Probably one of the most underrated guys in Strikeforce at the end of the promotion’s tenure, Tim Kennedy got lost in the Middleweight mix despite some good performances.
Now, in his Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) debut, which will happen tonight (Sat., July 6, 2013) at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, he gets a chance to jump-start his career against a legendary name in Roger Gracie.
Powerful, well conditioned and as hard-nosed as you’d expect a Green Beret to be, Kennedy has the vexing assignment of knowing that he’s tangling with one of the planet’s greatest no-gi grapplers. For his part, Gracie has done reasonably well in progressing his mixed martial arts (MMA) skill set since the disastrous knockout setback against Muhammed Lawal.
Grossly deficient in stand up and fighting as an undersized Light Heavyweight, Gracie’s drop to 185 pounds is a better fit and, hopefully, he’ll have improved his striking game to "nonexistent outside of a pawing jab" to "mediocre but improving."
With Anderson Silva making his umpteenth title defense on the card, the middleweight division is in dire need of new faces, so there’s a considerable room for the winner to move up the ranks, especially with an impressive showing.
To take down Gracie or not – that is the question.
Kennedy’s got the advantage of better stand up and a better chin (which in MMA, is pretty much saying "more comfortable getting hit"), but how long he wants to operate on the feet is a big question. He will definitely have to gauge the range and initially establish his stand up and see if Gracie will try takedowns, or even to pull guard to set up ground attacks. Kennedy’s exceptionally good at stuffing people against the cage with his squat, powerful frame, and that might be a good compromise if he finds it hard to land punches (he’ll be giving up five inches in height).
For Gracie, he’s got to show more than the half-hearted stand up he’s displayed in his career at this point, an acclimation process that can take several years coming from a purely grappling-based background. History’s definitely against him, as none of the Gracies -- outside of Renzo Gracie -- really showed any remote comfort level with the standing game; however, MMA has evolved to the point where it’s not enough to be fantastic in merely one phase of the game.
His jiu-jitsu is good enough that he could probably submit anyone in MMA if he got them on the ground. The problem is getting there, and not getting punched in the face while implementing it. Against Kennedy, that’s exactly what’s likely to happen.
This is a real wild card of a fight, as Gracie’s incredible ground game and obvious upside could give him the nod. But, if there’s one thing I gravitate toward, it’s consistency. And Kennedy always, always gives you that. He is more evolved as a mixed martial artist and plus, I think he’s about as mentally tough as they come.
When you’re in graduate school, 9/11 happens, and you drop out of grad school to join the Army to become a Ranger – that’s the definition of a committed individual.
He’ll feel Gracie out in the opening round and time a smart takedown to test the waters, and win the first round. Growing more comfortable on the feet, once Kennedy sees he can land punches and make Gracie ditch the standing game altogether, that’s when his confidence will surge – he’ll stuff a series of takedown and guard pull attempts, and ultimately beat up Gracie, while pinning him against the cage and keeping him in retreat. In the third, with Gracie tiring and increasingly desperate, Kennedy will finish him with a ground and pound assault for a knockout victory.
Kennedy via technical knockout
Remember that MMAmania.com will provide LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the UFC 162 pay-per-view (PPV) main card action, which is slated to start promptly at 10 p.m. ET. Up-to-the-minute updates and fight-by-fight coverage will begin to flow earlier than that, however, around 7 p.m. ET with the "Prelims" bouts on Facebook and FX.
Jason Probst can be reached at twitter.com/jasonprobst