The Best in the World
It's a good show tomorrow night, a damn good show. There hasn't been a lot of focus on it, but it's also an important show.
Sandwiched between an August that showcased "Pound for Pound King" Anderson Silva, a September that saw "Future Pound for Pound King" Jon Jones fight, and a show later this month that will feature "The Other Pound for Pound King" Georges St. Pierre is Jose Aldo: Featherweight Champion of the World. Undeniably the greatest 145 lb fighter walking God's green earth, he was once prominently spoken of as a potential Pound for Pound Champion but Aldo has recently become a victim of his own success. His near perfect wins over luminaries such as Mike Brown and Urijah Faber set the bar so high that when he fought this past April he somehow tarnished his reputation by "only" getting the decision victory over the tough Mark Hominick. Despite clearly suffering the effects of some ailment that left him fighting at less than 100%, Aldo still managed to deftly outstrike and outgrapple the Canadian for the vast majority of their fight; taking Hominick down at will and dropping "The Machine" with thunderous punches on numerous occasions. But because Aldo didn't look perfect, as he had in pretty much every other fight during his North American career, the doubts began to emerge.
Where he was once highly touted, Aldo has now seen his stock drop. Maybe the drop hasn't been great but it came at the same time Jones and Silva (in particular) were doing what Aldo had done before. In a world of What Have You Done for Me Lately, the fans demand Aldo do something now. But make no mistake, the man about whom Anderson Silva once said, "I'd retire if he was a middleweight" is better than anyone when he's on. Tomorrow night, he'll have to be on because he faces what may be the toughest test of his career in Kenny Florian.
Kenny Florian doesn't get the credit he deserves. He doesn't have an outstanding athletic pedigree and certainly doesn't look physically imposing. He's a skinny kid from Boston who gets by on hard work and brains. He isn't flexible like BJ Penn, nor does he have the power of a Chad Mendes, instead he's just a smart guy who works as hard as possible and comes to fight every time the door locks. But throughout his career Florian has managed to win at the highest levels despite lacking those high level physical gifts. He advanced to the finals of the first Ultimate Fighter - as a middleweight (even defeating Chris Leben on the show). He eventually dropped to lightweight where he twice challenged for the world title. And he wasn't gifted those chances. He ran through everyone from Joe Stevenson to Takanori Gomi to Clay Guida. But he would come up short in his two title fights, losing to Sean Sherk and BJ Penn respectively. Finally, in his last fight at lightweight, he lost to future two-time lightweight title challenger, Gray Maynard - the Maynard fight was the first time Kenny had ever lost a non-title fight at 155 lbs.
Realizing that once again his size was betraying him, Florian made the drop to 145 lbs and his debut was a smashing success. He fought Jose Aldo's teammate and friend, Diego Nunes, giving the Brazilian his second loss. Florian looked crisp, sharp, and healthy at the weight. As easily one of the most recognizable names in a division still looking to establish itself within the UFC, Florian was seen a natural contender for the belt. More than just marketable, the win over Nunes proved that Florian was and still is a top-level talent. While he may not want the label of Best to Never Win the Belt, Florian would certainly be in that discussion.
And now, Florian challenges Aldo for the Featherweight Title and hopes to avoid being discussed alongside the Jon Fitches of the world. For KenFlo, this is Do or Die; not too many fighters get to challenge for a World Title three times and lose and still find themselves in contention down the road. If it wasn't his third shot where most men got none it would almost be unfair to Florian. "If you want to be world champion you must beat a man who is quicker than you, younger than you, more athletic than you, a better striker, hits harder, and is a former world champion in Jiu Jitsu." But my sympathy is thin precisely because Florian has had more than his fair share of shots at belts. This isn't to say that Kenny doesn't deserve one last chance at glory, but it is only fitting that if he should become champion that it comes by overcoming the best in the world.
For Aldo, it's a chance to once again stake his claim to the title of "Best Pound for Pound Fighter in the World." A decisive win over Florian will remind everyone that Aldo is a 25 year old just entering his prime, a man with the potential for a decade of dominance ahead. Saturday: Kenny Florian will become - or Jose Aldo will remind us why he is - the best in the world.
Mike Coughlin is the host of FIVE STAR RADIO. As a non-fat-guy on the Internet who talks about how much he knows stuff, he's the Pound for Pound MMA Pundit King!