"We’re not having a jiu-jitsu tournament, we’re having a fight. He’s
gonna try to dictate where the fight goes, and that’s what I’m gonna do." - Tim Kennedy
If Tim Kennedy is sick and tired of talking about Roger Gracie’s near-mythical status in the jiu-jitsu community or his UFC 162 opponent’s deadly ground game, he’s keeping that to himself. Maybe it’s because while other Gracie opponents enter their bout with the black belt just hoping not to get caught, the veteran Kennedy feels like he’s been there and done that over the course of his career and his training camps.
“I’m in with those “mythical” jiu-jitsu guys every day,” said Kennedy, most famously going five rounds with Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza in their 2010 Strikeforce middleweight title fight. “Here, I have Rodrigo Cabral, who is without a doubt on their (Gracie and Souza) level of jiu-jitsu. In Albuquerque I have Roberto “Tussa,” another world champ type guy. So yeah, I’m over him (Gracie). I’m pretty sure Jacare couldn’t even take me down, and I think he has a little better wrestling than Roger. The only takedowns that happened in that fight were the ones where I picked up Jacare and put him on the back of his head. So yeah, I’m really over how good he is on the ground and I have no problem going to the ground with him. I’m not gonna put on a gi and be like ‘hey, Roger Gracie, let’s go grapple a little bit; I’m about to smash you.’ We’re not having a jiu-jitsu tournament, we’re having a fight. He’s gonna try to dictate where the fight goes, and that’s what I’m gonna do. The only thing is, I just think I’m better at it.”
That confidence can come from a number of places. Kennedy’s 19 pro fights against Gracie’s seven. The 33-year-old’s years of competition against the likes of Souza, Luke Rockhold, Robbie Lawler, Melvin Manhoef, Mayhem Miller, etc. Or it could come from the idea that on fight night, nothing Gracie can throw at him will compare to what he’s already seen as a member of the United States Army’s Special Forces.
“People ask ‘are you nervous about this fight?’ No, there’s nobody in there trying to blow me up or shoot me.”
That can do wonders for your nerves (or lack thereof) in a fight. Yet despite still remaining active as a member of the Texas National Guard (19th Special Forces Group), he does miss being a part of the action with his team, even if that is hard for civilians to fathom.
“Everybody says it, and, not to be corny, but at the end of Black Hawk Down, when the main character says ‘I don’t do it for them, I don’t do it for me, I do it for the guy standing next to me,’ there is nothing like being deployed with the Special Forces ODA,” said Kennedy. “You have 12 dudes on a team, and I know those 11 dudes would jump on top of a grenade for me. Those 11 dudes would run through a wall into a burning building to carry me out when their skin’s melting. There’s nothing like that. War is horrible, but it’s real and bearable because of the guys standing next to you. The rest of my life will always seem that much less real and that much less beautiful unless those 11 dudes are with me. It’s hard to explain.”
It may be even harder to explain to Kennedy’s wife and children, who want nothing more than for him to stay put in Texas and not have to go into a combat zone again.
“I’m sure it hurts my wife’s feelings, but she’s seen me come back from Afghanistan, she’s seen me come back from Iraq, and she understands,” he said. “If things were bad after I came back from a trip and it was a really bad trip, I’m back in North Carolina and things are supposed to be normal. But two weeks ago I was just in a gun fight that lasted four days, carrying dudes that were all busted up and blown up, and I don’t talk to her about this stuff. I pick up the phone and I call one of my team and say ‘hey, let’s do lunch.’ Then we do lunch, we sit there and make fun of each other and life’s normal again. It hurts the family to know that they’re not a part of it, but a veteran’s military spouse knows where they fit in and how to support it. It’s the hardest job in the world to be a military spouse, so those women and men out there definitely deserve more recognition than they get.”
This Saturday, Ginger Kennedy can breathe a little easier, knowing that in her husband’s battle with Gracie, there are rules, and like Tim said, there’s no one shooting at him or trying to blow him up. There are dangers though, such as Gracie’s aforementioned ground attack. And having seen action with some of the best in the world, Kennedy has plenty of insight on what someone like his Saturday foe brings to the table.
“They’re dangerous everywhere,” he said. “If you’re in there with that purple belt or that brown belt, when you’re starting in mount you realize that there’s places that he can attack you from and that you’re in danger here and in danger there. With guys like Jacare and Roger and Tussa and Rodrigo, you’re in danger everywhere. You take him down, you’re in danger; you’re in mount, you’re in danger. There’s absolutely no position or place where you can become complacent because they can finish you anywhere. That’s the difference.”
So it’s up to Kennedy to make sure he dictates the pace and the place of the fight, and that’s exactly what he plans on doing. As for the first time UFC jitters, well, you can probably guess the answer to that one, especially since Kennedy only cares about the opponent, not the three letters on his check.
“My bucket list doesn’t have anything to do with fighting,” said the Strikeforce vet when asked if fighting in the UFC was always a goal. “Of all the things that I think are important and I value in the big scheme of things, what cage I’m inside of is pretty irrelevant in the big picture. With that said, there have been and there are guys that regardless of where or who they fought for, that’s my ideal of who I’d want to face. If (UFC middleweight champion) Anderson Silva was over in what was PRIDE, I’d want to fight him. I always want to fight the best guys. To me, it’s irrelevant where they are. The shape of the cage, the color of the cage, and the color of the gloves is really second to ultimately who’s trying to knock me out or submit me on the other side of the cage.”
It’s all about perspective. And Tim Kennedy has that figured out.