It is quite amazing to think that the MMA world first familiarized with Kenny Florian when he was a chubby middleweight contestant on the first ever season of The Ultimate Fighter. Since then, Florian dropped to the much more suited lightweight division, where he immediately became one of the best and most consistent fighters in his weight class. Unfortunately for “Ken-Flo”, part of his consistency hasn’t exactly been positive, as he has continuously fallen short in the most important bouts of his career. Now, after two unsuccessful attempts to capture the lightweight crown, Florian has once again changed weight classes, this time dropping to the featherweight division, where he enjoyed a successful — but underwhelming — debut against Diego Nunes. The win earned Florian a shot at the featherweight title this Saturday at UFC 136. Standing between him and the fulfillment of his dream is one of the greatest fighters on the planet, UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo.
Featherweight title match: Jose Aldo (c) vs. Kenny Florian
To formulate any idea as to how this fight will unfold, one has to assume that both Aldo and Florian will enjoy smoother weight cuts this time around. At UFC 129 against Mark Hominick, Aldo looked completely drained in the final stages of the fight. Similarly, Florian was not his usual dynamic self against Nunes. Provided Aldo is not on antibiotics this time around, Florian will need the performance of his life.
The backbone of Florian’s offense is his footwork, as Kenny is always light on his feet and rarely makes himself a still target. In many ways, it is Florian’s defense that determines just how well he performs in a fight. Against Clay Guida and Takanori Gomi, Florian was as sharp as he’s ever looked. He jabbed, slipped punches, and countered to great effect. Conversely, against B.J. Penn and Nunes, Florian was looking very sluggish. He got tagged repeatedly, particularly with counter-punches, and got uncharacteristically sloppy as the fights progressed. Florian can ill-afford to let that happen against someone like Aldo, as the Brazilian doesn’t let fighters off the hook.
During his tenure under Mark Dellagrotte, Florian was heavily reliant on his muay Thai, and the foundation of his striking was based on his kicks. The move to the Tristar gym in Montreal saw a transformation in Florian’s striking, as he became more confident with his hands and started using his jab to dictate fights. For this bout, he needs to mix the two approaches together. It will be vital for Kenny to stay on the outside and use his reach, as Aldo is simply devastating on the inside. Florian needs to double up on his jab, throw the left hook behind it, and immediately circle out. Moreover, he needs to throw plenty of quick snapping kicks to the legs and body in order to prevent Aldo from landing any counters. Should Aldo close the distance, Florian would be wise to clinch up and try to muscle him against the fence, where his knees to the body and especially, short elbows could produce significant damage. However, Kenny needs to be very wary of Aldo’s quick knees to the body in close-quarters, which he almost throws like jabs.
Aldo is a master at gauging distance. Like Anderson Silva, he likes to dissect his opponent and determine his method of attack. He possesses one of the most diverse striking arsenals in the sport. It seems like Aldo decides on the spot whether to use leg kicks as his primary method of attack or his boxing. The Urijah Faber fight saw Aldo completely destroy Faber’s legs, whereas his bout with Manny Gamburyan saw Aldo rely on his counter-punching ability; a stark contrast to his title-winning performance against Mike Brown, where Aldo was aggressive from the get-go, and completely blitzed the now-former champion on his way to a second round stoppage. Such different approaches make Aldo an incredibly difficult opponent to prepare for, as there is very little indication as to what to expect from the featherweight champion. This sort of fighting maturity is unusual at Aldo’s age, but that is what makes him such a special talent.
It is unlikely that Aldo will find overwhelming success with his trademark leg kicks, as Florian’s continuous movement will make it hard for Aldo to take his legs away from him. However, Aldo’s speed advantage will make him a menace every time he moves forward with combinations. Florian’s lack of one-punch power means Aldo can afford to be a bit aggressive when he gets within range. Aldo tends to start his combination with a classic 1-2, and he finishes with either an uppercut, a left hook to the body, or a leg kick. Another bread-and-butter of Aldo is to set up a counter right uppercut after faking a lead left hook, and it is that particular punch that Florian needs to be on the lookout for above all else.
When Florian gets hit, his defense tends to start breaking down. He becomes less confident, especially with his head movement, and he gets hit more frequently as a result. Once that happens, Florian usually resorts to fruitless single leg takedown attempts against the fence. Typically, they only tire him out and are a sign of desperation. This was glaring in Florian’s losing effort to Penn, as once “The Prodigy” landed a solid right hand followed by a knee, Florian aborted his game plan — despite the pleas of his corner men — and simply stalled by pushing his opponent against the cage.
Should Florian succeed in taking the champion to the ground however, his chances improve considerably, as Kenny possesses a phenomenal top game. He is excellent at throwing elbows from the top. softening his opponent with ground-and-pound, and has some terrific mount and back control. Florian’s rear-naked choke is undoubtedly his best weapon, and if he gets the Brazilian’s back, a title change could be in order. However, Aldo has some great takedown defense. While many will point out that Hominick took him down, it was in fact a sloppy guillotine attempt by Aldo that saw him get stuck on his back for the entire last round of their bout back in April. Moreover, Florian does not possess an explosive shot from the outside, and therefore will find it extremely hard to close the distance and drive through Aldo with a single leg.
It is extremely difficult to envision a way for Florian to consistently get the better of his foe. Aldo is simply on another level, and his speed, power and accuracy will put another dent in Kenny’s title aspirations.
Official Prediction: Jose Aldo to defeat Kenny Florian by TKO in Round 3
PHOTO CREDIT – UFC