Strikeforce veteran and former U.S. Army Ranger, Tim Kennedy, will attempt to silence his brash new nemesis, Michael Bisping, this Wednesday night (April 16, 2014) at Colisee Pepsi in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.
After spending much of his mixed martial arts (MMA) career outside of Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), Kennedy was finally brought into the Octagon in July 2013. Since then, he's done quite well, earning a decision over Roger Gracie and a brutal knockout victory over Rafael Natal.
Prior to his debut in the world's premier MMA organization, Kennedy had proven himself a top Middleweight with wins over quality fighters like Robbie Lawler and Jason "Mayhem" Miller. Plus, he only lost when taking a step up to the very elite fighters of the division, Ronaldo Souza and Luke Rockhold.
Now, he looks to take that step once again, hopefully with a better result.
Can Kennedy overcome Bisping's high-volume kickboxing and work his way to a title shot?
Let's find out:
For the most part, Kennedy is not a power puncher. Instead, he relies on volume and conditioning to out-work his opponent on the feet. However, Kennedy showed in his last fight -- as well as five other knockout victories -- that he can put some serious power behind his shots when that is his intention.
Despite being a fairly stocky wrestler, Kennedy has impressive leg dexterity and kicks. Outside of his chopping leg kicks, his leg attacks aren't especially powerful, because he kicks directly out of his stance. On occasion, Kennedy will switch stances and throw a hard kick. Like many Mike Winkeljohn-trained strikers, Kennedy also makes use of oblique and front kicks.
Since his goal is usually to close the distance, Kennedy isn't much of a jabber. Instead of trying to control the range, Kennedy's punches open up clinch and takedown opportunities. In order to do this, Kennedy wades in with power shots. He often starts the combination with a left hook and then follows with a right cross or overhand. He steps forward with each punch, ensuring that he is close enough to start grappling.
In his last bout, Kennedy showed little interest in taking Natal to the ground, either because of a leg injury or his desire to entertain the troops. Regardless, Kennedy was much more aggressive with his punches, and his normally distance-gauging left hook shifted to a leaping left that knocked the Brazilian out cold.
One of Kennedy's favorite punches is the right uppercut. He often uses the threat of the takedown to land it, faking a clinch attempt or shot to cause his opponent's hands to drop for underhooks while Kennedy's uppercut fires up the middle. In addition, Kennedy will reach out with his left and grab a single collar tie, then attack his foe with right uppercuts.
As is expected of a grinding grappler like Kennedy, he's very effective from inside the clinch. He mixes wrestling positions and more striking oriented situations like the double collar tie quite well, striking in transitions. His knees from the clinch are technically sound, as he creates enough space to turn his hip into the knees, indifferent to who is being pushed against the fence.
While pressuring his opponent into the fence, Kennedy fights with his head very well. By digging his forehead into his opponent's jaw, he makes it difficult for his opponent to move his head. Thus, Kennedy has an easier time landing punches and elbows. After grinding his opponent's jaw and landing short shots, Kennedy likes to step back and either throw a hard elbow or change levels for a takedown.
Though he never wrestling collegiately, Kennedy is a very effective wrestler. His technique and athleticism may not be exceptional, but Kennedy's dogged determination to drag his opponent down is more than enough to get most fighters to the mat.
Kennedy frequently shoots double leg takedowns. His initial blast and setups are not the best, which means that most talented wrestlers are able to stop the initial shot. However, Kennedy's quick to turn the corner or chain other takedowns, meaning the fight for the takedown is far from over.
In many cases, Kennedy uses the shot to transition into the clinch, where his low center of gravity and physical strength can be very helpful. While wrestling in the clinch, Kennedy digs his underhooks very deep and looks to circle his way behind if in the over-under. Once he's in a good position, Kennedy inches his way behind his opponent and rotates or trips him.
It's very difficult to wrestle with Tim Kennedy, as he just does not give up on his takedowns. Even when he's fully sprawled on, Kennedy just drives until his opponent reaches the cage and is forced to readjust. In many fights, Kennedy's opponent has stopped the initial and follow up shot, only to eventually fall to his third move.
For example, Robbie Lawler's strong sprawl repeatedly shut down Kennedy's double, but the Greg Jackson-trained product was able to stay on him when Lawler tried to move away. Lawler was no longer able to use his fast hips, letting Kennedy slowly force him down to the canvas.
While not perfect, Kennedy's takedown defense is pretty solid. His sprawl is quick, he's a good scrambler, and anyone trying to out-work him in the clinch should probably rethink their strategy. Most of the time, Kennedy defends the shot only until he can return the favor with a takedown attempt of his own.
Even better than Kennedy's takedown defense is his ability to work back to his feet. In the last few years, Kennedy has fought two of the best grapplers on the planet, "Jacare" Souza and Roger Gracie. Both men managed to take, but not keep, Kennedy down. Kennedy just never stops moving, which means his opponent is constantly adjusting to his movements rather than solely focusing on keeping him down. Instead of working for a guard, he gets his back to the fence, fights grips, and works for an opportunity to explode to his feet in the clinch.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ)
A black belt in jiu-jitsu, Kennedy is more known for his ability to control his foe than submit him. However, Kennedy has submitted a majority of his opponents and has dangerous chokes.
Once he gets on top of his opponent, Kennedy makes life miserable. He's constantly pressuring and landing shots, slowly chipping away. His ground and pound isn't especially deadly, but it does open up guard passes. Eventually, his opponent is desperate to get up and will try to force something, usually just giving up an opportunity for a submission or guard pass. If he doesn't, Kennedy will just ride out the round and do some damage.
Kennedy's end game is to get to his opponent's back. If his opponent tries to stand when he explodes, Kennedy will do his best to hop onto the back. From there, Kennedy tries to flatten his opponent out and eventually sink in a rear naked choke. Kennedy is very good at transitioning while his opponent tries to roll out of his back mount and will look for the neck while doing so.
Outside of the rear naked choke, Kennedy uses the guillotine often. Recently, he hit a high-elbow guillotine on Trevor Smith after a slowing "Hot Sauce" shot a double leg. Kennedy got absurdly deep on the choke, rolling Smith with ease and finishing from there.
A little further back in his career, Kennedy showed off his submission chaining ability. After sweeping Zak Cummings with that same guillotine, Kennedy rotated to the north-south position. From there, he dropped his weight and squeezed into Cummings' neck.
While Kennedy is a very well-rounded fighter, his defensive grappling is likely the strongest part of his game. Against Gracie, Kennedy fought his way out of multiple bad positions and was never in any real danger of a submission. Plus, he took both Gracie and "Jacare" to the mat on purpose, a dangerous task very few fighters would attempt. Unless he's badly hurt by punches, it's unlikely that Kennedy will be submitted anytime soon.
Best Chance For Success
Kennedy is facing an extremely difficult style match up in Bisping: A very well conditioned superior striker who specializes in defensive wrestling. In order to defeat the Brit, Kennedy will have to blend his striking and wrestling better than he ever has previously.
It's important that Kennedy tries to match Bisping's volume. Even if he generally loses the exchanges, the fight will stay close. Then, just one or two successful takedowns will earn him the round. In a fight that's likely to go the distance, that's a very big deal.
In addition, Kennedy should do his best to force the clinch. Not only is it one of his best areas, but there's a chance he could clip Bisping with a punch on the way into the clinch. Bisping, despite his general success on the feet, has been rocked by punches plenty of times, often by grapplers. Again, hurting his opponent once can seal a close round, exactly what Kennedy needs to do to win the decision.
Can Kennedy grind his way into title contention or will Bisping make a successful return from injury?