt,” Florian told UFC color commentator Joe Rogan and the near-sellout crowd at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. “B.J. you’re one of the best fighters out here. I’m here to test myself. I consider you a master. It’s time to kill that master.”
On the surface, that might seem like tough talk coming from the Boston native but before anyone takes the quote as a personal attack against Penn, realize it was likely nothing more than a business decision. Florian is almost always respectful to his competition and last night’s “It’s time to kill that master” quip is nothing more than a pre-meditated soundbyte to help create more demand for a Penn vs. Florian fight.
In July, I spoke with a source close to Penn who indicated that at this stage of the current lightweight champion’s career, he only wants to be involved with major fights. The source went on to add that Penn was pushing for his next fight to be vs. St. Pierre because with Florian looking like the anticipated winner of Huerta at the time, he just didn’t believe that Penn vs. Florian was a fight the public was clamoring to see.
It’s looking clear that Florian wasn’t exactly happy about being passed over and is trying to do everything in his power to give the masses a reason to want to see Penn vs. Florian. Last night’s decision to call out Penn was a smart move from one of the smartest fighters in the game.