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LAS VEGAS – Kenny Florian is known as one of the more thoughtful fighters in the Ultimate Fighting Championship. Fluent in six languages, the former Boston College soccer star goes out of his way to speak respectfully about past, present, and future foes.
So his strong words from the octagon for UFC lightweight champion B.J. Penn on Saturday night sure caught the attention of the 14,272 fans at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
"I consider you a master, and it's time to kill that master," Florian told Penn, who was seated at cageside.
But then, who could blame Florian for getting caught up in the heat of the moment? By submitting Joe "Daddy" Stevenson at UFC 91 on Saturday night in a match in which the winner was guaranteed a title shot, Florian completed a two-year journey toward his second crack at the UFC's 155-pound crown.
"This is exactly what I wanted," Florian (11-3) said. "I wanted to come out here and make a statement. I want B.J.'s belt."
Florian (11-3) was a relative neophyte when he got his first title shot in 2006. Taking on Sean Sherk for the vacant title at UFC 64, had just seven official pro fights under his belt and was a year and a half removed from his spot on the first season of The Ultimate Fighter.
Though the Bostonian lasted the full five rounds with Sherk, he lost a one-sided unanimous decision. Florian, who got by largely on his black belt jiu-jitsu skills up to that point, made the commitment to become a complete fighter.
"Back then, people were asking why someone would get a title shot that soon," said Florian's trainer, Mark DellaGrotte. "We used it as a building block. We came out of that fight knowing where Kenny stood as a fighter and what he had to do going forward in order to get back where he wants to be."
Since then, he has won six consecutive fights, five of them by finish. He has become equally adapt with his Muay Thai skills and ground-and-pound as he is with the submission game.
"While everyone else is out there criticizing (fighters)," said Florian, "all I'm doing is training. It's my whole life. That's all I know."
Which he demonstrated in the fight with Stevenson. The Victorville, Calif.-based fighter, who earned his jiu-jitsu black belt last week, is a well-respected contender and a former pay-per-view headliner. But apart from an early Stevenson takedown, Florian dominated all aspects of the fight.
Florian scrambled back to his feet after Stevenson's takedown and took control of the match, registering his own takedown and moving swiftly into a full mount position. Florian rained down left and right hands until Stevenson gave up his back and left himself open for a rear naked choke.
Stevenson submitted at 4:03 of the first round, and had Florian in his ear before he could even get up off the mat.
"I just thanked him for the fight," said Florian. "I told him I had respect for him."
Florian was coming off his only non-finish in his current win streak, his unanimous decision win over Roger Huerta at UFC 87 in August. His trainer felt that result was motivation to make quick work of Stevenson.
"Kenny surprised me tonight," said DellaGrotte. "He obviously felt like he was on a mission. Joe's a great fighter and I thought Kenny was really going to have his hands full, but I think after he didn't finish Roger, he felt like he had to come out and really make a statement."
So Florian will sit back and wait for Penn's match with welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre on January 31 to play out. It will be awhile before Florian gets that second shot at glory, but his verbal volley in the cage ensures he won't be forgotten in the interim.
"I didn't know that was coming," DellaGrotte said. "I don't know where that came from. I'll tell you what though, I think that was a good call-out. Kenny has all the respect in the world for B.J., I think he just felt like he needed to announce that he's here."