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Breaking down UFC 118: Kenny Florian vs. Gray Maynard

Looking more dominant than ever, Florian says he doesn’t feel pressure of another title run

BOSTON — Kenny Florian has fought for the UFC lightweight title twice.

But as far as he's concerned, only one of them counted.

Florian (13-4) will look to earn his third crack at the 155-pound belt Saturday when he takes on fellow top contender Gray Maynard (9-0) at UFC 118 at the Boston TD Garden. The 34-year-old fell short in attempts at the belt in 2006 and 2009.

While many are calling this his third run at the title, Florian says it feels more like his second, because the first time he competed for the belt he had very little experience fighting as a lightweight.

"I think we can pretty much throw that one out the window," Florian said of the 2006 loss to Sean Sherk. "I didn't even want that fight. I was one of, what, four lightweights in the whole division? I don't know if we can really count that."

The loss that came to then-defending champion B.J. Penn last August, however, Florian does count — and it prompted him to make major changes to his fight preparations.

Following the humbling loss to Penn at UFC 101, Florian began working at the Tristar gym based in Montreal with head trainer Firas Zahabi.

He's looked more dominant than ever since making the switch, finishing off Clay Guida and Takanori Gomi in his last two fights.

Florian says he's changed so much, a chance to avenge the loss against Penn doesn't even appeal to him more than any other fight.

As Florian puts it, he's not the same person who lost to Penn last year.

"If I was the same fighter, the same person, then it would," he said. "But it's not about that. I try to be a different fighter every time out and take on different opportunities."

Quick Hits:

There are some cases in which the Las Vegas-based Maynard would choose to test his standup against Florian.

A fight with a guaranteed title shot on the line likely isn't one of them.

Maynard has shown improvement in every area of mixed martial arts since beginning his career in 2006, but there's no question his experience as a former collegiate wrestler is his greatest strength.

Even Florian admits he's not expecting to defend all of Maynard takedowns, but he feels he can still win the fight, even off his back.

"I've shown some weaknesses off my back, and it's something I've worked on since the B.J. Penn fight," Florian said. "I'm having a lot of high-level guys challenge me when I'm on my back and in the worst positions.

"I feel very comfortable down there now, and I'm expecting the fight to be there. I've made improvements with my jiu-jitsu game and creating offensive positions from my back."

Maynard has lived up to his nickname, "The Bully," in the buildup to the fight, stating that Florian falls apart when things aren't going his way in the octagon.

As expected, Florian doesn't agree with him and says it will be more interesting to see how Maynard reacts when put in a tough position.

"I'm not sure where he got that," Florian said. "When I had minimal skills I fought Sean Sherk for five rounds and was there all the way. He's the guy that needs to be concerned when his world gets broken."

Last Time Out:

Florian Third-round submission win over Takanori Gomi at UFC Fight Night 21.

Maynard: Split decision win over Nate Diaz at UFC Fight Night 20.

The Lines: Florian, minus-155; Maynard, plus-125

Final Words:

Florian: On whether or not a second loss to Frankie Edgar would affect Penn's legacy: "It doesn't matter if he loses his next 10 fights. It's similar to Chuck Liddell. They're already established as a legend."

Maynard: On facing a tough opponent. "He's good. But problems? I don't think there are problems for me. That's kind of how I take it. If I have time to prepare, I'll fight anyone and believe I'm going to win."

Brett Okamoto can be reached at 948-7817 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at LVSunFighting

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