There was no title on the line and no gold belt awarded when the night was over, but Tim Kennedy felt like a champion as he jumped on top of the Octagon just seconds after his left hand slammed into Rafael Natal's jaw ending their main event fight on Wednesday night.
The crowd at Fort Campbell was on high all night long as they were treated to 13 fights courtesy of the UFC, but as the main event started with rain pouring outside the hangar doors and the temperature dropping, the heat from the troops was reaching a fevered pitch as they rallied around their fellow warrior inside the Octagon.
Kennedy entered the Octagon with all of the troops on his side, but once the cage door closed he only had to contend with Natal, and it wasn't an easy test so his focus had to stay laser sharp until the fight was over.
The former Army Ranger and sharpshooter came out aggressive to set the tone of the fight right away, but Natal wasn't backing down and fired back with strikes of his own to counter Kennedy's attacks. Natal cracked off a few leg kicks to keep Kennedy guessing where he was going next, and evened that up with some solid punches to the head.
Kennedy stayed stoic inside the Octagon just focused on the task at hand although it would be hard to ignore the over 4300 troops in attendance all chanting 'ranger up' and 'Kennedy' in unison as the rafters shook behind the sheer force of their support.
Kennedy was able to counter Natal's strikes at every turn, but once he figured out the correct distance and timing, he leapt forward with a left hook that connected flush with Natal's jaw sending him crashing to the ground. Kennedy jumped down immediately to continue to flurry of strikes, but referee Herb Dean knew Natal was already out and jumped in to stop the fight.
As soon as Dean's hand was raised to stop the fight, Kennedy jumped up and immediately ran to the other side of the Octagon to hop on top of the cage and raise his hands in victory, as he celebrated with all of the enlisted faithful in attendance.
The fight ended when Kennedy heard the instructions of his coaches from the corner, and through instinct and hundreds of hours of training, he acted out their commands and the result was a first round TKO.
"Instinctively I just listened to my coaches and did what they wanted," Kennedy said. "This is what we do — we finish fights."
Kennedy's thrill of victory spilled out into the crowd where he threw out his hat and t-shirt, standing and taking pictures with all of the soldiers in attendance. While the win marked Kennedy's second in the UFC, the moment he shared with his military brothers and sister meant more than any post fight bonus or win on his resume.
“This was an awesome experience to be here and fight for the troops," Kennedy stated. "I really miss everything about this with having the military as such a big part of my life. Everything felt good tonight and I just connected with a clean shot. I have the best coaches around and I couldn’t be happier. These men and women are the true heroes tonight and we’re just here to entertain them.”
Kennedy's celebration didn't come without his opponent suffering the agony of defeat. As Natal exited the cage, he openly wept as the tears streamed down his cheeks upset after losing the fight.
A special night for all of the troops in attendance, capped off beautifully with a knockout courtesy of Kennedy to finish the show in impressive fashion.