Two Strikeforce veterans looking to make their mark inside the Octagon made their respective UFC debuts last night (July 6, 2013) as Tim Kennedy battled Roger Gracie on the UFC 162 main card in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Both men had something to prove, considering Kennedy had tried twice unsuccessfully to claim the Strikeforce Middleweight title while the legendary Gracie family had not scored a victory inside the Octagon since 1994.
At first, the fight looked like it would be one-sided in Gracie's direction as the Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion was able to duck a right hand, close the distance with a double leg takedown and put Kennedy on his back along the fence. Gracie methodically advanced his position and was able to secure back control when Kennedy attempted to scramble to his feet.
Against a lesser opponent, the fight would have practically been over then and there, but Kennedy hung tough, fending off every single rear naked choke attempt and putting pressure on Gracie's exposed ankle while stuck inside the body triangle.
Surprisingly, Kennedy was able to turn into Gracie, taking top position despite the body triangle, although it wasn't enough to win the round.
In the second, Kennedy surprised onlookers by initiating clinches with Gracie rather than utilizing his striking advantages. He was able to score with short strikes on the inside but what really blew everyone's mind was when he took Gracie down, ignoring his credentials and instead beating on him with some heavy right hands on the canvas.
Gracie wasn't able to threaten Kennedy, perhaps partially due to his increasing exhaustion, and the second time Kennedy took him down, he resorted to stalling tactics.
In the decisive third round, Kennedy was able to secure superior position in the clinch and on the feet, but he didn't press his advantage against his visibly gassed opponent enough to score a stoppage. Instead, he settled for a unanimous decision victory.
For Roger Gracie, this was a frustrating fight to watch particularly because he showcased his ground dominance early with the takedown and back control. Unlike his fights against some of his lesser competition, he wasn't able to cruise through Kennedy's guard and force the tap. Instead, he had to really work for it, which contributed to his conditioning. By the midway point of the second round, he was spent and was no longer capable of taking Kennedy to the canvas. This was where his inability to threaten Kennedy on the feet came into play and he had no chance of coming back into the bout. He's got to get better cardio or this is going to happen again. He's too talented on the canvas to run into this type of common problem.