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Kenny Florian Draws on Old Memories, New Techniques for BJ Penn Fight

Kenny FlorianPHILADELPHIA -- In his home office, Kenny Florian has a marker board that is essentially a timeline of his past, present and future in MMA. The board lists fighters he's beaten who simply get crossed off, others he's scouted as potential opponents and, of course, his next scheduled matchup.

The name of BJ Penn has long had a prime spot on the board, with Florian targeting a matchup with the UFC lightweight champion for over a year. On Saturday night, Florian gets it at UFC 101.

According to the oddsmakers, Florian is an underdog in the matchup, but perhaps no fighter in MMA has improved more in the last three years than he has. When he got his first title opportunity against Sean Sherk in October 2006, he was essentially a part-time fighter who would take large blocks of time off, only to go into intensive training when he was signed to fight. After losing the Sherk bout, he came to the realization that he couldn't become a champion with that type of work ethic.

Since that time, Florian (11-3) re-tooled his entire approach to the sport. For this fight, he worked with no fewer than six coaches. His brother Keith Florian runs the show as the head coach, but he also works with longtime instructor Mark DellaGrotte along with Peter Welch, Jonathan Chaimberg, Muzzaffar Abdurakmanov and Firas Zahabi, who is best known as Georges St. Pierre's coach. He is also one of the most cerebral fighters in the sport, obsessively studying video and searching for small holes he can attack.

"During competition it's nice to have that stuff in my memory bank," Florian told FanHouse. "BJ's been on my radar for a while. We've looked at a lot of video and try to examine how he's evolved and look for trends that may repeat themselves in this fight."

One of the difficulties this time around is that Penn is coming off a fight in which he was virtually shut out offensively. At UFC 94, St. Pierre took Penn down repeatedly and grinded him down for four rounds until Penn's corner threw in the towel. Because of the one-sided nature of the fight, there was not a whole lot to dissect, and of course, what was there was off-limits for discussion before the fight. Prior to that, Penn had won three in a row as a lightweight, including a three-round destruction of Sherk.

Team Florian expects Penn to be highly motivated not to have a repeat performance of his last bout, and Penn himself confirmed that was in fact the case.

"Last time out was a disappointing performance but I feel great now," Penn said. "That is definitely going to be a factor in this fight. Kenny is a good opponent and he wants to show he's ready for this, but I'm ready to overcome that challenge."

Since his aforementioned loss to Sherk, Florian is a perfect 6-0 and has finished five of those fights -- four via submission and one by TKO. In his most recent bout, he manhandled the always-tough Joe Stevenson, winning by rear naked choke in 4:03 of the first round (Penn needed almost two full rounds to beat Stevenson in their Jan. 2008 bout).

The streak served to silence the doubters who thought Florian had been rushed to the top prematurely and undeservedly. And like all of Florian's moves, it was strategized.

"I think he just took things a lot more serious and focused a lot more on what needed to be done and how it needed to be done," said Keith Florian. "He wanted to make sure he kept an open mind to new things and trying to take it to the next level. Whether that meant adding new coaches or working with new people, it was 'let's do whatever it takes.' It was a case of going out there and getting what we needed as opposed to being satisfied with what we had."

And while Florian's list of conquests doesn't yet compare to that of Penn's, Florian feels that his recent battles and triumphs will pay dividends come Saturday. He now has a solid list of experiences -- both good and bad -- to draw from. He has a solid team behind him. This time, he knows he belongs in the cage fighting for the title.

"I've learned some lessons that can serve me well," he said. "On the physical side, the technical side, even the mental side I've improved. Back then [against Sherk] I wasn't able to call on previous experiences and that definitely hurt me. But that loss helped make me the fighter I am today. I remember that Sherk loss and that Diego [Sanchez] loss, and I don't want to repeat that."

That impetus has brought him to the cusp of forever. Champions aren't forgotten. But the more personal moment will occur once he gets home. Florian's office is going to be updated sometime early next week. Crossing off Penn's name would be most meaningful and simple, a quiet validation of the all-encompassing changes he made to his training and diet in the last three years.

New and improved Kenny, same old marker board.

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