NEW YORK (June 11, 2009) — You’ve heard of Army Tough? Well, meet Tim Kennedy, a Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighter-turned-college graduate-turned-Green Beret-turned-MMA fighter who is about to embark on another mission – winning a championship.
“That’s the goal,’’ he said. “I want one of those shiny MMA belts.’’
A fighter fans will want to watch closely, Kennedy is the second of three children who grew up in San Luis Obispo, Calif. He attended Eagle Academy, a private high school in nearby Atascadero, where he participated in numerous club sports and, for fun, took a class in Jiu-Jitsu and kick-boxing.
After high school, Kennedy attended Columbia College in Missouri where he majored in criminal justice. He graduated in 2002.
During his final years in college, Kennedy, a “tough guy but not a troublemaker’’ turned his attention to MMA. But after winning five of six starts between 2001-03, including a victory over highly regarded Jason “Mayhem’’ Miller, Kennedy left behind a promising career to fight a much different kind of fight. Kennedy enlisted in the Army.
At the time he was ranked in the top 10 at middleweight. “The events of 9/11 had a huge impact on me,’’ said Kennedy, who joined the Army in 2003 — after graduating college. He went to Iraq, became an Army Ranger and went on to become one of the most elite soldiers in the world when he moved to the Special Forces.
“I believed someone should do something to benefit our country,’’ he said. “It wasn’t like I was living the best life anyway so I thought ‘let’s do something constructive and challenge myself.’ ’’
Kennedy had one goal when he enlisted. “I wanted to become a Special Forces Green Beret,’’ he said. “My combat deployment included trips to Iraq, Afghanistan and other places I can’t talk about. The army was very tough. I’m not bragging or trying to be cool but I got a Bronze Star for action in combat (a sign of meritorious service) in Afghanistan and Iraq, but I can’t say much about it or exactly why.
“I did some things, volunteered for some assignments, that only a few in the population would ever even consider, much less finish. I went the places no one wanted to go.
“I can say that very, very few did what I did; maybe about 0.1 percent of the entire military. I knew personally almost all of them. It’s a very small community. When one dies, we all die.’’
In 2006-07, Kennedy was allowed to do double-duty. A staff sergeant who trained future Special Forces soldiers at Fort Bragg, his military home since he enlisted, Kennedy got permission to continue to pursue an MMA career. He went 5-1 during that span, losing only to Miller on points in a rematch.
Now, however, Kennedy (9-2) is preparing to go at MMA on a full-time basis. On Friday, June 19, he will make his first start in more than two and half years when he faces Nick “The Goat’’ Thompson in what could be the toughest MMA fight of his career in one of the featured attractions on Strikeforce Challengers at the ShoWare Center at Kent, Wash., live on SHOWTIME® (11 p.m. ET/PT, delayed on the west coast). The first non-televised, preliminary bout will begin at 6 p.m. PT.
“I only have a certain amount of years to pursue my athletic endeavors and I feel I have what it takes to make it in MMA,’’ said the 29-year-old Kennedy who has fought just 11 times since losing his pro debut to Scott “Hands Of Steel’’ Smith on Aug. 31, 2001.
“Because of my military commitments, I couldn’t fight full-time. But it is time to take a break and move into another era of life. The military is trying to come up with a way for me stay in the Army and fight full-time. But there’s always a strong chance I’ll go back. I miss doing my job.’’
Kennedy, who recently concluded his latest tour of duty overseas, says there are discussions taking place in Washington, D.C., that would permit him to fight MMA and remain in the military.
“I’d be the first pro fighter to represent or by employed by any armed forces as an MMA fighter,’’ he said. “We’ll have to see how that goes, but I would sure love to still be able to fight MMA and stay in uniform representing the armed forces.’’
As one might imagine, Kennedy is an aggressive, determined, durable, well-conditioned fighter. Kennedy’s most recent fights were in the defunct International Fighting League (IFL).
His IFL debut came against Dante Rivera. “I won (by submission) in the second round,’’ he said, “but I’d only had 48 hours notice and was just a week out of Ranger school, which was one of the most physically damaging camps one could imagine. Some weren’t even able to walk when it was over.
“So winning that IFL fight was a great thing.”
After his last outing, a two-minute, first-round knockout over Elias Rivera on Dec. 29, 2007, Kennedy volunteered to go to Afghanistan. “They asked me to do a mission. I qualified for it, so I went,’’ he said.
Kennedy has scars on his upper shoulders and back from shell casings that he says literally melted while the Afghanies were shooting at him. “The last time I was really scared came in October 2008 while I was in Afghanistan,’’ he said. “I lost 30 pounds in two weeks.’’
The 5-foot-11 Kennedy, who is married with two daughters, knows it is unrealistic to try and compare life in the surreal conditions that is a war zone to a fight in a cage.
“Neither job is easy, obviously. But for totally different reasons,’’ said Kennedy, who has trained with, among others, Chuck Liddell. “We’ll see how it goes the next two years in MMA. This isn’t something I’m going to rush into. I’ve fought heavyweight, light heavyweight and now middleweight. If I get knocked down, I’ll get right up. But I am super excited and plan to commit myself totally to MMA and see where it takes me.
“I feel a true sense of accomplishment for everything I did in the service, becoming a Green Beret, graduating from Special Forces. I’m proud of what I did. But my focus now is on MMA.’’
Some would regard Kennedy as a war hero, but when asked if he considered himself one, Kennedy paused a few seconds before saying, “I don’t consider myself a hero; in fact, I don’t know what that is. But I think everyone can be one and that there are heroes in every walk of life.
“I’m asked to do a lot of public speaking, but I’ve been shying away from that recently, mostly because I know there is a lot more for me to do. I’ve had as many opportunities as any and came out well. There are some things that happened to me in combat and in life that I’m not real proud of, but it’s how you respond that really matters.
“If there are some who feel I’m a role model, then that’s something I’ll take very seriously. I know I have been an influence on some, but I usually tell them all the same thing, ‘Every day you are faced with decisions to make when no one is looking. You need to weigh the options and avoid the little mistakes.’
“I do not want to embarrass or let anybody down, in or out of the cage, especially my family and friends. I have very strong morals. I’m a born-again believer and I take responsibility in the way I live.
“Obviously, discipline is a major factor and now that I am going full-time in MMA, I need to execute it like I did in the military. I really want to see how far I can go with this. There may be some setbacks and I may not win them all, but the end result will be that I am setting myself up for success.’’
Kennedy’s opponent on Friday, June 19, fights for justice on a daily basis. Thompson, who is making his Strikeforce debut, is a lawyer. He took his bar exam two days after a fight in July 2008 and got word he had passed approximately three months later.
A talented fighter with a ton of experience, Thompson has fought the likes of Jake Shields, Paul “Semtex’’ Daley, Eddie Alvarez and Karo Parisyan. Thompson has won two straight, including a victory over “Semtex’’ in his last start on Feb. 20, 2009.
In the June main event, “Smokin” Joe Villasenor of Albuquerque, N.M., faces Evangelista “Cyborg” of Rondonopolis Mato Grosso, Brazil, in a clash of top-notch middleweights.
Other bouts on SHOWTIME: Cory “The One” Devela of Bonney Lake, Wash., faces Luke Rockhold of Santa Cruz, Calif. (middleweights), Sarah Kaufman of Victoria, Canada, takes on Shayna “The Queen Of Spades” Baszler of Sioux Falls, S.D., in a 135-pound women’s fight and Jorge Gurgel of Cincinnati, Ohio, will collide with Conor “Hurricane” Heun of Boulder, Colo., in a 155-pound scrap.
ShoWare Center doors will open for the Strikeforce Challengers event at 5:30 p.m. PT on June 19.
In non-televised fights: Lyle “Fancy Pants’’ Beerbohm of Yelm, Wash., meets Duane “Bang” Ludwig of Denver, Colo. (lightweights), Dennis “Superman’’ Hallman of Yelm, Wash., faces Cedric “Spider Man’’ Marks (welterweights), Brian Caraway of Seattle throws down with Alex Zuniga, Landon Showalter takes on Travis “The Praying Mantis’’ Doerge (middleweights), Len Bentley of Irvine, Wash., confronts Marques Daniels and Steve Hadsel collides with Taylor Roberts.