There was no better storybook ending for Tim Kennedy.
The former U.S. army serviceman was slated to headline a "Fight for the Troops" card against Lyoto Machida, but with a last minute change of opponent, Kennedy was able to shine in front of his fellow brothers and sisters in arms.
Kennedy beat Rafael Natal to the punch on Wednesday night (Nov. 6, 2013), knocking out "Sapo" in the first round of their UFC Fight Night 31 five-round main event. Natal was starting to get into his groove before a massive leaping left hand knocked out the Brazilian clean, with the crowd roaring in amazement. Kennedy found a way to win in front of a crowd he holds special to his heart, since he was a longtime serving member of the special forces.
Watch highlights from Kennedy's "Knockout of The Night" performance right here.
The American now finds himself 2-0 in UFC and should get a top 10 opponent in his next fight. Kennedy is not exactly groomed for title contention just yet. He has had an impressive run of success as of late; however, there are more qualified title challengers ahead of him and he would have to beat a few more opponents to establish himself as hunter in the pack.
With Machida slated to face Gegard Mousasi, it cancels out the option of Kennedy meeting either one of those men in his next contest.
At the post-fight press conference, the former army sergeant ruled out possible rematches against Luke Rockhold and Ronaldo Souza, who ironically delivered him his last two losses in Strikeforce middleweight title fights. Kennedy is on a three-fight winning streak since his loss to Rockhold.
That brings forth a number of possible fighters, and the American would anticipate anyone in the top 15, though he should get a stiffer test in his career.
He's earned it.
Michael Bisping, who was supposed to face Mark Munoz at UFC Fight Night 30 had he not suffered an injury, would make an intriguing fight for Kennedy. Both fighters prefer to stand and trade and it would further escalate their chances at gold if they could get a win. Bisping has been with UFC for a while now and still has not gotten a title fight. Kennedy may not be ready for one right now, yet has the main event and championship experience under his belt.
Kennedy is in a position where he could more or less face anyone coming off a win and someone he could match-up well against.
The territory is wide open.
He could fight someone like Francis Carmont, who has some of the best grappling in the division right now. Speaking of grappling, he could also battle Yoel Romero, who was also on the main card and showcased his devastating striking skills with a stoppage over Ronny Markes.
Hell, he could even fight Lorenz Larkin, who was also victorious on the "Prelims" portion of UFC's "Fight for the Troops 3" card.
There are an abundance of possible scraps that make sense for Kennedy, but he needs to realize that in his mid-thirties, every fight from this day forward counts toward him gunning for an eventual title shot. This is not to say that if he loses another fight, the dream is over; it would simply be more beneficial for Kennedy to ride the wave of his wins and amass victories over tougher opponents, as they come one after another.
Kennedy was reluctant to call anyone out at the post-fight press conference and asked for a fighter who was at the middle of the heap at 185 pounds; however, he should get someone who will undoubtedly rank him in the top 10 and that would make him a force for any of his classmates to deal with. The vocal fighter has petitioned for a fight against the legends of this sport on social media and it remains to be seen if he does that in the upcoming days.
And by the way...is he worth the money now?
For complete UFC Fight Night 31 results, including play-by-play of the entire fight card click here. For recaps, videos, highlights, commentary and more from Wednesday night's FOX Sports 1 event check out our "Fight for Troops 3" live story stream here.