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Tim Kennedy: Full Time Soldier, Full Time Fighter (5 Oz. Exclusive Interview)

By Adam Morgan

As first reported here on Five Ounces of Pain, IFL fighter Tim Kennedy will be stepping in for the medically suspended Sean Salmon to fight Jason “Mayhem” Miller at HDNet Fights on December 15th. I had a chance to catch up with Kennedy to talk about his background in the sport, his involvement with the United States Army, his fighting career, and of course his upcoming fight.

Adam Morgan: Can you tell me a little bit about how you got started in the sport of mixed martial arts?

Tim Kennedy: When I was a kid, my blessed, beloved mother had a really strong influence on me and she put my brother and I in piano lessons and cooking classes. So my father, in an attempt to compensate for my mother’s influence, put us into shooting schools and boxing lessons and wrestling and then jiu jitsu. This was at a pretty young age and then I kind of started doing a lot of different martial arts and started liking them all.

I was in San Luis Obispo, born there and raised there, and just started getting into these circles with guys like Jake Shields, Chuck Liddell, Gan McGee, Scott Adams, and those guys and pretty much just started working with them at a really early age. It was inevitable to start fighting.

AM: Have you had a chance to go back out to California any recently to train with Chuck Liddell and John Hackleman and those guys?

TK: Yeah, I was up there about two months ago? A month ago? I think I’ve been up there for about three months cumulatively this year just training. Every three months I go out there.

AM: Speaking of Chuck, do you have a quick prediction for us for his fight against Wanderlei Silva in December?

TK: Yeah, my man, you gotta watch out for his right hand. I love Wanderlei, I’ve been a big fan of the way he fights and how he fights and how he comes forward. Just stylistically it’s a terrible matchup for Wanderlei. If you come in and you chase Chuck, you’re going to get knocked out. I know Chuck’s had a bad string of fights, but just the way that Chuck is, his character, his personality, it just makes him train harder and I think the best thing that could have happened was Keith Jardine. I think you’re going to see a really scary and really fast Chuck when he fights Wanderlei. I’m going to probably give a second round knockout to Chuck.

AM: You’re training now at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. Are you training with anyone in particular out there besides the MMA team?

TK: Yep, I train with Greg Thompson, he’s a Royce Gracie black belt. Alan Shebaro, he’s a Carlos Machado black belt. Brian Mingia, he’s one of my kickboxing coaches. I got Dan Barrera sittin’ here right next to me and he’s fighting in the UFC Ultimate Fighter Finale on December 8th, so he’s out here working out for a little bit. Then I’ve got about twenty guys that consistently work out at Team ROC where I work out at.

rup-staticad.gifAM: There’s been some rumblings that you’re now able to compete full-time. Is there any truth to that?

TK: At the end of December I will have fought four professional fights and the Army Combatives tournament which was an additional five fights, so that’s nine fights just this year alone. I don’t know what other athletes are fighting nine times in a year, so if I’m a part-time fighter then I don’t know what full-time is. I guess I’ve got to do more than nine fights in a year.

AM: I guess the question would be do you ever plan to concentrate your efforts fully on fighting or fully on the Army, one or the other?

TK: Well, you know, I have an overwhelmingly successful career in both right now. I enjoy my job immensely and I enjoy fighting. I think both make me better at each of the other. I think I’m a better soldier for being a good fighter and I’m a better fighter for being a good soldier. I think the physical nature of my job translates to fighting and vice versa, so I don’t know if there’s ever going to be a need for me to give up one or the other. I know that there’s guys that if I want to beat, I would have to put a little bit more time and effort into training.

AM: Speaking of your Army training, you chose to enlist in the Army. Is there anything in particular that drove you to enlist?

TK: After college I needed a change of pace. I’d been in central California for a long time, 9/11 had a real big effect on me, and I kind of wanted to do something special. I can’t say that there’s one thing that made me enlist. I think that every male in this country should be in the Army or serve their country in some capacity or another and I hadn’t done it up to that point, so now I am.

AM: We know you’re an Army Ranger and a lot of the stuff you do at the top levels are pretty top secret, but is there anything you can tell us about what you do or is it a pretty off limits subject?

TK: It’s pretty much just an off limits subject.

AM: That’s what I figured. Have you spent any time in Iraq or Afghanistan as part of your Ranger career?

TK: Well, I went to Ranger school and I’m Ranger qualified, so I have a Ranger tab, but I’m not assigned to a Ranger battalion, I’m assigned to a different unit. So I don’t want people to misunderstand. Yes, I am an Army Ranger, but I’m not assigned to a Ranger battalion. I know it’s kind of complicated. Yes, I was in Iraq, I was there for an entire tour and earned a Bronze Star for valor when I was there and I love being over there. I wish I was over there right now.

AM: Even though you’re not fighting in the IFL on a steady basis currently, you’re still competing in these Modern Army Combatives tournaments. Can you tell me a little bit about what these tournaments consist of?

TK: Modern Army Combatives is a new program that is teaching mixed martial arts to a soldier. When I said that MMA translates to being a soldier, it really does. When you give somebody the fundamentals of boxing, wrestling, jiu jitsu and you give them the confidence of know they can take care of themselves, it’s a really win-win situation.

So what the Combatives tournament is doing is every single unit and every single post now has a Combatives program. You work your way through the program learning jiu jitsu, kickboxing, boxing, and wrestling. Then at the end of the year each post has its own competition. Once you win that competition, you go to the All Army one and compete for the entire Army.

The All Army Invitational Combatives Tournament consists of three phases, the first one being a jiu jitsu round. If you win those three fights, then you go onto the Pancrase round. If you win the Pancrase round, then the next day you fight for the championship, which is a mixed martial arts fight. So that’s the format and this last year I just won my third straight.

There are some phenomenal athletes in the Army right now. Some of the guys I’ve trained with like Damien Stelly, Lieutenant Owens, these are guys that are pretty much in the same boat that I’m in. If they would have just committed to careers in mixed martial arts they would be extremely successful.

AM: You’ll be fighting Jason “Mayhem” Miller at HDNet Fights on December 15th. How did this fight come together for you?

TK: When (Sean) Salmon, his opponent, got knocked out, HDNet was looking for an opponent. They called the IFL and and asked Kurt Otto if it was cool if I fought on that card even though I’m already on contract to fight on December 29th for the IFL. The IFL was super cool and said that it was fine so they then called me and asked if I was up for it. I was already training like a madman for the 29th so it pretty much worked out perfect.

AM: Is there anything specific that you’re focusing on coming into this fight with Miller?

TK: You know everybody says it and I hate saying it, but I love knocking people out. I would really like to knock him out. I love Jason Miller, the guy is a fantastic athlete, he’s a blast to compete against and he’s just fun to be around so I think we’re going to put on a good show.

I’m working really hard right now on my fundamental boxing. Real tight, clean punches, head movement, getting inside and just letting my hands go.

AM: You’ve beaten Miller once before by decision at an event where you had to defeat a total of three guys in a single night. I don’t think many people have seen that fight, so tell us how that fight went down. Was it more on the ground, more on the feet, or a good mix of both?

TK: It was a good mix of both. We tried to keep it on our feet, but Jason’s so slick and so sly on the ground that we unfortunately ended up there a lot. While we were there, under the Utah rules, you were allowed to knee to the head on the ground, so I was doing a lot of that. It was actually a really, really bloody fight. I opened Jason up pretty good in the first round and then another cut in the second round and that guy’s just tough, man. I just kept on trying to finish him and I think the more he bleeds, the more fun he starts having.

AM: Are you planning on being a full time competitor with the IFL in 2008?

TK: Yes, I’m wanting to. I like the IFL and I love the way they treat their athletes. They treat their athletes like I wish everybody treated their athletes. Making sure their health is the number one priority, making sure their fighters have medical benefits. They’re just good to their fighters and out of respect for them they’ve always been really good to me, being really flexible with my military deployments. There’s times when if there’s a fight coming up and I really want to fight, I can’t because I’m getting deployed and they have been really flexible with that, which I appreciate.

Next year I think you’re going to see a lot more of me whether it be in the IFL, which I’m hoping to be and they’ve asked me to be, and hopefully some other venues as well.

AM: Is the HDNet fight more of a one-off kind of deal or is there something possibly being worked out with them as well?

TK: Yeah, definitely, I could foresee a positive relationship existing there. I know they’d be interested, and as would I.

AM: Is it true that you were once offered a contract to fight in the UFC but had to turn it down due to military commitments?

TK: That is true.

AM: Was that something you were upset about?

TK: It’s complicated, you know? I’ve got mixed emotions about that. I love fighting and the one thing I love about fighting is being able to fight the best athletes. The UFC has, right now, a stable of guys that I really want to fight. So, yeah it was heart wrenching and heartbreaking that I couldn’t take that fight, but you know, my commitment and my word were somewhere else and I’m never going to go back on my word.

AM: Was there a specific opponent that the UFC had in mind for you?

TK: There was a couple. One of them was Nathan Marquardt and man that would have been an awesome fight.

AM: Is competing in the UFC your long term goal, or are you just kind of taking it as it goes?

TK: I’m taking it as it goes. There’s a lot of really good promotions out there and yeah, the UFC has a really big stable of guys that I want to fight, but the commitment to the time that they might require of me…I don’t know if that’s going to be possible with the military. If they’re flexible and understand that I’m a full time soldier and a full time fighter then fantastic, but until that point, until that understanding is reached, I don’t really have an opportunity to break my word or my commitment.

AM: Is it true that you’re going to be cornering Dan Barrera at the The Ultimate Fighter Finale in a couple weeks?

TK: I don’t know, we’re talking about it. We’re training a lot together, working out like two to three times a day right now. Dan Barrera man, he’s phenomenal, he’s fast, and he’s strong for 170 so I think he has a real good future. It might not be in the next year or two, but three or four years down the road you might want to watch out for him.

AM: Five Ounces of Pain just struck a little sponsorship deal with Ranger Up and I know you’re involved with them. How did you end up getting involved with those guys?

TK: Ranger Up was doing some volunteer work for a wounded soldier program that I was very passionate about. When I heard that they needed a fighter for a photo op for one of the pro bono pieces that they were doing. Just trying to bring a little extra attention to this non-profit organization. It was a perfect opportunity for me to go and do something else. The project is the Wounded Warrior Project and when I got wind that they needed somebody I went up there for the photo shoot and met the owners, Dave and Nick. They’re awesome dudes. Both prior service, both totally supporting the military and the Wounded Warrior Project and we just hit it off.

They’re coming out with their own fighter line of tee shirts which I’m helping design. I’m going to be on a lot of those shirts and they’re actually pretty slick, good looking shirts. Dan Barrera has a similar relationship with them where we’re both going to be pushing a lot these shirts. They’re really well designed and these guys, most importantly, are helping the military and the Wounded Warrior Project and taking care of prior service military guys.

AM: Any other sponsors you’d like to thank or shout outs you’d like to make?

TK: Not right now, I’m going to do some after the HDNet fight. Ranger Up right now, they’re just being real awesome in supporting us and getting us ready for our fights. Team ROC for letting us train there all the time and all the time Greg Thompson’s putting in for us right now is pretty nice. And of course, my unit, the unit that I work for. My boss is being super generous giving me the time to train for this fight.

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