"When people refer to a cage fight as war, I think it's kinda cute....A war, huh? You know what a war is? They, evidently, don't. It's not maybe their place to know what it is, but I do"
Those are the words of Tim Kennedy
With a record of 12-2, Kennedy is one of the most polarizing figures in mixed martial arts today. While enlisted in the Army, he has fought in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. He has received, among other awards, the Army's bronze Star Medal for demonstrating valor under fire.
Most of us will never know what this experience is like.
“It's very surreal. When a [bullet] snaps past your head, you really don't register that that was a bullet that just snapped past your head. It feels like you're on a different planet sometimes,” Kennedy explained in a recent interview.
“You're out in the mountains at 10,000 feet elevation, you haven't seen a person in three or four weeks, you've been pooping in a bag and eating MRE's, and the coolest thing you've seen in two weeks is a goat, it's weird. The weirdest part is coming back and cutting onions in the kitchen."
In 1994, before enlisting in the Army, Tim started training in mixed martial arts at “The Pit” along side, among others, former UFC light heavyweight kingpin Chuck Liddell.
"When I was [at The Pit], I was a midget," said Kennedy. "There was Chuck, who was 240 pounds, and Gan [McGee], who was 300 pounds...they all hit like trains and everyday I was getting my butt handed to me."
After enlisting in the Army in 2004, Kennedy's MMA fights came far and few between. Between 2003 and 2007, he fought only once due to his military obligations. Although he is still on active duty, the roll he plays in the Texas National Guard allows him to focus more on his MMA career.
"My active duty duties are split between training some marksmanship stuff, or long range snipers. And then I do a little marketing. [I don't do] direct recruiting like 'Hey, come join the Army' but I'm kind of like a spokesperson," explained Kennedy.
"I could have never been in the position I'm in now had the military and the Texas National Guard had backed me up and said 'Hey dude, when you have a fight coming up, we're going to let you train whatever you need.'”
That position he is speaking of is his upcoming bout against Jacare Souza (12-2) for the vacant Strikeforce middleweight title.
Kennedy talked about his championship opportunity when he said, "right after my fight [against Trevor Prangley], Rich, the matchmaker, came up to me and he was like 'You know, we have some really big plans for you. You looked great tonight, don't take any time off. Start training for a five round fight'."
Obviously, the mental toughness you gain from being in the military, much less a war zone, is something the average person will never have. This is something that Kennedy believes will play a large roll in his bout against Souza.
"I don't have the emotions, I'm not freaking out," said the Army National Guardsman. "I'm very disciplined in the approach I take for my training. Then in the cage it's just business. I'm not freaking out, I'm not slapping myself or listening to crazy music in the locker room. I'm sweating, I'm ready to go. The bell rings and I'm just looking to finish the guy."
Tim has never been known as a flashy fighter, and that isn't going to change in his fight against Souza. If anything, he seems like he is willing to do whatever it takes to push Jacare to his limits and win the title.
"It's going to be violent," Kennedy said. "If we're in the clinch I'm not going to be looking for some slick sacrifice trick. I'm going to be kneeing him, elbowing him; if I could headbutt him I'd headbutt him. Every position we're in I'm just going to bring it to him."
Aside from being a war hero and a tremendous fighter, Kennedy is also one of the most respected people in both the MMA and military community. Even Jason Miller said, “Tim Kennedy is a man's man, a great competitor, and a great person.”
To this, Kennedy responded, "I like Jason. He's a great guy and there's tons of athletes out there that I have mad respect for and he's one of them...Every time I hear someone say something nice about me I'm like 'awwwwww'."
Kennedy went in to the respect he has in the military community as well. “Everyone knows who I am, everyone respects me as a shooter, as an operator, as a solder....I'm always truthful, I'm always honest, and I'm always trying to do the right thing,” he said.
For Tim, this mentality also follows him into the cage.
"I'm a professional athlete," exclaimed the Strikeforce middleweight. "I think there's the responsibility for us to do the right thing...so I try to make the right decisions. I'm not perfect, I'm human and I can make mistakes, but I'm always going to fight clean, I'm always going to go out there and try to put on a good show."
Without a doubt, this should be a very interesting bout come August 21. Will the gritty Kennedy be able to keep the slick grappling phenom Jacare Souza at bay, or will the “Alligator” be able to get Kennedy on the ground and work his Jiu-Jitsu game? We shall all find out soon.
Tim also wanted to make sure he thanked the troops who are oversees right now. He also said to his fans, "... keep watching us. You're the ones who make us able to do the sport."
"For my sparring partners—I love you right now. I'm so sorry I'm busting everybody up and I'll take everyone out to dinner," Kennedy said.
“Green Beret Foundation and Solder's Angels; love you guys. Just keep doing what you're doing for the solders," Tim exclaimed.
To listen to the interview in its entirety, check out Sprawl N Brawl Radio
You can follow me on Twitter @JasonSchielke
Play on Playa.