"I will never leave Austin," Tim Kennedy tells me. "You should know better."
He has a point. I should know better. I know how much Kennedy loves the quirky Texas state capital, and I know how much he loves breakfast tacos and barbecue. And so I suddenly find myself wondering why I'd asked Kennedy about a rumored permanent move to Albuquerque in the first place.
Kennedy will never leave Austin, but he has purchased a home in New Mexico, so I've got part of the story correct. He bought a home there because it made more sense to buy a home than spend every fight camp living in a condo with John Dodson. This is no disrespect to Dodson, none at all, because both Dodson and Kennedy will regale you with the finer details of how they make preparations for the coming zombie apocalypse.
That sounds awesome. It probably is awesome. But it doesn't make sense, not when you're spending a large chunk of time away from your wife and your dog. And so Kennedy bought a second home all the way out in Albuquerque, close to Greg Jackson and Mike Winklejohn's mixed martial arts training center, which is also the place that helped turn Kennedy into one of the best middleweight fighters in the world.
Kennedy started his latest camp thinking he'd be fighting Lyoto Machida. But then injuries happened, as they so often do, and the end result is that Kennedy is no longer facing Machida but is instead facing Rafael Natal. This is not the tennis star Rafael Nadal, of course, but the Brazilian fighter who has amassed a very quiet 5-2-1 record in the UFC, with few of those five wins coming against folks you've actually heard of.
This is not to denigrate Natal, of course, because any fighter who competes eight times or more in the UFC obviously has some measure of skills. But Natal is also not Machida.
"I was set to fight a former champion and perennial contender," Kennedy says of the switch in opponents. "My wife walked in on me in the bathroom. I was in the bathtub, sitting in lukewarm water. I had a bottle of aspirin and a bottle of vodka. You could say I was a little depressed."
One thing I should have mentioned about Kennedy: He has a dry sense of humor. If you aren't aware of this, some of the things he says might be a little off-putting. The previous quote may have had this effect on you—pay it no mind.
"It's fighting. It's a constant, revolving door of opponents, especially for me," he says. "Until I step foot in the cage, I don't have my mind on a particular opponent. Because it always changes."
One thing that never changes about Kennedy, besides his deep love for sarcasm and brisket, is his devotion to all things military. You've heard by now that Kennedy has served in the military; it's as much a part of his story as anything else touched on by media and fans. And so it's particularly pleasing for Kennedy to fight at Fort Campbell, home of this latest Fight for the Troops endeavor, because he'll be competing in front of people of like minds.
He's never been stationed at Campbell, but he was there for what those of us who used to serve in the military call a "pre-deployment train-up." Kennedy prepared for a deployment to Iraq at Campbell, and so he's at least a little familiar with the comings and goings of the soldiers stationed there. And they will be familiar with him, because he's a soldier who fights professionally, and as someone who spent ample Saturday nights at Fort Hood watching Ultimate Fighting Championship events from the non-comfort of my barracks, I can tell you that soldiers love watching fights. And they love watching other soldiers fight even more.
"It's going to be cool to have the audience behind me and cheering for me," Kennedy tells me. "But it's also cool to not have the kind of distractions that usually go along with that, because most of the time you're fighting at home when the fans are behind you. I won't have my family. I don't have to worry about mowing the yard because I'm home.
"And still they'll be screaming ballistic for me."
Kennedy has been and will always be a soldier. Even though he's not currently in the Army, the Army will always be a part of him. This is how it is for most who serve in wartime. Those things you see, whether it's in Iraq or Afghanistan or Korea or Germany, they never leave you. Kennedy says he misses soldierdom, some days more than others, but is not sure if he'll climb back into his BDU's or ACU's once his fighting days draw to a close.
"Unless a war kicked off, I just don't know. I don't want to go back into an Army where everything is being cut back," he says. "They have no funds to train. No ammo to do real combat training. No HALO or HAHO jumps. Good schools are closing everywhere.
"Peacetime Special Forces are different than wartime Special Forces," he concludes thoughtfully. "And I'm just not sure I was born to be in peace time."
And so Kennedy will walk to the cage on Wednesday night, looking for a sporting win that elevates his standing in the middleweight division. One that will hopefully vault him to a UFC title shot or a bill with Machida, the opponent he never got to face.
But mostly, Kennedy walks to the cage on Wednesday night to full that hole in his heart that the Army and the soldiers he'll fight in front of just can't fill.
He'll go in the cage to make war, because that is what he was born to do.