Tim Kennedy currently serves in the Army as a Special Forces Weapons Sergeant. | Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
Tim Kennedy has seen and done a lot in his 31 years, and if there is a driving force that fuels his daily grind, it is that there is still so much more for him to achieve.
The middleweight contender -- originally slated to face Jason “Mayhem” Miller in a rubber match -- now preps for dangerous striker Melvin Manhoef at Strikeforce “Feijao vs. Henderson” on Saturday at the Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio.
Currently serving in the Special Forces, the graduate of the ruthlessly tough Green Beret and Ranger training schools has served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and he remains on active duty with the Army. Whatever happens to Kennedy in the harsh world of mixed martial arts, it seems a far cry from the physical and mental barriers he has overcome just to be here.
“Manhoef is a great fight for me,” Kennedy says. “He’s somewhat one-dimensional with a fairly decent takedown defense.”
The bout represents a great chance for Kennedy to get back into middleweight title contention, and, as a full-time military guy, moving up the ranks in MMA serves as just another challenge despite his myriad of responsibilities.
Kennedy dropped a tough decision to Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza in August for the then-vacant Strikeforce middleweight title. In his first five-round fight, Kennedy hung tough against Souza, one of the top submission grapplers in the world. Still, he was not able to assert himself enough to win the judges’ cards.
For a fighter who has seen and done so much, Kennedy found himself learning new wrinkles Souza threw at him, and he seems determined to improve from them. Particularly vexing for Kennedy were Souza’s teeps, a push kick which, when thrown, shoots the bottom of the foot at the opponent, pushing him off balance and scoring quick points for effectiveness.
“I come from a muay Thai background, and front teeps are kind of a taboo, but, as Jacare and [Anderson] Silva have demonstrated, front teeps are effective,” Kennedy says. “In muay Thai you don’t show the bottom of your feet.”
While Souza’s smooth standup and numbing ground game make him a stylistic handful for anyone, Manhoef is an all-action banger. With plenty of world-class kickboxing accolades earned, his destructive power makes him exceptionally dangerous.
“Everyone knows Manhoef for his striking,” Kennedy says, a distinct rise in his voice. “I think it’s gonna be an exciting fight.”
Kennedy has always been attracted to the toughest of tests, the thrill of overcoming the odds and further building a foundation for him to challenge new heights.
There are not a lot of people who walk into an Army recruiter’s office, declare themselves interested in a Special Forces career and then actually follow through with it. Kennedy did so when he enlisted in 2005.
By the time he earned a degree in Criminal Justice from Columbia College, he already had six fights and a 5-1 record. In the wake of 9/11 and the nation’s escalating push against terrorism, he wanted to be part of it.
“I went into the local recruiter’s office. I said, ‘I want to be a Special Forces Ranger -- Airborne.’ I was smiling, and the recruiter was smiling right back at me. I took the tests and was told I could apply for any job,” Kennedy says. “I knew I wanted to go straight to the tip of the spear. I was looking at Marine Recon or the Navy SEALs. I really wanted to be in the fight. I researched and researched and was in my first year of grad school when 9/11 happened. I was very motivated and interested in getting to Afghanistan and Iraq.”
Kennedy enlisted and entered Green Beret training, a rigorous endeavor that tests every fiber of a candidate’s being. The concept is ruthless yet intuitive; a candidate who endures the training is not likely to break in combat and can weather hellish conditions and privation.
“When I went there, there were a lot of guys that wanted us to be successful, so the attrition rate was lower, because they’re getting killed a lot [in combat],” says Kennedy. “They were having a major push to recruit. They never lowered the standards, but they really tried to facilitate to get you through. We started with 400 guys and finished with 81, from selection to graduation, and that’s higher than normal.”
The month-long phase known as “selection,” was taxing, to say the least.
“Selection is 30 days, and that’s 30 days in hell,” Kennedy says. “You don’t eat, don’t sleep and you walk for miles. It sucks.”
If an applicant passes selection, he then moves on to the Qualification (Q) Course, which encompasses anywhere from six months to a year of further specialized training and learning while part of an active Special Forces unit.
For Kennedy, who had passed the first part of the training, it was a shock to find out he was a badass but a relatively mediocre one compared to the Green Berets with whom he was serving. They were proven veterans, with dauntingly impressive credentials in every way.
“In the Q course, they break it down into phases. It’s the absolute foundation to know what you’re doing. I thought I was a hot shot,” Kennedy says. “I’d been shooting and hunting my whole life, and everybody outshot and outran and was stronger than me. I was like, ‘I’m in the Twilight Zone.’”
Kennedy then went to Iraq, where he served for six months. In between that and a later stint in Afghanistan, his MMA career went on hold, as he did not have a professional bout from 2003 to 2006. He competed in the Army Championship Combatives Tournament, however, winning it three times in a row as a light heavyweight. When one is deployed at Forward Operating Base, keeping in shape for MMA requires some degree of creativity.
“You know the resources at FOBs are limited. You gotta get primal and old-school,” Kennedy says. “The Vikings would pick up stones, so I’d pick up tires, engine parts and .50-caliber [machine guns]. It turned into somewhat of a circus, as the locals would watch me take ropes and tie s--t to myself to do sprints.”
Kennedy was awarded the Bronze Star for valor under fire and currently serves in the Army as a Special Forces Weapons Sergeant.
“I’m somewhat of a spokesperson for the Special Forces and special operations,” he says. “I’m still training guys how to shoot, how to fight, and they definitely want to see me succeed in the ring.”
He seems excited to have his MMA career back in full swing. Against Manhoef, Kennedy anticipates the kind of challenge that gets his adrenaline going and brings out his best. He learned a valuable lesson in his loss to Souza.
“I’ve just got to go out there and bring it to the guy,” he says. “I always have to go out there and finish the guy. No more judges for me. Something will have to have gone very wrong for me to see a scorecard or a decision.”
Jason Probst can be reached on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jasonprobst.
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