Tim Kennedy describes his recent UFC career as having “a lot of ups and downs,” and it’s hard to blame him.
The career soldier and MMA fighter was fortunate enough to get an invitation to fight in the UFC after Strikeforce folded at the start of this year. Then he gave an interview about fighter pay that put him at the center of controversy.
After offering an apology, he debuted in the octagon at UFC 162 against Roger Gracie, and while he dominated the fight and won via decision, the bout didn’t deliver the kind of action that guarantees a long UFC career.
“I didn’t think I was in a great situation with the brass,” Kennedy told MMAjunkie.com.
When he got a call to fight Vitor Belfort in the fall in Brazil, he said he didn’t think he was being punished, as many fans chirped on the Internet. He did, however, expect his next opponent to be tough, and he would fight in a tough place, under tough circumstances.
The distinction might be a matter of semantics. But Kennedy already had made up his mind about his next step.
“There’s only one response that you can do in that situation, and that’s say yeah,” he said. “I mentally crossed that bridge. The bridge, in my mind, had been burned down. I’m on the other side, and the only way to go is forward.”
The prospect of fighting a former champion on a huge roll was just the kind of challenge that Kennedy wanted, and just the kind of opportunity to earn back the career capital he lost in the preceding months.
So while many thought he would fight Belfort, lose and be discarded by the promotion as another washout critic, he believed he was in a good place.
“I was pumped to fight Vitor,” Kennedy said.
Then Belfort, who’d made a habit of calling out every star in the light heavyweight and middleweight divisions, decided that he didn’t want the fight. When Belfort’s wife and manager said, essentially, that Kennedy was a step down in his career and that he wanted to fight at light heavyweight, heavyweight or for the middleweight title, Kennedy understood.
“I’m that under-the-radar guy,” he said. “I’m not Anderson Silva at striking. I’m not Chris Weidman at wrestling. I’m not (Ronaldo) ‘Jacare’ (Souza) at jiu-jitsu. But I’m damn close to them at all of those things. Vitor’s manager knew that.”
So Kennedy took a page from Belfort’s recent playbook. He started calling out every middleweight of note.
“Any middleweight that had anything to do with social media, I pretty much tried to make fun of,” he said.
Kennedy’s outspokenness paid off in the end. When Lyoto Machida, who also was rumored to fight Belfort and even former welterweight title challenger Nick Diaz before the matchups fizzled, gave an interview about his current career, Kennedy’s name was brought up as a potential opponent. Like most UFC fighters do, the ex-champ said he would take the fight if offered it by the UFC.
Machida (19-4 MMA, 11-4 UFC) was one of the fighters Kennedy (16-4 MMA, 1-0 UFC) called out on Twitter, of course.
The promotion typically matches winners with winners and losers with losers, but in the eyes of many, Machida was somewhere in the middle after losing a decision to Phil Davis via controversial decision.
For Kennedy, though, it was more good news. A revolving door of opponents and rumored fights had brought him another tough challenge with plenty of upside.
“I am fighting Lyoto Machida, right?” he joked.
Indeed, the two headline “UFC Fight Night 31: UFC Fight for the Troops 3? on Nov. 6 at Fort Campbell, Ky. The event’s main card airs live on FOX Sports 1 after prelims on FOX Sports 1 and Facebook.
“I thought he won the fight,” Kennedy said of Machida’s most recent performance, which came at UFC 163. “I don’t think he looked good. There’s a very fine line between running and being an elusive counter-striker.
“Sometimes, I think his toe slips into the backing-up-too-much territory, and not too much into the counter-striking category. That night, he should have pressed it and thrown more punches. I realize Phil is an amazing athlete and super tough and gigantic, so that’s not a very easy thing to say. It’s not like he’s one of the best wrestlers in the division. I thought he won that fight, though.”
Machida is making his debut at middleweight after spending the bulk of his career at light heavyweight, where he briefly held onto the title. Kennedy expects the Brazilian to retain his speed and power despite his smaller size. In that realm, however, he might have the advantage as one of the bigger middleweights in the division.
In recent fights, Machida’s elusive style has looked more and more beatable, but Kennedy still called him “amazing” and a “perennial contender.”
And hopefully, a ticket to the Top 10.
“I’m excited to be fighting in front of kind of my home crowd,” Kennedy said. “But ultimately, it doesn’t matter where we’re fighting, or who we’re fighting. Last fight on the contract, first fight on the contract – it ends up with me on the other dude on the other side of the cage trying to knock each other out.”
For more on “UFC Fight Night 31: UFC Fight for the Troops 3,” check out the UFC Rumors section of the site.