In January, I attended a gun show with Tim Kennedy.
That morning, Kennedy had agreed to a new contract with the UFC. He'd also been given the fight he requested against Michael Bisping. There was a skip in his step and a glimmer in his eye. He was confident in his chances against Bisping, though he never specified why.
We know now. Boy, do we ever.
His confidence was borne of a lethal combination: an excellent game plan from Greg Jackson and the fact that Kennedy is a bad style matchup for Bisping. We saw it as Kennedy smothered and out-positioned Bisping on the way to winning a decision Wednesday night.
The joke about British fighters almost always involves their lack of wrestling. And while Bisping will not be confused for Cael Sanderson, his defensive wrestling has always been a hallmark. He is difficult to take down. Keeping him on the mat is an even tougher task. He moves and scrambles and sweeps, forcing the opponent on top to prevent his escape. Instead of focusing on his own positional improvements, his opponent must spend energy keeping Bisping in place.
Which makes what Kennedy accomplished Wednesday night all the more impressive.
Bisping escaped from underneath Kennedy at times, but for the most part, he was put right back on the canvas with immediate effect. And Kennedy's continual movement from guard to side control to mount showed a fighter completely comfortable with his game. He was there to win a fight.
Brian Stann, a former Kennedy training partner, noted on Twitter during the fight that having Kennedy on top of you during a grappling session is not a fun experience:
Kennedy gives you no quarter on the mat. You are looking for a way just to breathe. When you give him a sliver of an opening, he improves his position. If you roll over or stand up, he latches to your back. This has been a hallmark of his game for years. That he was able to execute it to even greater effect against Bisping is impressive indeed.
No, it wasn't exciting. Few expected it would be. But exciting and impressive are not exclusive to each other. Kennedy did something that borders on the impossible: He made Bisping look bad for an extended period of time. That is not easy to do, and we should not be surprised that it was not particularly thrilling to watch at times.
Kennedy told Heidi Androl on the post-fight show that he wasn't happy with his performance. He'd wanted a finish, and he was disappointed in himself for not getting it. But getting the win is the most important thing.
You want to please the crowd who paid their colorful Canadian money and took off in the middle of a work week to watch a fight card in Quebec City. You want to keep the attention of the fans watching on television at home. You want to be remembered for something so that people who bought tickets and watched on TV will do the same thing the next time you fight.
But being exciting isn't always an option. Sometimes, you need a win. Such was the case Wednesday.
A win over Bisping means something, because he is popular and a veteran and does not lose often. It was just his sixth loss in a career dating back to 2004. All the losses have come to guys you may have heard of: Rashad Evans, Dan Henderson, Wanderlei Silva, Chael Sonnen, Vitor Belfort.
Pretty good company, if you ask me. Good company indeed.
Beating Bisping the way he did shows that Kennedy is not done progressing as a fighter. He's getting better, and he will not be blown out of the water by anyone in the UFC's middleweight division.
Just as important, he has finally racked up the kind of win that can vault him into contender status in a stacked middleweight division.