Notable fighters from other organizations are usually matched against a UFC veteran in their first fight with the world's premiere fighting organization: The Ultimate Fighting Championship. However, this weekend in Las Vegas, two former Strikeforce standouts will plunge into the deep waters of the UFC's Middleweight division and battle each other for their rightful claim to the competitive rankings. Tim Kennedy, a former Strikeforce title challenger, takes on an elite grappler from the clan that started it all: Roger Gracie.
If you are not familiar with these two, it’s time you get acquainted, as they are each highly anticipated in the UFC. Both fighters come from very different backgrounds, but have the same goal in mind: a permanent job with the UFC. This Saturday night, they’ll be evaluated on the world’s stage in the toughest job interview they’ve ever had.
Tim Kennedy has established himself as a fan favorite for his accomplishments and character both inside the cage and out. A Green Beret (a common term for a U.S. Army Special Forces Soldier) and Army Ranger, Kennedy has been fighting on the battlefield and in the cage for about a decade.
After establishing a 30-1 amateur record, Kennedy turned pro back in 2001, losing his professional debut to future TUF competitor Scott Smith after suffering a nasty cut that caused a doctor stoppage. He then scored a streak of pro victories, including a decision win over “Mayhem” Miller before joining the Army in early 2004.
He enlisted for the Special Forces and after completing the rigorous training, he was assigned to the 7th Special Forces Group at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, where he served as a Sniper and Army Combatives* Instructor. Though he continued to train and fight in MMA, the highly operational tempo of the Special Forces prevented him from pursuing it as a full time career. After his first term of enlistment, he left Active Duty for the Army National Guard, where he currently serves as a Combatives Instructor*.
His opponent, Roger Gracie, is fairly new to mixed martial arts, at least in comparison to Tim Kennedy. Being from the legendary Gracie family, he is no stranger to competition. Gracie is a seven-time World Champion in Jiu Jitsu and is considered by many to be the top Gracie prodigy currently competing in MMA.
The massive 6’4” Brazilian started out as a Heavyweight, winning his first two fights by first round submission before moving down to Light Heavyweight where he won his next two as well. The third time at Light Heavyweight was not a charm, however, and a knockout courtesy of Muhammad “King Mo” Lawal, ended his undefeated streak.
Gracie moved down in weight again, to Middleweight, where he has put together a pair of wins, and he will now face his toughest opponent at that weight in Tim Kennedy in their bout this Saturday. This may very well be a loser-goes-home situation for these fighters, assuming that the UFC is still over strength, as indicated by UFC President Dana White several months ago.
Kennedy has already gotten off on the wrong foot with White, and he might even have that foot out the door after publically making some disparaging remarks about the fighter pay scale.
During an interview with Grapple Talk Podcast, he said, “It’s good to have another job because the UFC doesn’t pay very well.” It didn’t help that the topic of fighter pay had already been a hot topic in the weeks prior and White was already riled up.
Sensing the impending backlash, Kennedy quickly issued an apology, saying that his original quote was taken out of context. But it was too late to recant as the always-sore subject had already incensed White, who responded by saying "You don't like the structure? All right, we'll pay the lower-level guys more money – no more f–king bonuses." He continued: "You guys come in, you negotiate your contracts, and we do away with all bonuses. That's what I'm thinking about doing."
It’s not the best first impression to make on your new boss, but a dominant victory could probably win him over, as White is a businessman first and a superfan second. Kennedy may be on thin ice, but Roger Gracie has a fantastic opportunity to carry out the Gracie tradition as the fourth Gracie to compete in the sport that his family started.
Obviously Gracie will prefer to fight on the ground where he can work submissions and Kennedy will probably have none of it, as he is the far superior striker. In addition to his striking, his excellent cardio, takedown defense and cage experience make him the betting favorite in this matchup.
By: Rodney James
Note: Modern Army Combatives* is a combat system designed by the Gracie family specifically for the United States Army.