After serving multiple tours of duty in the Middle East during his professional MMA career, UFC middleweight Tim Kennedy finally retired from active duty in 2009. Serving as a sniper in 7th Special Forces Group, Kennedy was on the front lines of America’s longest running war(s) and has been an ambassador for the armed services ever since.
On Wednesday night, Kennedy fought in front of his brothers and sisters in arms at UFC Fight for the Troops 3 emanating from Fort Campbell, Ky. In the night’s main event, Kennedy dispatched of the surging Brazilian Rafael Natal via first-round TKO stoppage.
It was Kennedy’s first knockout finish under the Zuffa banner (Strikeforce/UFC) and it left the crowd in attendance visibly elated at the spectacular left hook finish.
Having been away from active duty for so long, resentment and guilt are common themes for soldiers no longer serving alongside their brothers and sisters. It is an all too familiar story that most veterans are forced to deal with sooner or later.
After his victory over Natal, Kennedy leapt to the cage in a show of pure exaltation and yelled a myriad of comments to the servicemen and women cheering him on from their seats.
When asked post-fight what exactly he had said, Kennedy elaborated, “There was a lot of ‘I love yous’ and ‘I’m sorry I left you’ and ‘I’m embarrassed to be in here’ and ‘please forgive me for leaving you,’ and just a lot of that kind of sentiment,” explained the 34-year-old veteran.
“I wanted to get off the cage, run into the crowd and never come back.”
It was undoubtedly a complex mix of emotions that Kennedy was experiencing on Wednesday night. Having been retired from active duty for a number of years, and performing in front of all these American soldiers, it is understandable that Kennedy would feel the way he does.
But as Kennedy put it, this wasn’t just a one-time thing; in fact, these feelings of guilt have been plaguing him for some time. And if it wasn’t for Kennedy’s better half, the Army might currently have one more tough guy on its roster.
“Every day. Every day,” replied Kennedy when asked if he thinks about returning to active duty. “My wife and I – we don’t argue – but one of the things we have points of contention about is me putting back on a uniform. I’m always like… if a war kicked off, then she would probably have to give in. Right now, she’s on the upper hand.
“I miss it every day.”
But would you actually ever return to active duty?
“If a war kicks off, absolutely. For sure. Positively,” he said with stone-cold glare.
Kennedy holds his fellow brothers and sisters so dear to his heart that he was willing to sacrifice his own career for their adoration. And we’re not talking about active duty either. On Wednesday night, Kennedy revealed that prior to his main event with Natal, he tore his quad just a week before the fight.
“So, I tore my quad coming into this camp,” he explained. “The very last week of fight camp, a stupid thing happened; (a) lady walked out onto the track and it was either run over a 65-year-old lady – probably kill her – or try to decelerate in about two meters. I chose to decelerate and just fell to the ground grabbing my leg, screaming ‘holy…’ not great words.
“So if they had to roll me into the cage to fight Natal, I would have fought him. In the cage, once they lifted me up and hoisted me into the cage, Natal would have had to shoot me, and then bludgeon me to death until I quit.”
Kennedy went on to explain the severity of his injury, and the lengthy means of (sometimes) non-traditional healing techniques he utilized to help alleviate the injury. However, there was very little the team could do to help the situation. Kennedy was going to fight, or as he put it, “die trying.”
Even after his victory, there was little comfort, as a teammate slapped him on the leg in celebration, and he nearly collapsed from the pain.
Whether fighting in the sands of the Middle East, or inside the Octagon for his fellow brothers and sisters, Tim Kennedy is a pillar of courage and determination. It’s not a philosophical debate of war, but a highlight of the human spirit and the willingness to do what you feel is right.
For Tim Kennedy, honoring a commitment is what he is all about, whether it is in the cage, or on the battlefield. And on Wednesday night, for him, the Octagon was a little bit of both.
(Follow @RyanMcKinnell on Twitter / Photo courtesy of UFC)