Champion B.J. Penn had to send a message tonight against USAT/SBN #2 lightweight Kenny Florian.
Referee Dan Miragliotta introduced the fighters. A bearded Kenny Florian looked intimidated at the stare down.
Penn caught a kick and pulled Florian down to start the action but Kenny got to his feet. An elbow against the cage tagged Florian but he circled away and then clinched with Penn in the center of the cage. After they disengaged, there was feinting before Penn forced Florian against the cage. With 1:45 left, Florian pushed Penn against the cage and worked for a takedown to no avail. But Penn had his mouth open with a minute left and announcer Joe Rogan speculated Penn overtrained. Penn ended the fight with a powerful knee and a right hand to the temple.
In the second, Florian opened with a sharp leg kick and then clinched Penn into the cage. The pattern repeated with Florian working for the takedown then backing away. Florian missed with a superman punch and ate a punch to the back of the head before forcing Penn against the cage. This time though, Penn tagged Florian with some powerful uppercuts. The round ended in the center of the cage with Florian landing leg kicks and evading punches from the champ.
Going into the thrid round, the announcers were giving Penn the first two rounds but crediting Florian with a good game plan. Florian again forced the fight against the cage and worked for a take down. Penn again landed a sharp uppercut as they broke. At the 1:40 mark, Florian again went for a single leg and forced the champ against the fence. Penn again landed a sharp right hand and chased Florian. The challenger again forced the fight to the cage. Penn hit a switch and nearly dropped Florian then fired off combination punches. Florian escaped. Florian threw a superman punch and caught a punch for his effort.
In the first of the championship rounds, Florian was well behind but continued stalking the champ. Penn forced him down off a missed kick but KenFlo escaped. With 3:50 left, Penn took Florian down and quickly passed to 1/2 guard and landed elbows. Florian held on to Penn's ankle desperately to prevent Penn from taking the mount but he ate powerful shots to the face as the positional battle continued. Penn got full mount just past the two minute mark. Then Penn got his back and worked for a choke. Florian spun and spun but Penn battered him with heel kicks to the stomach before getting the choke.
Penn, coming off an embarrasing loss to welterweight champ Georges St. Pierre, needed to rebuild his reputation with the fans.
Florian brought more of a "little engine that could" aura into the fight. A man who came in second in the middleweight division of the first Ultimate Fighter season, few would have picked Kenny Florian to fight for a belt only a few years ago.