Jose Aldo vs. Kenny Florian
Jose Aldo (19-1) vs. Kenny Florian (14-5)
A true wrecking machine in the featherweight division, Aldo faces arguably his toughest challenge yet in the form of Florian, a former two-time lightweight title challenger.
Aldo, 25, has dominated the 145-pound landscape since his North American debut at WEC 34. Following five consecutive stoppage wins, Aldo dethroned Mike Thomas Brown to become the division’s ruler.
After capturing the title, the Brazilian executioner defeated former champion Urijah Faber and knocked out UFC veteran Manny Gamburyan.
In his most recent appearance, Aldo went five hard-fought rounds with Canadian kickboxer Mark Hominick. The win was unquestionable, but Aldo’s performance finally raised a few question marks about his seemingly flawless repertoire.
Aldo’s conditioning and scrambling became an issue in the fifth round as Hominick secured top position and battered the Nova Uniao product with heavy shots for five minutes.
If the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt intends on continuing his reign as champion, cardio should have been an integral focus during his training camp.
Florian, 35, is no stranger to longtime UFC fans. A finalist on the first season of “The Ultimate Fighter,” the Massachusetts native has earned wins over Sam Stout, Joe Lauzon, Roger Huerta, Joe Stevenson, Clay Guida and Takanori Gomi.
Losses to Sean Sherk, B.J. Penn and Gray Maynard made Florian question his future at 155 pounds, but they eventually pushed him to drop to featherweight, which could have been a blessing in disguise.
In his 145-pound debut this past June, Florian outpointed highly touted Brazilian prospect Diego Nunes.
Formerly a protégé of Mark DellaGrotte, Florian has moved to Tristar Gym in Montreal, where he trains under head coach Firas Zahabi. Some of his training partners at the acclaimed academy include Georges St. Pierre, Miguel Torres and Rory MacDonald.
A talented southpaw muay thai practitioner, Florian’s elbows have often been cited as the most lethal in the UFC. However, Florian, too, possesses a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt.
Florian’s time spent at Tristar Gym surrounded by excellent wrestlers will be a key factor on fight night.
Florian throws a solid jab and his striking is diverse, but trading with the explosive Brazilian knockout artist could lead to his downfall.
If Florian actually mixes up his offense by using his jab to set up takedowns and work over Aldo in the clinch, he has an excellent chance of pulling off the upset.
Aldo has been seemingly unstoppable since he assumed control of the division. His luck could run out Saturday against Florian, a gritty fighter with substantial experience against elite-level opposition.
Florian has been criticized for choking in big fights, so he knows not to take this opportunity for granted. His conditioning, clinch game and wrestling could be pivotal in a 25-minute war as these tools could very well carry him to his first UFC championship.
Verdict: Florian via decision