LAS VEGAS – Following his dominating submission win over Joe Stevenson at UFC 91, Kenny Florian broke away from his normal respectful character.
"BJ (Penn), I consider you a master and now it’s time to kill the master," he said to interviewer Joe Rogan when asked about challenging for the UFC lightweight championship.
Was this the newer, edgier Florian or did Penn get under his skin somehow?
Turns out it was the latter.
Penn and Florian used to be close, even training together. However, that came to an end when Penn helped an opponent prepare for his fight with Florian.
"Things changed a little bit when he trained Joe Lauzon to fight me," Florian said. "I take these things personally. If someone came to me and was like, ‘Hey, can you help me fight BJ?’ I would have said no. He decided to do that and it was his decision.
"We both want to be the best in the world and all there is left to do is get in there and fight."
Florian (11-3) is riding a six-fight win streak and will face Penn (13-5-1) for the lightweight championship Aug. 8 at UFC 101 in Philadelphia. He hasn’t lost since his last title shot against Sean Sherk at UFC 64.
It was the loss to Sherk that motivated him to train harder and become more than just a jiu jitsu fighter.
"I have to credit that loss for where I am today," Florian said. "It pushed me to take my training to the highest level. I’m constantly trying to push the envelope. I really started training like a professional athlete after that. That was one of those fights where you have to be honest with yourself."
Penn has come under fire lately for his poor sportsmanship following a loss to welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre at UFC 94. Penn claimed St-Pierre’s cornerman intentionally applied Vaseline to his shoulders to make him slippery.
Penn lobbied the Nevada State Athletic Commission to overturn the decision and declare the bout a draw. When his attempts failed, he declared that he would never fight in Nevada again.
Despite getting dominated by St-Pierre in a higher weight class, Penn is still the current king at lightweight, according to Florian.
"I still think BJ is the best fighter at 155 pounds until proven otherwise," he said. "He’s just not the best at 170 pounds, Georges St-Pierre is.
"I think we are going to see the best BJ Penn we’ve ever seen. That’s what I want – to fight the best. That’s what I’m here for."
In preparation for the bout, Penn has enlisted the help of the Diaz brothers, Nick and Nate. No stranger to training with partners outside his own camp, Florian worked with a number of fighters, including St-Pierre.
"I do that every camp; I’ve been doing it for the last year and a half," Florian said. "I’m glad BJ is bringing in top guys to push him. Still, I don’t think he’ll see me until Aug. 8. As much as you bring guys who are southpaws or whatever, they’re not like me."
If Florian should get past Penn, he said he wants another rematch with Diego Sanchez, who stopped him in The Ultimate Fighter season one finale.
"Diego’s last performance was a great fight, but from a technical perspective, I think he has some weaknesses," Florian said. "The first time against Diego, I cracked mentally. I was a nervous wreck. I think I’m a much different fighter and I’d like to fight Diego again. He’s doing a lot of talking, and talking his way to a possible title shot.
"Right now my focus is on BJ Penn, but any time you get the chance at a rematch, when you came away with a loss the first time, it is a good thing."