Wednesday, inside a packed hangar at Fort Campbell, Ky., Kennedy headlined UFC Fight for the Troops 3 against dangerous Brazilian Rafael Natal. Natal, who was riding a three-fight winning streak inside the Octagon was attempting to derail the returning veteran’s hopes at “hometown” glory in what was billed as a sure-fire slugfest between the two aggressive 185-pounders.
Kennedy made it no secret that he had a huge desire to compete for his fellow brothers and sisters, and lobbied heavily for a chance to compete on this card. With his victorious UFC debut against Roger Gracie at UFC 162 back in July in the books, his wish was granted. He was originally expected to face Lyoto Machida, but Machida moved to the recent card in England when Michael Bisping went down due to injury. So Kennedy instead matched up with Natal.
Kennedy walked to the cage Wednesday night flanked by a group of soldiers as he strolled out in front of the Fort Campbell faithful to Alice In Chains’ “Rooster” in what was surely a memorable moment for all in attendance.
The opening frame was a chess match from the start. As Natal pressured, a calm and composed Kennedy looked to counter. Remaining steadfast, Kennedy absorbed the early pressure from the Brazilian and checked leg kicks and gave back when he could. Chants of , “Ranger up! Ranger up! Ranger up!” filled the hangar in Fort Campbell as the U.S. servicemen and women cheered their brother on.
It’s not unfair to say that Kennedy may have been losing the first few minutes of the fight, as Natal was earning the more effective strikes, and in the process was setting the pace.
However, it was Kennedy’s workmanlike patience that paid dividends in the end. With just 20 seconds remaining in the opening frame, Kennedy pressured Natal and sent him backpedaling. Sensing an opening, Kennedy lunged in with a deadly left hook that clipped Natal square on the chin and planted him directly on his rear-end.
Kennedy rushed in for a few more shots to seal the deal, and the fight was waived off. The former Green Beret leapt to his feet in obvious joy, and the crowd in attendance erupted at the fight-ending knockout.
The official end came at 4:40 for your winner via technical knockout, Tim Kennedy.
Post-fight, the visibly emotional U.S. Army Veteran took to the mic to praise the men and women of our armed forces for all they do, and all they mean.
“I’m one 100-percent overwhelmed,” said Kennedy. “Your guys’ job is a thousand times, infinitely harder than anything I could ever do in here. I don’t deserve to be here. I love you guys so much.”
He continued, “You guys are my heroes. You guys are my idols. I’m a Christian, I give the glory to God, but I worship you guys. I love every one of you.”
After Kennedy thanked his fellow heroes in the Octagon, he talked about the fight-ending knockout (his first under the Zuffa banner).
“Moments before I threw that left hook, I heard Coach Wink and Coach Brendon, they said ‘Tim throw it! Tim throw it! Tim throw it,’” recalled the 34-year-old. “I instinctively listened to my coaches and I just did what they want. Jackson’s/Winklejohn want finishes. This is what we do – we finish fights.”
For Kennedy, this marks his second UFC victory in as many fights, and puts him squarely in Top 10 contention in the UFC middleweight division. For Natal, this is a disappointing loss that snapped his aforementioned three-fight winning streak. However, the Brazilian should be applauded for taking such daunting task against a former Green Beret on his “home turf.” It was a great one-round fight between two deserving competitors.
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