Almost immediately after he recorded the unanimous decision win over Huerta at UFC 87 on Aug. 9, Florian (10-3) made it known he wanted to fight again before the year was out. The UFC had framed the Huerta fight as a number one contender match, but 155-pound kingpin B.J. Penn (Pictures) will move up in weight to face welterweight titleholder Georges St. Pierre (Pictures) in January. Florian will not let Penn’s plans stop him from getting more cage time.
He expected to be offered either Frankie Edgar or Joe Stevenson (Pictures) when he requested another fight and immediately accepted an offer to face the latter at UFC 91 on Nov. 15 in Portland, Ore.
“I’m a fighter, and I want to stay busy; I want to fight all the best people,” Florian said. “There are a lot of people who think Joe Stevenson is still a top 10 fighter and I’m not. I still have a lot to prove out there. For me, I just want to fight the toughest guys. The title’s great. Of course I’d be thrilled having a world title belt or whatever, but for me, it’s about becoming a better fighter at the end of the day.”
Florian respects Stevenson (29-8), who has won 14 of his last 16 fights.
“Joe Stevenson is a tough fighter,” Florian said. “He’s got a lot of experience. He presents a lot of problems. He’s a short, stocky wrestler who’s also great on the ground and has a solid boxing background. He’s similar to Sean Sherk with actually probably better submissions. Maybe he’s not as good with the takedowns, but he has great jiu-jitsu, great submissions. He’s catching a lot of people left and right.”
Stevenson -- who like Florian burst onto the UFC scene through “The Ultimate Fighter” reality show and shines mostly in jiu-jitsu -- will enter the bout with momentum. He became the first man to submit American Top Team’s Gleison Tibau (Pictures) when he locked in a guillotine choke at UFC 86 in July. The 26-year-old’s still in the process of bouncing back from a loss in his first UFC title fight -- a gusty but bloody defeat to Penn at UFC 80 in January.
Detractors have criticized Florian’s performance against Huerta, chiding him for lack of aggression after he executed a very technical game plan. Florian claims he was also hard on himself after the fight but felt better about his performance after watching tape of the match. Despite snapping Huerta’s 17-bout unbeaten streak, Florian was not surprised to read the thoughts of fans who doubt his ability to reach the top of the lightweight class.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if I went out there and knocked out Joe Stevenson in the first 10 seconds and they were like, ‘Kenny got lucky, and he still has to prove himself; he’ll never beat Sean Sherk or B.J. Penn, and Tyson Griffin (Pictures)’s a better fighter,’” Florian said. “For whatever reason, people are still doubting me. It’s normal.”
Sherk and Griffin will face off in their own high-stakes bout at UFC 90 on Oct. 25 in Chicago. Florian might have to take on the winner before he gets another crack at the 155-pound title. Having rattled off five straight wins since his five-round decision loss to Sherk in 2006, Florian seems content to approach each challenge with the same zeal, whether he fights for a belt or not.
“Everyone thinks the title fight … that’s really going to bring in more [money],” he said. “I get the same amount of money if I fight for a title than if I fight Joe Stevenson or Wayne Weems (Pictures) from season five of ‘The Ultimate Fighter.’ My contract is set. Sure, there’s more prestige or whatever [with the title], but as far as making money … in boxing, you want the title fight because that guarantees you the big money.
“In the UFC, your contact really stays the same. The prestige comes with winning the belt, not the motivation of the money. I assume after this, then I’ll be fighting for the title. But again, I’m not sure. I’ve learned to take it one fight at a time, and any promises that are made can change very quickly.”