Ben Fowlkes
Thursday August 7th, 2008

It hardly seemed possible, but the upcoming lightweight clash between Kenny Florian and Roger Huerta at UFC 87 just got more interesting.

Originally billed as the top match on the card because of the fighers' talent, the bout could now easily be labeled the "Company Man vs. The Rabble-rousing Moaner." (And just for good measure, it has all the makings of "Fight of the Night" on Saturday.)

Huerta made waves last week when he voiced his dissatisfaction with the Ultimate Fighting Championship, claiming he wasn't receiving enough money or respect -- increasingly common grievances from the promotion's fighters.

But Florian, who has been in the organization longer and fighting tougher opponents at a lesser cost than many of his counterparts, doesn't see it.

"The UFC has always taken real good care of me and I'm very happy to be where I am," he said. "I was fighting in worse conditions than Roger probably was, or is, when I first came into the UFC with my original Ultimate Fighter contract, but it's like any job. You have to go in there and prove yourself. You don't start off as CEO. You have to work your way up."

And that's precisely what Florian has done. After being overwhelmed by a bigger, more experienced Diego Sanchez in the first T.U.F. Finale, Florian has since dropped to lightweight and rebuilt himself from the ground up. No longer just a scrawny jiu-jitsu expert with sharp elbows, he's a complete fighter in every sense of the word. His striking appears more formidable in every outing, and his submissions game is still among the best in the 155-pound division.

Florian's climb to the top of his class has been slow and sometimes very quiet -- a stark contrast to Huerta's meteoric rise. "El Matador" became the first MMA fighter to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated last year, and despite facing only mid-level lightweights thus far in the UFC, he's been promoted as the UFC's golden boy, partly to reach out to the Hispanic audience. Now, all the hype may be backfiring.

"Roger Huerta's a guy who's been reading the headlines a little too much," said UFC President Dana White in a recent radio interview when asked about Huerta's discontent. "You get out there and promote the guy and he's like, 'Look at all the papers I'm in, look at all the promotion I'm getting. I want a lot more money.' Well, he hasn't fought anybody to get the money yet. He beats Kenny Florian -- that's a whole different ballgame."

But the conundrum is a monster the UFC has created for itself. It doesn't have any problem promoting a guy as a superstar (no matter if he's earned it) as long as he doesn't start asking for the money of a superstar.

And so, perhaps, it's fitting that the next test standing in Huerta's way is the affable Florian, who, on paper, doesn't seem so impressive.

He only has 12 fights to Huerta's 22.

He fought for the title once -- and lost.

He hasn't gotten a great promotional push from the UFC.

And he looks more like a stockbroker than a pro fighter. But his ever-expanding repertoire and his workman-like approach have helped him evolve with the sport.

"Every time I approach a fight, there are times when I know that I can push the pace and this guy's going to gas," Florian said. "With the [Joe] Lauzon fight I knew he was going to give up after a little while and I knew he couldn't keep that pace. But against Huerta, that's not going to be the case. It's just going to be technique versus technique, and I think I have the edge there. I know I've done my work and I have the skills to take advantage of Roger's weaknesses."

If Florian can pull out a win Saturday, his reward will likely be a title shot. That is, assuming B.J. Penn sticks around in the lightweight division long enough for such a scenerio to play out. But that's another battle for another day.

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