(Photo courtesy of MMAWeekly.)
By CagePotato contributor Elias Cepeda
Kenny Florian‘s domination of PRIDE legend Takanori Gomi at Wednesday’s UFC Fight Night 21 made a couple things perfectly clear: First, that Gomi can no longer hang with the division’s elite fighters. Also, that the constantly improving Florian is undoubtedly one of the very best 155-pounders in the world. In this exclusive interview, Ken-Flo takes us through his fight with the Fireball Kid, and discusses life in the UFC’s lightweight division, where the championship belt continues to lie maddeningly out of reach…
CAGEPOTATO.COM: Very early on in your fight against Gomi, you began to get the better of him standing up. Soon you began dancing around, leaning over, dropping your hands. Was that just one of those things where you got so comfortable that you got a bit cocky, or were you trying to goad him into doing something in particular?
FLORIAN: No, it’s part of a rhythm. It’s a calculated part of a boxing rhythm you try to get yourself into to make sure that I keep my head moving and I stay loose. It’s a swagger you need to have. It’s my way of making sure that there is no catching me when I’m moving, when I’m punching, and it has really helped me, not only in my training, but I think in the fight to have that looseness and relaxation. I’ve just been working on my boxing technique a lot and I’m glad I was able to show that.
In the third round, Gomi landed what appeared to be his cleanest punch of the fight. A few seconds later you took him down, and about a minute later you finished him by choke. Was your plan to basically stand with Gomi until he showed you something, then put him on his back to make things easier for yourself?
Well I knew that he would start to get fatigued. He was losing the first two rounds and I knew he’d start to get desperate and he’d start to get upright. That was going to allow me the space and ability to get to his legs. And that’s what happened. I had planned to take him down in the third round, I knew that was going to happen, I knew he was going to get tired and he’d be easier to finish. By that time I think he was worn out, mentally, physically, and just didn’t have an answer, was frustrated. And I saw a perfect opportunity to go for his legs. I took him down and tried to capitalize.
So it didn’t have to do with him finally landing a good shot?
Not at all. He was landing shots before that, you know. He was able to sting me in the second round. In the third round there was nothing that hurt me. Watching the video tape it looked like that was the cleanest shot but that wasn’t the one that hurt. In the second round, that hurt.
Before the fight you spoke about how you had watched Gomi fight for years and how he was a legend of the sport. How did it feel when you finally got your hands on him? What surprised you, and what was consistent with what you had imagined he’d be like to fight?
He still had a lot of power. But honestly I knew that he really hasn’t made drastic changes in his game. He hasn’t evolved with the times to where, I think, he should be doing. Whereas I think I have. I always try to stay ahead or be with what is current in MMA. I knew he was going to struggle, it was up to me to execute on that. Everyone always talks about his striking and everyone thought I would be at a disadvantage there so I took a lot of pride and pleasure in doing what he did best and still beating him at his own game. I don’t say that because I feel I’m this great striker or anything, I just feel I did my homework and Gomi didn’t do as much as me, and I think that’s why I was able to get the better of him. I’m glad I was able to show that stuff. It’s one of the things I’ve really been working on. I purposely did that and I purposely didn’t throw one elbow on the feet. I wanted to beat him at his own game so everyone wouldn’t be able to find an excuse. But, of course (laughs), his fans will always find excuses.
I don’t know how much of his pre-fight comments you saw. Gomi either has a bad translator or he’s pretty aloof. He seems to say little things here and there, like after he lost to Nick Diaz, where he sounds passive aggressive. Did you see his ufc.com video interview before the fight where they asked him what he thought about you and he said that he didn’t really know anything about you?
Exactly. Early on, I heard that same thing. Oh, I don’t know about him, I’m going to have to watch video tape, or something. It could be true, I don’t know. It could be the case or maybe he’s just saying that (laughs). I’m not sure. I was sure that he was going to change his tune from saying he was going to knock me out in the first round if he started watching the most current fights, you know?
In between rounds in your corner, there were moments where it appeared your cornermen were talking over one another, where things got a little heated between them and there was a question of who got to talk, when. Was that distracting for you, in terms of who should I be listening to and is that a problem?
I didn’t hear it at all, honestly. I didn’t hear any of that at all. I didn’t hear that stuff at all, amongst any of the coaches.
But in the moment, when you were getting instructions, it was all fine and clear in your head?
Oh yeah, yeah. There was nothing that wasn’t clear.
We know you traveled to Montreal a few times during camp to train with Firas Zahabi, but while you were home in Boston, did you mostly do boxing with Peter Welch, or did you also do some Muay Thai training?
I was doing mostly boxing but I was doing Muay Thai stuff as well. I have a buddy of mine who has a Muay Thai school in Boston and he was able to hold pads with me and work things that Firas had me work on in Montreal.
In 2006 you got your first title shot and lost a decision. Afterwards, you re-made yourself and last August got another title shot, losing to BJ Penn. The title contender picture in the lightweight division seems a little tricky in that, you seem to have set yourself apart from everyone else except the champion, but you’ve already gotten two title shots, the second coming not too long ago. You’ve finished two tough fighters in a row now since losing to Penn. In your mind, what do you have to do to earn another title shot?
Yeah, you know, I don’t know man. I don’t think there’s really anything I can say that’s going to get me the shot, or anything like that. Is it one fight, two fights, five fights? Honestly, I don’t know. I really don’t care. The more important thing in my mind is just getting better as a fighter and facing top competition and that’s it. I’ve kind of stopped worrying about that stuff. It’s nonsense in your head. Anytime you start looking too far ahead, thinking of scenarios, it’s a waste of time, I think.
In terms of how you match up, fighter to fighter, in your mind, if the UFC offered you a title shot as your very next bout, would you take it? Not speaking towards “deserving it,” but do you feel you are good enough to win the title?
Oh yeah. I’ve made drastic changes in the way that I train and the style that I use in the cage. I feel even back then [at UFC 101], I know that was a terrible performance. Even with the skills I had back then I know I can do much, much better. And I’m a much, much better fighter since then. But I hate when guys fight me and they talk about the things they can do against me to beat me. And I don’t want to be the same guy. I’d rather just go out there and prove it, and just go out there and fight. I feel that I’d rather do my talking in the cage.
Another tough guy, who, because of a loss and injuries, maybe isn’t on the short list for title shots but who you have a history with is Sean Sherk. Taking into consideration where you are in your career and where he is, would you fight him again if it wasn’t for a title shot or the title?
If he had maybe two wins in a row, then I’d say yes. But Sean Sherk just hasn’t produced. I’d say the same thing for BJ Penn if he was on a losing streak or had just fallen off. I don’t even know when the last time Sean Sherk has fought. I don’t run from anybody, I’ll fight anybody but I’m not sure that Sean has stepped up to the level of competition that the other guys are doing. Perhaps he’s fallen into the same mold as Takanori Gomi. It doesn’t make him a bad fighter. He’s still obviously a great fighter but just from what we’ve seen, we haven’t seen a Sean Sherk that is staying current with the evolution of MMA.
Who are you rooting for on April 10th in the lightweight championship fight between BJ Penn and Frankie Edgar?
Honestly I’m just rooting for a good fight. I want it to be a good fight between two exciting lightweights and both of those guys are. I have a lot of respect for Frankie Edgar. He’s a hard worker. Like myself, a lot of guys count him out all the time. He’s an undersized lightweight. I’d like to see him do well. Surely BJ Penn is going to be the favorite and may the best man win. Whoever wins, I’m cool with that and we’ll see what the future brings. I wish both those guys luck and hope that they fight up to the best of their abilities to put on a good fight. I say that both as a person in the division and as a fan.