Adversity reared its ugly head once again as Penn put on a strong performance, choking out Florian in the fourth round. But there’s winning and there’s learning.
“Every time it became more specific. I was starting to fill in those gaps and holes in my game. I realized it was just little aspects I need to add-in to make myself go from good to great and get into that elite status.”
“Obviously, I was just miserable after the B.J. fight. I was not as good with my wrestling as I needed to be, but also the boxing. The boxing really was the big difference that I saw in the B.J. Penn fight.”
My Muay Thai was good but the way that B.J. Penn struck with me, his hands were far superior to mine and my range was off. And the style that I had, I was over committing on my strikes. My footwork was off.”
In addition to technical improvements, there was the issue of fighting for a UFC title while having his brother as his primary training partner.
“I also need to change things up because my main training partners were guys that weren’t pushing me as much as I needed. My main training partners were my brother and my Muay Thai coach at the time, Mark DellaGrotte. Those were my best training partners and that was just not acceptable. I needed a team that would push me and take me to another level. Firas Zahabi reached out to me after the fight and he was very honest in his assessment, he said, ‘Hey, anything you need. This is what I would suggest you do to take your training to the next level. We’re here in Montreal. Anything you need, come up and train with us.’ When I did that, I was pushed every single day in training.”
“I was training with guys that were trying to take it to me, guys would challenge me all the time, guys with various styles, guys who were excellent boxers, guys with great wrestling, great jiu-jitsu. I really had to push myself in all areas…It was an amazing learning environment. I was not the alpha dog or if I was perceived as this UFC fighter, I was not given that respect. It was a good thing. Guys were going after me and my level really went up after that.”
Does he regret not making the change earlier?
“Without a doubt. I had this amazing resource a five hour drive away and I wasn’t taking advantage of it. I think part of it was out of loyalty to some of my coaches and thinking that they had all the answers. The reality is no one does. And I was in this comfortable zone that made me feel good. I would get the better of all my training partners. But that wasn’t the case at Tri-Star. You had Georges St-Pierre, you had Rory MacDonald, you had guys that you didn’t know who they were and they’d still get the better of you every once in a while. All those things got me to realize I needed to become comfortable with the uncomfortable.”
The change ushered in two submission victories over tough opponents, leading to a matchup with Gray “The Bully” Maynard.
“The Gray Maynard fight, now I look back and I’m like, ‘God, I was such an idiot.’ The wrestling I was doing on a part-time basis. I think I was tricking myself into thinking that my wrestling was getting better, and it was, but not at the level that it should have.”
Following the Maynard loss, Florian’s brother hooked him up with some of the wrestling coaches at Boston University. He had never had a private wrestling coach before.
“I also hired a sports psychologist after that fight because I remember very specifically hearing the boos during the fight. It was a slow moving fight. I kind of rocked him in the first round, saw him stumble, and I got impatient. I didn’t stick to the game plan. I remember hearing the boos and that motivated me to get a little over aggressive. He ended up taking me down at the end of the round and it was basically repeat in the second, repeat in the third. I remember just feeling super frustrated during that fight, and I realized I needed more mental work. It wasn’t enough. So I went and hired a sports psychologist and I went and hired a wrestling coach and those two things really helped me take it up a few notches.”
“As far as the wrestling goes, that’s my biggest regret. I wish I did that from day one – hire a wrestling coach. Wrestling’s such a hard thing. I remember walking into the Boston University wrestling room for the very first time. It seemed like it was 100 degrees in there. The coaches were waiting for me in full sweats and I walked in with shorts and a t-shirt on and I was already sweating. And I was looking at them and going, ‘How the hell are they training with full sweats on right now?’ And they looked at me with smiles and went, ‘Alright, let’s start drilling.’ They start teaching me a system of drilling for wrestling, and in 10 or 15 minutes I was dead tired.”
“I remember just being hunched over and thinking, ‘I don’t even know if I’m going to get through an hour of practice.’ And after an hour and a half of training I was just spent. I mean spent. As hard as it was, I said this is what I’ve needed my whole life. This is what I’ve been looking for. I remember eventually working up to a pace where I could start to put on sweats and train with them and not take all these breaks every 10 minutes. It just built up my mental conditioning, my physical conditioning. It changed everything completely.”