There isn't an American lightweight who wouldn't have traded places Wednesday night with Kenny Florian. UFC fighters have wanted a piece of Japanese/PRIDE legend Takanori Gomi forever, so when KenFlo got a shot to take him out, he took his time at Ultimate Fight Night 21. Florian fought to Gomi's strength, his standup game, over the first two rounds and then took it to the floor at the start of the final round. Gomi was no match off his back. After some ground and pound, Gomi spun and gave his back where Florian applied a nasty rear-naked choke to finish the fight at 2:52 of the third round.
"It's weird. When I got the call to fight him, I was surprised," said Florian. "I was honored. I've been watching him for a long time. I don't even know what to say. It was fun."
Gomi (31-6, 0-1 UFC) was the last lightweight champion for PRIDE and was rated No. 1 or 2 at 155 pounds for much of the early 2000's. At age 31, it's hard to tell how much Gomi has left but he was far from embarrassing in this fight. He competed with Florian for two-plus rounds. The same can't be said for other top-ranked 155ers like Joe Stevenson and Clay Guida, who were beaten much more easily by Florian. On a side note, recent Bellator-signee Roger Huerta, who the UFC didn't want back, also went three rounds with Florian. Florian has now won 11 of 13 with his only two losses coming in UFC title shots against Sean Sherk and B.J. Penn.
Florian's gameplan was surprising to many. Gomi has excellent punching power and the Bostonian chose to duke it out with him for the first 10 minutes.
"I worked a lot on that with (boxing trainer) Peter Welch and (MMA trainer) Firas Zihabi," said Florian.
Update: Florian picked up the submission of the night award worth $30,000. It's the second time in his career he received a postfight award. Florian and Joe Lauzon got fight of the night at Ultimate Fight Night 13.
Florian (13-4, 11-3 UFC) also indicated that he had little choice but to stand because Gomi's stance was very low. It's tough to change levels (drop down for a takedown attempt) with no target to shoot for.
"I had to open him up with the strikes," said Florian, who could see that Gomi was getting more desperate, throwing wild shots and coming out of that tight stance.
One it hit the ground, Gomi did a decent job of controlling Florian until the "Ultimate Fighter 1" alum was able to pass. That's when Gomi tried to flip over.
"We've worked on that end game a lot," said Florian. "All the little details. Hey guys, don't turn your back on me."
Florian's last three wins have come via rear-naked choke.