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Over the past few years, we've seen a number of situations in which a fighter works his way up to the number one contender spot, loses the title fight, and then spends the next few years proving that he can beat anyone in the division except the champion. Jon Fitch and Rich Franklin come immediately to mind, and now Kenny Florian finds himself in a similar position.
Florian has to be considered the favorite against anybody in the UFC lightweight division besides BJ Penn. The next logical fight for Florian is Gray Maynard, and while it's a tough fight, I would pick Florian to win it. If he does, he'd effectively knock off the UFC's only legitimate remaining contender for BJ Penn after Frankie Edgar.
The best fight at this point for both Florian and the UFC is a Kenny Florian vs. Diego Sanchez rematch. They are big enough names to co-headline a PPV event, and there is a good story behind the fight. The f act that i t wouldn't eliminate immediate contenders for Penn's title is an additional benefit.
Can Kenny Florian beat BJ Penn? Nothing is impossible in MMA, but it would be an uphill battle. It's hard to imagine him putting Penn on his back and dominating from top position, and the striking gap between Penn and Florian was huge at UFC 101. It's possible Florian can close that gap over time, but it's not as if Penn is over the hill or declining.
Unfortunately for Kenny, dropping down a division is not really an option. He'd find himself out of the UFC and on Versus in a sinking promotion, out of sight and out of mind. Perhaps the best idea for Florian is to keep finishing fights and to bide his time until BJ Penn abdicates his title and leaves the Lightweight division altogether.