Let's give some props to Kenny Florian. For nearly four rounds, he hung in with the best lightweight fighter in the history of MMA. There's no shame in losing to BJ Penn, but watching Kenny's fruitless attempts to outwrestle BJ led me to one thought:
Did Kenny Florian and Sean Sherk mix up their game plans for BJ Penn?
At UFC 84 last May, BJ dominated Sean Sherk in what was essentially a boxing match. It was expected that Sherk would use his dominant wrestling to wear down the Prodigy. After all, BJ was a superior striker with excellent head movement, big power, and a rock of a chin - not to mention a reach advantage.
BJ has the best takedown defense in the game, but Sherk could tire out Penn and eventually begin scoring takedowns to squeeze out a decision. And if he exhausted BJ, a TKO victory wasn't out of the question.
It wasn't to be. Sherk stood and traded with Penn for the entire fight. At the end of round three, Sherk succumbed to a flurry of strikes and the Prodigy returned to Hawaii, lightweight belt and Sherk's blood in hand.
Bizarrely, this past Saturday at UFC 101, we saw Kenny Florian try to outwrestle BJ - precisely what the MMA world thought Sean Sherk would do
The best possible strategy for Kenny was to try to outpoint and frustrate BJ with kicks, and potentially go for a finish late in the fight when BJ wasn't so fresh and sharp. Kenny certainly had little chance of knocking out or submitting BJ - and even less of a chance of outwrestling him.
When Matt Hughes has trouble taking a guy down, that guy is a damn good counter-wrestler. Even GSP, the best wrestler in the history of MMA, had difficulty in taking a fresh BJ down. (of course that would change as BJ tired...)
But instead of playing Machida, Kenny tried to play GSP - a fatally flawed strategy for a guy who's just not a wrestler. Kenny' supposedly superior camp may have failed him strategy-wise by giving him a game plan fit for Sean Sherk.
I didn't give Kenny Florian a snowball's chance in hell of beating BJ Penn. But in MMA, there's always a chance, especially when a guy is well-trained and hungry to win.
Kenny couldn't exactly stand and bang with BJ given the disparity in punching power. But a focus on scoring points rather than physical domination would have made for a more competitive bout.