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Tim Kennedy: A Fighter For The Troops

Strikeforce middleweight Tim Kennedy is the embodiment of what it is to be a warrior. As a decorated U.S. Army Green Beret, Kennedy has faced more adversity outside the cage than most fighters do in their whole careers inside the cage.

With a March 5th fight with Melvin Manhoef looming, I managed to catch up Tim Kennedy to discuss multiple topics including his upcoming fight, his struggles to find an opponent, his thoughts on the Strikeforce Heavyweight tournament, his training, and his military service.

What are your thoughts on the difficulties of finding an opponent for your March 5th bout?

“I said a couple months ago I was having a hard time getting people to fight me and people said ‘Ah he’s so full of crap, anyone that would fight that guy’s a chump’ and then a month later, low and behold, everybody got to take a little peak into the revolving door that is my opponent turn over. Originally, I had Jason ‘Mayhem’ Miller and for no reason of his or my control, that fight didn’t materialize, and then there was Luke Rockhold, and then finally there was Melvin.”

What do you think of your upcoming opponent Melvin Manhoef (24-8-1)?

“He’s a really experienced, really tough, he has twice the number of wins that I have, and I think he’s a little bit more well-rounded than people give him credit for. While he does lack on the ground, his takedown defense I think is very strong and his striking, of course, is amazing.”

You alluded to issues beyond either your or Jason “Mayhem” Miller’s control when trying to sign your rubber match. Can you elaborate on what happened?

“Jason and I were both excited to fight each other. You know he was all for it, I was all for it, but we have a network to discuss, Showtime of course has to approve it, Strikeforce has to want it. I’m not privy to the big picture of how they want to build their divisions. I just know that’s not the fight they were 100% sold on happening.”

If you get past Manhoef on March 5th, is there anyone you would like to fight? Obviously, you would like to fight [Ronald “Jacare” Souza] again, but is there anyone else you believe could get you back to a title shot?

“You know I want to fight top ten guys in the world. Robbie Lawler, next to Jacare is the next top ten guy. Jacare is in most people’s rankings between 4-7, Robbie Lawler is between 6-12 on pretty much every website out there. To me, Robbie Lawler would be the next logical choice. If I beat Melvin decidedly, Robbie would be another great show. You know, I think those two fights would really demonstrate a solid argument that I should be back in a title fight considering how close that first one was.”

I definitely agree that the first fight with Jacare was close. I have to say you definitely impressed me, to say the least, with your well-roundedness. You took the fight to him and I actually had you winning the fight. So I would like to see that fight again.

“Did you [see it that way]? I felt the same way, and so did everyone else in my corner but you know that’s all on me. You never leave a decision to the judges. So I just can’t let that happen again.”

I know you stated the next time you fight some one like Jacare that you would like to take the fight to them, rather than allow them to sit back and counter. Is there any way, you have worked on, to take the fight to a great counter fighter without being reckless and exposing yourself?

“Yeah we have worked on a bunch of stuff. [We] look at Shogun, Machida, and Rashad’s success in bounding in and bounding out. I’ve typically been a constant pressure fighter, where I move forward pretty consistently through a whole entire fight. So I have changed how I fight to [where] I’ll be more explosive at coming in, trying to do my damage and getting out. You look at Manny Pacquiao’s last few bouts and how he’ll come in, blast some combos, and then step out with some slick head movement. I’m trying to emulate that and as a MMA application, it makes a lot of sense to how I am athletically and how I fight.”

You know with all the opponent changes and everything else going on, how specialized have you been in your training? Have you altered your training each time you have a new opponent, or do you stick with your normal routine?

“The normal routine stays the same, but of course your game plan changes. My game plan with Jason Miller [going] to Melvin would be very very different. A lot of the stuff stays the same, like my strength and conditioning isn’t tailored to a certain gameplan but what we’re drilling, what we’re working on is specific to the guy that I’m fighting and a month is a lot of time to prepare and stuff. I have been working my stand-up constantly since the Jacare fight and [with that fight] I had 25 minutes of material to look at and say ‘aha, I have a lot of stuff to improve on!’ So since then I have been working on a lot of that stuff and that rolled right [into a fight with Manhoef since] I’m fighting an amazing striker. A month is not ideal, because I like having 2 maybe 3 months of time to prep for an opponent but I think I’ve enough time here.”

So what do you think of tournaments like the current one Strikeforce is doing with their heavyweight division?

“I’m a big fan of tournaments, you know I think they’re exciting, and I think it puts a dynamic to what could be a rather boring card. The build-up and the climax of that final fight where the final two guys are meeting for the championship bout, or the winner of the grand prix is great.”

Thoughts on the current Strikeforce heavyweight tournament, thoughts on the likely winner?

“I’m a huge fan of all the guys in the tournament, but unfortunately two of my favorite guys have already lost, in Fedor and Andrei Arlovski. I love watching those guys, so it’s a bummer, but I think tournament formats are exciting and I know fans love them. [As for a winner] I’m going to have to take Overeem in that one.”

Do you think that the middleweight division needs a tournament and if so, would you participate?

“I’m definitely not one to say no if the fans want to see it. [Does it make sense] at 185? Maybe it does right now. The 185 lbs weight class is kind of muddied and there’s not a clear #1 contender and there’s a few of us that are very high on that list. And after this Melvin fight and if I fight Robbie maybe that will change that. I think that if you take the top eight guys and put them in a tournament. That even if Jacare is in that tournament, and I think he should be just like Alistair is in this one, it would give a really interesting and exciting dynamic. With the winner of that grand prix, facing Jacare for the title.”

So where are you training now that you have moved from North Carolina to Texas?

“Right now I am back in Austin, Texas at Austin Muay Thai and BJJ and with Relson Gracie and Phil Cardella at their school down south, I spent a month in Albuquerque with Greg Jackson and got back here about a week ago. I’m doing my final few weeks here.”

How big of a difference have you noticed going from North Carolina to Texas?

“Yeah, it’s crazy out here with the people and the weather. [With the weather] I was thinking ‘what the hell is going on here?,’ two weeks ago it’s freezing, sleeting, and snowing for the super bowl. And then today it’s like 80 degrees and humid.”

Are you still serving in the United States Army?

“Yup, I am still with the 19th Special Forces group.”

How do you balance Army life and the demands of MMA training?

“The Army National Guard has really given me a lot of time to prep for my fights. My job really is to train, and as soon as the fight is over I’m back to business. I get back to a normal rhythm, doing my PT real early in the morning, my strength and conditioning early, and a midday technical workout during lunch, then a sparring session, and then I might be on the range, teaching shooting, I might speak at a HS.

“As bureaucratic as they are, I think they appreciate how MMA is growing, how much the military loves MMA, and how much the MMA community loves the military.”

What led you to join the Army?

“Well if you’re going to sum it up in one really deciding thing at the time, I think I was a little bit of a dick. I had a successful MMA career going, I was just starting grad school, and I thought I was the man. Then I saw a couple of planes go into the buildings and I thought ‘I’m nothing, I’m pathetic, …’ and I knew I had to do something. So I walked down to a recruiting office and  was knocking on the door. Asking what I could do, and I said I wanted to be an Airborne Ranger and Special Forces and they said ‘we got a job for you!’”

So did you enlist or go to Officer Candidate School (OCS)?

“No, I enlisted.”

Has there been anyone that has really inspired you in your career?

“It’s the fans and the troops. I know I am representing a large group of pretty amazing, exceptional soldiers out there. The majority of my fans are soldiers, the guys who are ‘all about Tim Kennedy’ those are soldiers. I never want to let those guys down, ever, I’d never want to let them down in the field and I’m going to do my best to never let them down in the cage. So the inspiration is them.”

How did your clothing company, Ranger Up, come about?

“It’s a veterans-owned company, there’s five of us… It initially started as place to share our sarcastic sense of humor. You know, a place to write blogs and make fun of the thing that is the Army and then it grew into much, much, more and we love it now.”

I know you have had frustrations about finding an opponent and have stated that you’d consider going into the Army full-time. Was that just frustration talking or is it a real consideration?

“No, I’m going back [into the Army] and finishing my career. When that’s going to be I don’t know. If [Strikeforce] lets me continuously fight, I’ll fight for a couple of years. If they shelve me for too long, I have too much to offer my unit, Special Forces, for me just to be sitting there waiting for my next fight. So it’s really on [Strikeforce], I’m training my butt off because I took a break from deploying to fight, if there not going to let me fight then I will go back and deploy. That’s what you do in Special Forces.”

So obviously you like the flexibility that Strikeforce offers you, but have you ever considered switching to another organization?

“Strikeforce has been really good to me, Scott’s my boss right now and they’re flexible with the things I have to do for the military but then they’re pretty consistent about trying to get me in there like I want to. I think I got shelved too long after the Jacare fight because I wanted to get right back in there, but they got me a fight now so I’m a happy camper.”

Is there anything else you would like to say to your fans?

“Thanks for watching me, I promise to put on a good fight, I fight for you guys. To everybody in uniform, give me a few years of knocking guys out and then I’ll be back in the field with you.”

Tim Kennedy will be in action against Melvin Manhoef on March 5, 2011 at the Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio at “Strikeforce: Feijao vs. Henderson”.

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