Kennedy is anything but 'middle of the pack'
NOV 07, 2013 2:52p ET
When the lights dropped inside the hangar at Fort Campbell in Kentucky on Wednesday night and the opening chords of the Alice In Chains song 'Rooster' hit over the speakers, the feeling in the air was almost palpable.
Over 4300 soldiers packed into the make shift arena to watch a night of fights put on for them courtesy of the UFC, capped off by their brother in arms Tim Kennedy as he battled Rafael Natal in the main event. For weeks leading up to the show, Kennedy was the face of a card dubbed UFC Fight for the Troops. As a former Army Ranger and sharpshooter, he was the veteran who led the card as the MMA promotion descended onto the military base for a special tribute to those that serve this country so bravely and so valiantly.
On paper this was a battle between two middleweights well outside the top 10 with neither even close to sniffing title contention with a win, another win and probably another after that. All told the fight lasted less than five minutes before Kennedy knocked Natal out with a powerful left hook which now accounts for his second win in the UFC.
Following the conclusion of the bout, Kennedy jumped on top of the cage and just began shouting 'I love you' to the massive amounts of troops cheering him on. When he finally got a chance to get on a microphone, Kennedy wasn't in the business of self promotion or asking for a top middleweight opponent. Instead all he could talk about was how much he missed standing next to the enlisted soldiers, and how that fight is tougher than anything he could go through in a cage.
"I wanted to get out of the cage, run into the crowd and never come back," Kennedy said "I miss it everyday. If a war kicks off, absolutely, for sure positively (I'll go back into service)."
From there Kennedy revealed that he went into the fight against Natal at well less than 100-percent. The former Strikeforce title contender suffered a torn quadriceps muscle about a week out from the fight, and if you noticed his stumbles when checking Natal's leg kicks during the bout it was the injury that forced him to fall down instead of simply blocking the move. The pain was unbearable at the time when it happened according to Kennedy, but if the UFC had to wheel him into the cage and prop him up on crutches there was no way he wasn't going to perform for the troops Wednesday night.
"I tore my quad coming into this camp, the very last week of fight camp. Just a stupid thing happened, a lady walked out onto the track and it's either run over a 65 year old lady, probably kill her, or try to decelerate in about two meters. I chose to decelerate and just fell to the ground grabbing my leg screaming not great words. So if they had to roll me in the cage to fight (Rafael) Natal, I would have fought him," Kennedy said.
At this point, Kennedy has now made two major revelations since knocking Natal out in the first round. He misses active military duty and would give just about anything to go back, and he went into the fight with the Renzo Gracie trained fighter basically competing on one leg due to a torn muscle.
Now if you notice there's one major disparity in what Kennedy was talking about when afforded a chance to speak following the close of the event. He wasn't taking this moment to bask in the spotlight and talk about just how great he did or what kind of challenge he wanted next. If anything, Kennedy was almost self-deprecating when asked to grade his performance and where he stacks up in the middleweight division.
"I'm only two fights into the UFC. I'm not going to call out guys that are in the top contendership spots. I think I'm middle of the pack honestly," Kennedy said. "There's guys that are on bigger, more substantial, more meaningful win streaks than I am. I don't know where I stand right now, I want to fight the best guys."
It's in that lone statement that Kennedy tries to tell a hard truth about himself while really not understanding exactly what he means to the UFC. In terms of a divisional race, Kennedy's probably not far off course when saying he's 'middle of the pack'. It's not likely he'll be confused with Chris Weidman or Anderson Silva any time soon, and there's a laundry list of established UFC middleweights in front of him when it comes to the top ten.
The value Kennedy brings the UFC, however, goes far beyond his ranking in the middleweight division -- and Wednesday night was a prime example of that appeal.
With fellow military veteran Brian Stann now retired, Kennedy stands tall as the representative of the UFC to the armed forces. His reception at Fort Campbell could be compared to Georges St-Pierre in Canada or Anderson Silva in Brazil. For that one night, Tim Kennedy was the biggest star the UFC could ever hope to promote.
Of course the UFC won't be doing Fight for the Troops shows every other week and the moment Kennedy steps off the base his stardom will in large part turn back into a pumpkin, but that doesn't mean his value goes away. He's a charismatic, outspoken and proud representative of both the military and the UFC. He's engaging and funny in interviews, and his interactions on Twitter are the kinds of jokes that won't land him in UFC president Dana White's office with a fine being levied on his next paycheck. Kennedy is the right kind of superstar the UFC can depend on in a tight spot, knowing he will always show up, he will always give a fight, and he will always represent the promotion and the sport with passion and grace.
Tim Kennedy may be a lot of things but middle of the pack isn't one of them.