The first round looked like the beginning of the end for Army Sgt. 1st Class Tim Kennedy in his debut UFC clash with fellow former-Strikeforce middleweight Roger Gracie.
The Texas Army National Guardsman and Special Forces sniper quickly found himself on the wrong end of the Brazilian jiu-jitsu master in a three-minute grapping ground war that put Kennedy dangerously close to a submission in their main card fight in Las Vegas on July 6.
By the second round, however, Kennedy turned the tables and began pounding away at Gracie, winning after the third round in a unanimous decision.
“I was really disappointed in my performance. I guess UFC jitters are real,” Kennedy said in a post-fight press conference.
“Not to take anything away from Roger, he’s amazing.”
In preparing for the fight, Kennedy said he made it a point to refine his own well-regarded ground game. “I do train with some of the best grapplers on the planet and nobody gets my back. Roger got my back. And kept me there for three minutes.”
While the last round slowed to a crawl — with the restless MGM Grand Hotel crowd starting a wave that drew more cheers than the fight itself — Kennedy was able to dominate as Gracie ran out of steam.
“I stayed cool and tried to hit him in the face. I really wanted to finish him. He’s long, he’s rangy and I couldn’t reach his chin. I just tried to stay composed and keep hitting him,” said Kennedy, who now has a 16-4 pro MMA record.
“Kennedy showed up and made this fight his,” says SB Nation’s Zane Simon. “It was a good win if he wants to establish himself in the top 15 of the division. I’d like to see him show his ability against an established UFC 185er at this point, so a fight between he and Alessio Sakara seems like it’d make for a fun contest,” Simon wrote in an after-fight recap.
Coming from behind is the kind of fight Kennedy says he relishes.
“That’s part of my military character, I think,” Kennedy told OFFduty two weeks before the fight during his training camp. “You back one of us into a corner and you can only expect one thing: us coming at you like wild, rabid dogs. We’re not going to quit and if we underperform or you hit us when we’re down, we’re just going to come at you even harder.”
Jon Anderson is a staff writer for OFFduty.