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August 06, 2009

[caption id="attachment_687" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Kenny Florian, top, and Mario Delgado spar in preparation for Florian’s UFC championship fight against BJ Penn. Gretchen Ertl for the Boston Herald"]Kenny Florian, top, and Mario Delgado spar in preparation for Florian’s UFC championship fight against BJ Penn.  Gretchen Ertl for the Boston Herald[/caption]

Dan Duggan at the Boston Herald has a great piece today on Kenny Florian as he prepares for his UFC title fight this weekend. He tracks Kenny's evolution from a Boston College grad with a professional job into the top contender for the UFC lightweight title.

It's not been a straight path. He's seen three big defeats, but like a true jiu jitsu blackbelt he's leveraged each of them into something better. He lost his first big MMA fight in 2004 to future-UFC regular Drew Fickett, but so impressed UFC President Dana White that he got a place on The Ultimate Fighter reality TV show. He made it to the finals of the show, but lost again, this time to Diego Sanchez. Once more, his pluck won him the offer for future fights in the UFC. A series of three wins got him a title shot in 2006 against Sean Sherk. After a five round battle, Kenny came up short for the third time in his career. Yet again he rebounded and after six straight wins has earned another title shot this Saturday night against jiu jitsu legend BJ Penn.

As Dan makes clear, Kenny has moved forward in his career by getting smarter, not meaner. After each defeat, he's added new skills to his arsenal. And he's done so by finding the best teachers, including Roberto Maia for jiu jitsu, Darryl Gholar and Alejo Morales for wrestling, and over the last five years Mark DellaGrotte for Muay Thai. He's complemented his increasing mastery of skills with a dedication to conditioning and diet. Smart, skilled and dedicated, that's a combination for success!

Kenny seems to be confident and relaxed with this combination. I've known Kenny for the last year or two (although I can't claim to be more than an acquaintance). I happened to be in his neighborhood last week and stopped by the gym. Kenny saw me outside and waved me in to watch he and Mario Delgado rolling. No secrecy, no tension, no nerves. Just a couple of athletes passing pointers back and forth.

Reviewing strategies and discussing techniques they sounded more like a pair of high school wrestlers discussing an upcoming tournament, than the top ranked contender preparing for the fight of his career. As Kenny said afterward, training is like an airplane flight. He's been at high altitude and now he's got his feet back on the ground. He's ready for the next step in his journey.

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