UFC 118 Preview Part 3: Kenny Florian vs. Gray Maynard

The UFC makes its Massachusetts debut with UFC 118, headlined by World Lightweight Champion Frankie Edgar facing former champion BJ Penn in an immediate rematch of their controversial April title fight and Hall of Famer Randy Couture taking on champion boxer James Toney in what is being billed as the “UFC vs. Boxing”. In the coming days, Inside Fights will be previewing all the fights on Saturday’s PPV, in Part 3 we look at Kenny Florian vs. Gray Maynard in what is being billed as a Final Eliminator for the World Lightweight Title.

There must be times when Gray Maynard (10-0, 1NC, 2KOs) stops to question why he’s being made to fight a man in Kenny Florian who has had two championship opportunities and failed miserably both times. He must ask himself how many other undefeated fighters with seven UFC victories have been told that they need an eighth. And when he stops to consider who is fighting for the World Lightweight Title on Saturday then those questions must surely turn into grievances as a man he has defeated in Frankie Edgar defends his title against BJ Penn, the fighter who lost the title in his previous match. Twice overlooked for a world title shot that on paper he more than deserved, Maynard would only be human if he started to doubt himself.

And doubt himself he should as the UFC’s decision not to put him into a title fight is perfectly justified. You see despite his sustained success Maynard has failed to developed the all-round game or dominate opponents in the way that you would expect from a world title contender. His past six victories have all came via decision and he seems to struggle to move beyond his wrestling base. Both his standup and his grappling are rudimentary, with his punching lacking power despite what the UFC’s Countdown to UFC 118 special tried to claim.  And in his last two fights he was only able to secure narrow, split decision victories against opponents he was expected to defeat relatively comfortably. And it was his failure to win convincingly against Nate Diaz that directly led to the UFC deciding to choose Frankie Edgar as the Number One Contender instead of him.

And yet Maynard keeps on winning. It may not be entertaining or exceptional but it’s certainly effective.  Through sheer consistency he now finds himself on the brink of a title shot, but first he must defeat Kenny Florian (14-4, 3KOs, 10Subs).

Unlike Maynard, Florian has worked hard throughout his UFC career to develop and broaden his fighting style. Having begun as someone fighting well within his ju-jitsu base, Florian has become one of the most well rounded fighters in the lightweight division. His standup is much improved, using Muay Thai to punish opponents with a variety of punches, knees and kicks. His ground game is now more than just grappling, with Florian able to hurt his opponents with strikes whether he’s on top or off his back. And he has brought to the Octagon the nastiest elbows in the sport, using them to brutalize his in a variety of situations.

But for all this progress, Florian has had a weakness that has held him back throughout his MMA career – his substandard wrestling. Of his three UFC loses, two of them have came when superior wrestlers were able to take him down and maul him on the ground. It’s here that the result of the fight will be determined. Florian will undoubtedly have the advantage standing, not only is Maynard a significantly less skilled striker but Florian will have 4inch reach advantage and 2inch height advantage. This should help Florian keep Maynard on the outside, forcing him to shoot for the takedown from long-range and so making it easier for Florian to defend or counter. Maynard will have to find a way to successfully close the distance and turn the fight into a wrestling match if he’s to come away with the victory.

But should he get inside and be able to engage Florian in a serious takedown or clinch attempt, he’ll run into two problems. One Florian’s takedown defense has significantly improved, as he showed with his sprawl against Clay Guida at UFC 107. Secondly and more importantly, Florian’s Muay Thai is perfectly suited to punishing wresters as they try to take him down or hold in the clinch. Not only will Maynard have to be careful about not being caught with a punch on the way in like Guida was, but he’ll have to ensure that Florian doesn’t hurt him with knees to the head or mid-section. Should Maynard be successful in getting the takedown will then face the problem of having to control and neutralize Florian on the ground. This will be doubly difficult given Maynard’s inability to finish his opponents.  With his excellent grappling and underrated guard, Florian will be looking to catch Maynard off his back with ten of his career victories coming by submission. And should Maynard be able to defend against such submission attempts, then Florian could still do significant damage off his back by throwing those aforementioned vicious elbows.

Gray Maynard may have a great record but to me Kenny Florian is fast developing into a great fighter. He has reacted positively to his one-sided defeat at the hands of BJ Penn last year, further developing his game and putting in impressive performances against Clay Guida and Takanori Gomi. Kenny Florian is simply a class above Maynard and will prove that on Saturday, finishing Maynard and earning himself a third opportunity to win the World Lightweight Title.

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