Risk vs. Reward for KenFlo

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UFC 91 is less than two weeks away, and while everyone is concentrating on the main event between Randy Couture and Brock Lesnar, the co-main event is a stellar one and a match that deserves its fair share of promotion.

Kenny (KenFlo) Florian is putting his lightweight No. 1 contender spot on the line vs. Joe (Daddy) Stevenson. It is a huge risk on Florian’s part but one he feels has to take.

When KenFlo defeated Roger Huerta at UFC 87 in August, he solidified the top contender spot and was told by the UFC he would be next in line for a title shot. Florian was also informed that his chance at fighting for the title would only come after current champion B.J. Penn took care of business in his super-fight with Georges St. Pierre, scheduled for Super Bowl weekend in Vegas.

For Florian, this would mean a period of 8-9 months of inactivity, given the fact that the earliest he would get a shot at Penn would be April or May of 2009. Consider that he would not get a UFC paycheque during that timeframe and the so-called “ring rust” factor, he decided to press forward and take a fight with whomever the UFC put in front of him. It would be worth the risk to get a fight in between as the last thing he needs is “ring rust” vs. a stud like Penn.

While it may be a smart move, it is gamble, as Stevenson is no walk in the park and he too is looking at getting a second chance at Penn, after losing a very bloody bout to the champ at UFC 80 in January. He was able to rebound from that loss in fine fashion as he walked through Gleison Tibau in July. The Season 2 winner of The Ultimate Fighter sunk in one of his now famous guillotine chokes, forcing his Brazilian opponent to tap out midway through the second round. Looking at Joe Daddy’s record, he has 10 submission victories that have come by one form of choke or another. When this guy gets a hold of your neck, you are in big trouble.

Florian is coming into this fight riding a five-fight win streak, with victories over Dokonjonosuke Mishima, Alvin Robinson, Din Thomas, Joe Lauzon and the aforementioned Huerta. The Huerta fight showed the evolution of KenFlo, as he stepped away from his usual game plan of finishing fights, and executed a cautious stick-and-move game plan. He never gave Huerta the chance to engage and would only exchange strikes with him whenever he felt it necessary. He controlled that fight from beginning to end, but can he do that against Stevenson?

Florian will have to use his three-inch height advantage to keep Stevenson at bay, jabbing away while setting up his knees and kicks. Florian has exceptional Muay Thai skills and can use his long range kicks to punish his opponent. While his jiu-jitsu and submission skills are on par with some of the best in the division, his scrambling and positioning are often overlooked, and believe me, Florian flows like water when the fight hits the ground. While anything can happen in a fight, I predict Florian will keep his No. 1 contender spot and defeat Stevenson via a unanimous judges’ decision.

While evenly matched, these two athletes are poised to put on the fight of the night, even with the main event as the front-liner. In Florian and Stevenson, we will all be privy to an exciting bout, chock full of technical grappling, and Florian most likely turning this into a striker vs. wrestler matchup. While keeping the fight on the feet is far less of a risk than actually taking the fight, it is the fearless and courageous Florian who is putting it all on the line at UFC 91.

By mid-2009, Florian will know if he made the right decision in his career, but as anyone who has tasted success knows, great risks often reap great rewards.

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