In this ESPN.com blog, UFC contender Kenny Florian, who challenges champion Jose Aldo for the UFC featherweight championship at UFC 136, discusses his maturation as a fighter and why his confidence is at an all-time high ahead of the biggest challenge of his career.
Fight week is here. I face Jose Aldo for the featherweight title in Houston at UFC 136 on Saturday. This is my third go-around the block to win a UFC belt, but I'm in a completely different mindset right now compared to when I previously fought for the UFC championship as a lightweight.
There have been times in the past where I have become overly nervous and anxious ahead of title shots. I went into those fights asking myself, “Do I really deserve this shot? Am I really the second best guy in the world right now?” On the flip-side, I've had other fights that I've gone into and been almost overconfident. It can sometimes be difficult striking a balance between the two mindsets.
I believe I am in a great place right now in my career. I have a great team behind me and am training with some of the very best fighters in the world. These are guys that are fighting at a very high level in the UFC and elsewhere. I never really had that same level of experience and expertise ahead of my previous title shots. Sure, I trained as well as I could and made the most of everything at my disposal, but I never went into those title fights with the same level of confidence I have right now. This is confidence born from knowing I have been to all the places I need to go to in training and then come out the other side with a smile on my face.
I feel like I've covered all bases now, in terms of my skill-set, my conditioning and, of course, my experience. Experience is vital in any situation, and I've been here before. I've had my back against the wall and I've been an underdog. None of this is new to me. I won't be shaken by anything anybody says in the buildup to this fight with Jose Aldo on Saturday. If people think he's going to beat me, that's fine. I've heard it all before. I've been written off many times in the past and I now know how to deal with that. The days of me doubting myself and worrying ahead of fights are long gone.
Having self-belief, real trust in myself rather than being overconfident, is the main difference this time. Aldo is a great fighter, but I can match him standing and I can more than hold my own in BJJ. Having the confidence in myself to go 100 percent is going to be the real difference in this, my third shot at the belt.
I'm a completely different fighter to the one that showed up against B.J. Penn and Sean Sherk in previous title shots. If you really go back and look at the statistics before those fights, I was a guy with just eight fights to my name before fighting Sherk. It was only my second fight as a lightweight. Sherk, on the other hand, boasted over 40 fights to his name and had been fighting for much longer than I had. That was a ridiculous situation in hindsight, and I feel I was not ready for that level or position back then. The shot came way too early but the division wasn’t as stacked as it is today and my turn came quickly.
Yes, I had more experience by the time I faced Penn, but I was still far less experienced than B.J. was. He'd been fighting for much longer than I had and was competing at a title level for years. More than that, though, I didn't even have a jab when I fought B.J. My boxing skills weren't that great and BJ has one of the best jabs in the UFC. I had nothing to stop him from jabbing at me, that was a huge factory in the loss, and my wrestling skills were also a lot worse than they are at the moment. I was half the fighter I am now.
Seems a lot of people like to say “Kenny Florian -- that guy chokes in the big fights,” but it is simply not true.
You have to look at fights in context and not just oversimplify stuff. There is a reason to each and every loss I have, and the fights need to be looked at in the context of my whole career. I have never choked in a fight. Each and every fight -- whether victory or defeat – has been part of a greater learning experience. I'm still learning and working things out today. Nobody in mixed martial arts, not Anderson Silva, Jon Jones or anyone else, has figured this sport out yet. We are all still striving to improve and find the answers.
This is possibly my last shot at a UFC title -- I know that. Thinking about things realistically, I may not get another chance if I fail to come through with this one. That's not something I try to think about too much, though. All I'm thinking about right now is taking this opportunity against Aldo with both hands and then going out and showing the world I can beat a guy that I seriously believe I can beat …
Visit kennyflorian.com and @kennyflorian for more information on Kenny "KenFlo" Florian, top featherweight contender and former two-time lightweight title challenger