It seems as though every time the UFC and the U.S. military get together, fireworks ensue.
Wednesday night’s Fight for the Troops 3 card from Fort Campbell, Ky. was no exception, as Tim Kennedy’s first-round knockout of Rafael Natal put an exclamation point on an evening where eight of 13 bouts ended in stoppages.
Known throughout his career as more of a methodical technician than an explosive finisher, Kennedy floored Natal with a leaping left hook 22 seconds before the end of the first round of their main event fight and followed with a series of strikes on the ground that forced referee Herb Dean to stop the action. The sudden outburst cut short what had been a fairly competitive effort by the three-to-one underdog Natal and put the assembled crowd of American soldiers into hysterics.
It was a fitting end for a show that had been exciting from the jump and carried on a tradition where somehow, some way the UFC’s benefit shows for the non-profit Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund and veterans with traumatic brain injuries deliver highlight after highlight.
And occasionally some cringe-worthy violence. There's a certain level of irony in the fact these happenings aimed at helping victims of TBI occasionally turn out to themselves be such ferocious contests but, hey, it's a charity fight show. What do you expect?
On this night, there was just something about the cramped quarters inside one of Fort Campbell’s aircraft hangars—not to mention the boisterous crowd—that gave this event a little extra zip. Clearly, the UFC and the military are an easy fit, but at this point, the Fight for the Troops shows have taken on an intangible quality, a kind of volatility that characterizes the series itself more than any single fight card.
Call it a mutual eagerness to please, perhaps.
The initial Fight for the Troops set the trend in 2008 with one of the more brutal collections of finishes in UFC history. That card included five TKOs and two submissions in 10 total fights, as well as a leg injury suffered by lightweight Corey Hill that still stands as perhaps the ugliest ever seen in the Octagon.
A bit more than two years later, the second FFTT show started more slowly—when six of the first eight fights went the distance—but eventually built to a fever pitch that saw the final three bouts all end via first-round TKO, all of them inside of three minutes.
This year’s midweek show was not to be outdone. The momentum began to build when Derek Brunson choked out Brian Houston 48 seconds into the first fight of the night and upstart Yancy Medeiros KOed veteran Yves Edwards in 2:47 two bouts later. By the time Lorenz Larkin and Chris Camozzi had themselves a bloody good time to close out the online prelims, it was clear this FFTT was going to be another doozy.
Among all the great bouts, Rustam Khabilov’s decision victory over Jorge Masvidal nabbed the hotly contested Fight of the Night honors, though Dennis Bermudez’s win over Steven Siler and Michael Chiesa’s back-and-forth battle with Colton Smith were arguably just as good.
Chiesa padded his pocket with a Submission of the Night award for managing to force a tap from Smith after the two exchanged dueling rear-naked chokes in the first fight of the main card.
Many analysts had Khabilov’s clash with Masvidal circled on their bout sheets prior to this one, and the two lightweights lived up to the hype. Their fast-paced fight climaxed early in the third, when Khabilov decked Masvidal with a spinning kick that by all rights probably should’ve knocked him out.
The replay showed Khabilov just missed, the kick connecting with the neck, and Masvidal survived, making things competitive to the end. Because it was that kind of night.
Even when things went bad, they were still fun enough to be interesting.
Alexis Davis’ unanimous decision over Liz Carmouche was the night’s most lackluster fight and even that wasn’t bad, considering Davis made meatloaf out of Carmouche’s lead leg with low kicks while peering out a dripping mask of her own blood.
What was shaping up as an entertaining scrap between Bobby Green and James Krause was cut short and Green declared the winner after referee John McCarthy missed Green’s third low blow of the first round.
Amanda Nunes' TKO of Germaine de Randamie was the result of a questionable stoppage.
To borrow one of Gus Johnson’s most infamous verbal gaffes: These things happen in MMA. All of it was overshadowed by the stellar nature of the rest of the card.
By the time the main event culminated with Kennedy laying out Natal, it was clear that this show should be one we all remember for a long time. Sad to say, with UFC cards scheduled for two of the next three weekends and three more on tap next month, we probably won’t.
If only they all could be Fights for the Troops.