Mixed martial arts (MMA) veteran, Tim Kennedy, headlines his first Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) card against Brazilian jiu-jitsu specialist, Rafael Natal, this Wednesday (Nov. 6 2013) at UFC Fight Night 31: "Fight for Troops 3," which takes place at Fort Campbell, Kentucky.
Over the course of his professional career, Kennedy has fought a "Who's Who" over non-UFC Middleweight talent. His results have been mixed, but even in defeat, Kennedy is a difficult out for every fighter. After racking up wins over skilled fighters like "Mayhem" Jason Miller, Zak Cummings and Dante Rivera, Kennedy earned a shot in Strikeforce.
After a quick rear-naked choke victory over Trevor Prangley, Kennedy was awarded a title shot against jiu-jitsu phenom "Jacare" Ronaldo Souza. Despite the controversial decision loss, Kennedy surprised viewers by avoiding Souza's vaunted submission skills and doing well on the feet with the champion.
Kennedy quickly rebounded by choking out feared knockout artist Melvin Manhoef in the first round. A dull decision victory over Robbie Lawler earned the Greg Jackson-trained fighter a second title shot, this time against Luke Rockhold. There was no controversy this time, as Rockhold clearly picked apart Kennedy en route to a decision victory.
Two straight victories -- a guillotine of Trevor Smith and decision victory over Roger Gracie -- have brought Kennedy back up the ladder. With a solid performance against Natal, Kennedy has a chance at breaking into the Top 10.
Does Kennedy have the skills to derail the Brazilian?
Let's take a closer look:
Kennedy is not a huge power puncher, but he has the cardio to throw in volume. His overall striking is serviceable, but his volume and fight intelligence make it a bit more dangerous than average.
At range, Kennedy is not much of a jabber. Considering his primary objective is to get to a clinch, this makes sense. However, he does have a fairly diverse arsenal of nimble, snapping kicks. For a fairly stocky fighter, Kennedy's leg dexterity is quite impressive. He primarily throws chopping leg kicks, although it would behoove him to set them up better, but mixes it up to the head and body, as well as utilizing front and oblique kicks.
Kennedy likes to wade in with power punches. He often begins his attack with the left hook, or occasional jab, and follows with a hard right hand. After throwing two to three punches, Kennedy generally will follow up with a clinch or takedown attempt.
One of Kennedy's favorite strikes is the uppercut. Kennedy will fake a clinch attempt, causing his opponent to drop their hands for underhooks, and come up the middle with a powerful uppercut. Kennedy is so enamored with the uppercut that he was trying to land it on Roger Gracie, who had at least six inches on him.
The clinch is likely the most dangerous aspect of Kennedy's stand up game. If his back is pinned against the cage, he's good at creating space with the Muay Thai plum to land knees. When he throws knees in the clinch, Kennedy does a very good job turning his hip into them.
When Kennedy is the one forcing his opponent into the fence, he uses his head brilliantly. Grinding his forehead into his opponent's temple, backing away, then landing an elbow or dropping for a shot is one of Kennedy's favorite techniques.
Despite not having a formal wrestling background, Kennedy has excellent takedowns. Actually, his takedown technique itself may not be excellent, but his determination to force the fight to the mat is just that.
Kennedy often shoots for doubles. His blast isn't anything special, although his ability to turn the corner has tripped up more than one skilled grappler. However, he doesn't set up his shots very well, allowing many of his opponents to stuff his shot, at least initially.
More often than not, Kennedy follows up his double leg takedown directly into the clinch. Kennedy is a powerhouse from the clinch, and he'll force his way to double underhooks or the back clinch. From there, Kennedy will rotate and trip them, while putting immense pressure on their hips with his grip.
Kennedy does not give up on takedowns. If his opponent sprawls, Kennedy will continue driving until he's pushing his opponent up against the cage. There have been multiple occasions where Kennedy's opponent shucks off the original attempt, the follow up, the second and third follow up, only to eventually wind up on the bottom, due solely to Kennedy's persistence.
Kennedy's takedown defense is quite sturdy. Most of the time, Kennedy will halt his opponent's takedown attempt just long enough until he can turn it into one of his own. This is especially true in the clinch.
The truly impressive part of Kennedy's game is his ability to return to his feet. Kennedy is difficult, not impossible, to take down. On the other hand, some of the most talented grapplers in the world have utterly failed to control Kennedy on the mat. The reason for his success getting back to his feet is that he never settles in a guard. Instead, he leans against the fence, fighting grips, waiting for an opportunity to spring back up to his feet.
Even though he has a well-deserved reputation as a grinder, Kennedy has legitimate submission skills. He specializes in chokes, and high percentage ones at that.
When on top of his opponent, Kennedy is a nightmare. His top pressure is constant, and he frequently drops hard punches and elbows while waiting for a guard passing opportunity. His ground striking is not especially powerful, but it does slowly chip away at his opponent until they're practically giving away submissions.
Kennedy's main intention on the mat is to get to his opponent's back. He is a patient fighter and generally just damages his opponent until he's desperate to stand up. When his opponent attempts to stand, Kennedy will move to the turtle position and eventually the back mount. From there, it's just a matter of time until he gets the rear naked choke.
In addition to the rear naked choke, Kennedy will attack his opponent with moves like guillotines and north-south chokes. Against Trevor Smith, Kennedy easily defended a tiring "Hot Sauce" takedown with a high-elbow guillotine. Smith tried to defend, but Kennedy partially rolled on top of him, allowing him to exert a ton of pressure.
Kennedy is solid in every aspect of MMA, but his most impressive attribute is his submission defense. Kennedy has purposefully went to the mat with two of the most credentialed submission grapplers ever in Roger Gracie and "Jacare" Souza. Although both men managed to get him in bad positions, neither came close to a submission, and Kennedy was able to escape every time.
Best Chance For Success
Kennedy's standard gameplan will work quite well against Natal. The Brazilian falters in the face of blind aggression, and his defense leaves something to be desired, meaning Kennedy's lunging punches will likely connect. In addition, Natal may have good takedown defense, but it's unlikely to hold up against the onslaught of Kennedy's constant attempts.
If Kennedy really wants to make a statement, he needs to finish "Sapo." The best way to do that is to attack his cardio. Natal doesn't have the best cardio on a good day, and he's taking this fight on short notice. Kennedy, on the other hand, does not get tired and can fight at a high pace for 25 minutes.
The best way to tire Natal is in the clinch and on the ground, two areas where Kennedy excels. To win, Kennedy just has to impose his normal gameplan of a grinding match, something he is quite good at. Once Natal is tired, Kennedy just needs to land a flurry from top position for the referee to end the bout.
Will Kennedy move another step up the ladder or will Natal pull off one of the biggest upsets of the year?
For a closer look and "Complete Fighter Breakdown" of Natal be sure to click here.