A “hard-worker, blue-collar guy” – that’s how Ultimate Fighting Championship’s Tim Kennedy describes himself as a service member and fighter.
When Kennedy headlines the “UFC Fight for the Troops” at Fort Campbell’s Sabre Army Airfield Wednesday night he’ll bring his skills and talent to the Octagon.
“I’m humbled, of course, that I’m able to take part in this card,” he said in a phone interview from Jackson’s Martial Arts and Fitness Academy in Albuquerque, N.M. “Like a dream come true, I’m [going to be] surrounded by a whole bunch of service members.”
An Army Green Beret formerly with 7th Special Forces Group, Kennedy is currently assigned to 19th Special Forces Group, a National Guard unit.
His military career ambitions started in the fall of 2001. Kennedy was in graduate school, pondering a possible career in the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Then, on Sept. 11, terrorists crashed planes into buildings in New York and Washington D.C.
“I wanted to work for the FBI and track serial killers, but after 9/11 everything changed,” he said. “I wanted to make a contribution, more substantial to my country.
“At the time I didn’t know the difference between Special Forces, Navy SEALS, Marine recon, [Army] Rangers. I actually thought they were all kind of the same thing,” he said. “So, I walked into a recruiting office and I was like ‘Hey, I want to be a Navy SEAL Special Forces Green Beret Ranger.’ The guy said, ‘Dude, I’ve got a job for you.’”
Still, he zipped from recruiter to recruiter to learn more about each branch of service before signing on the dotted line.
“… The more I researched it, the more it appeared to me that Army Special Forces, Army Green Berets, were the ones that had been doing the vast majority of the real work – not the high-profile missions that you make movies about, but the real, down-and-dirty, gritty, day-to-day, horrible work that you’d expect special operations guys to do. That’s what I wanted to do,” he said. “I’m kind of like a boots-on-the-ground, blue-collar guy and I want to do it the hardest way. That seemed like the Green Berets.”
Kennedy enlisted in the Army in January 2004 through the 18X program.
“I came in straight from college to a Special Forces recruiting program which gave guys a chance to go to Special Forces selection if they made it through basic training, Infantry school and Airborne School,” he said. “I went to selection and got selected.
“From 2005 on it was sprinting, like every single SF group – Iraq, came back, Ranger school, sniper school, Afghanistan, came back – deployment, school, deployment, school for about six years.”
No matter how busy his active-duty life, Kennedy always found time to fight – sometimes even as the main event on a major network.
“I was a professional fighter before I enlisted. I always had the itch to keep fighting,” he said. “That was the story for about three or four years. I would try to get a fight in. I was winning a lot. I think I only lost one fight in the nine years in the military.”
Then, in 2009, Kennedy’s dual life as Soldier and fighter reached a turning point.
“Army Special Forces Command came to me and said, ‘we don’t know what we are going to do with you. You’re fighting on Fox. You’re main event in front of six million people and you’re supposed to be a quiet professional Green Beret – Special Forces operator. I don’t know how that works,’” Kennedy recalled. “I didn’t know how that worked either.”
The fact was Kennedy still wanted to serve his country, but also “had that desire to keep fighting.”
The Army moved the then-staff sergeant from the active duty 7th Group to the 19th Special Forces Group.
“With the National Guard, you’re expected to have another job,” said the sergeant first class. “My job now is fighting and I’m still part of Special Forces.”
Throughout his fighting career, Kennedy has competed with several mixed-martial arts organizations. When Strikeforce closed down in January, Kennedy was among 20 fighters who joined the UFC roster.
“Just like everything, I wanted to be the best at what I did. That’s why I went to the Green Berets. That’s why I went to Ranger School – to come back to be a leader within Special Forces,” Kennedy said. “If I’m gonna fight. I’m gonna fight the best guys in the world and the best guys in the world are in the UFC … And I want to fight those guys.”
With a record of 16 wins, four losses, the 5-foot-11 middleweight Kennedy will face 6-foot tall Brazilian Rafael “Sapo” Natal (17-4-1) Wednesday night during the “UFC Fight for the Troops.”
“I don’t think we’ve even met before,” Kennedy said of Natal. “It’s not an easy fight. Rafael Natal is very tough. He has a great heart. He’s not a quitter. He has very heavy hands. He hits hard. He’s a black belt in jiu-jitsu, so he’s a well-rounded mixed martial arts fighter. It’s not an easy fight for me, but I think I match up well with him - and I think I’m the better fighter of the two.”
Kennedy will be joined on the fight card by three other Veterans, as well. The main card also features Marine Corps Veteran Liz “Girlrilla” Carmouche and Army Ranger Colton Smith. Army Veteran Neil Magny will fight in the online prelims, according to UFC.
UFC President Dana White said service members make tough fighters.
“I think they are instilled with a tremendous work ethic and the type of no-quit mentality that works well in our sport. I’ve always said that the men and women of the military are some of the toughest people on the planet, both physically and mentally,” he said in an email last month. “Fighters like Kennedy, Carmouche and Smith are just a few of the many former military personnel currently exceling in this sport.”
The “Fight for the Troops” is not only a night of raw entertainment, but also a charitable occasion to benefit the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, a nonprofit organization that helps military personnel who have been catastrophically injured and their Families.
The organization is funding the building of Fort Campbell’s National Intrepid Center of Excellence Satellite Center, which will provide the most advanced diagnosis and treatment protocols for military heroes suffering from Traumatic Brain Injury, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and “related afflictions.” The center is slated to open in fall 2014 on Indiana Avenue.
Although he’s never been assigned to Fort Campbell, Kennedy has trained at the Kentucky post multiple times with the 5th Special Forces Group.
“All of the Special Forces groups do a lot of cross training,” he said. “I’ve been there a few times for pre-mission train-up. We’ve used some of their facilities before we’ve deployed. I’ve been there. Love the place.”
Kennedy said he’s humbled by the opportunity to fight in front of and among his brothers-in-arms in an event that benefits all service members.
“Everything I’ve done since I’ve left active duty - every fight I have - this is an example of where my heart is,” he said. “[I’m] making sure that I’m giving back to the [military] community that I’ve been a part of for 10 years and making sure everyone knows how important it is to support them.”
Stateside: “UFC Fight for the Troops” main card bouts will be broadcast live on Fox Sports 1. Preliminary rounds will be streamed via www.ufc.com and the UFC Facebook page.
Downrange: Troops deployed overseas may view the entire five-hour broadcast live on the Armed Forces Network Wednesday night and rebroadcast Nov. 7. Viewers can search My AFN Sports at http://myafn.dodmedia.osd.mil/ for viewing times.
For fighter, ticket and parking information, visit the Courier’s Sports Page 4C. For additional information, check with your chain of command.