Coming off the biggest win of his professional career against Trevor Prangley, rising Strikeforce middleweight Tim Kennedy is now set to take on his biggest MMA challenge to date. On Saturday, August 20th in Houston, Texas, the former Army special forces soldier will challenge Renaldo "Jacare" Souza for the vacant Strikeforce middleweight title.
We talked to Tim this past Sunday on MMA Nation on 106.7 The Fan in Washington, D.C
. Naturally, we got his feeling about his impending fight, but also delved into other issues, namely, why he feels the MMA media is full of "yes-men". We also revisit the topic of how much his time spent in Afghanistan set him back in his professional fighting career.
LT: From one big guest to another. Huge guest. He's got the fight of his career coming up. This Saturday, August 21st, at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas, on Showtime at "Strikeforce: Houston," this man will take on Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza for the now-vacant Strikeforce middleweight title. It's the third time, I think, that he's been on the show, always happy to have him here, a U.S. Army veteran and the works, the one and only Tim Kennedy is here. Tim, how are you, sir?
TK: I'm well, Luke. How are you doing?
LT: Good, buddy. You're getting close here, a week out. How are you feeling? How's the health? Are we doing alright? How are things, generally?
TK: Things, generally, are miserable, painful. I'm hungry. I wanna elbow and knee everything. I don't know. I got six days until I get to eat again, and I'm pretty motivated for that.
LT: Cutting weight - typically, how is that for you? It's never a fun process, that's fair to say. Is it always difficult? Have you got it down to a science? Where are you with that?
TK: It always sucks, you're right. It's pretty... I'm not gonna say "scientific," but, you know, I'm exactly where I'm supposed to be. I'm pretty disciplined about it all. You know, but it's always really tough for me. I'm a really lean guy, I'm a really big guy -- relative to being a 185'er -- so it's painful every time.
LT: Do you ever feel like fighting at another weight class would dramatically enhance your ability to fight?
TK: No, 185's the right weight class for me. I've fought at 205. I've even fought at heavyweight before, and you know... I'm only 5'11" and my reach would always be an issue at those upper weight classes.
LT: Alright, listen, this is the most cliched question in martial arts media, but this time it kind of really is an important question. You're fighting a guy who's not just tough, he's not just strong, all that stuff. You're fighting "Jacare," one of the best grapplers in all of jiu-jitsu and certainly in all of MMA. Maybe not the best, but he's up there, he's Top 5, right? He's got a really dynamic style, and unlike a lot of guard-pulling BJJ players, he's got great takedowns, fantastic athleticism. For this camp, I do have to assume the question of who you're training with is more relevant than usual. Did you do anything special this time for a guy who has a really unique skill set?
TK: Yeah, I traveled a lot to work with some of the best wrestlers and jiu-jitsu guys I could get my hands on. You know, I went to Greg Jackson's, Willie Parks is there, Jon Jones, Brian Stann, Joey Villasenor, Carlos Condit, Clay Guida. And then we imported some jiu-jitsu guys there. Then, when I came back to Austin, I had Mario Esfiha, Andrew Chappelle, Phil Cardella, Rodrigo Pinheiro - there's six black belts for you. So, a whole bunch of guys that have a similar skill set in being so technical at that one thing. I think "Jacare" is a more diverse, better fighter than all of them, but I think all of them are equally as talented in jiu-jitsu.
LT: Alright, so it's a fantasy world, let's pretend you are cornering somebody who is fighting "Jacare." What is the strategy you tell that person? How do you beat "Jacare" Souza?
TK: You be Tim Kennedy. You have the stuff that I'm good at, really. I'm violent in the clinch, big power puncher from the outside, really hard to take down, and when you get me down, it's really hard to hold me down. You know, all the things that he's good at, I'm good at defending. And all the things that he's bad at, I'm good at. I think I'd tell that guy to bring it to Souza. Every single round, every single minute, pick up the pace and just keep bringing the fight to Souza.
LT: One time we spoke to you - I don't know if it was the last time or however long ago it was - but you had admitted candidly - now, there was no anger or animosity about it, but you were just sort of recognizing it for what it was - that your time in Afghanistan did impact your ability to compete at the highest levels of mixed martial arts, and that you were looking to take your time as you moved up the ladder. But you blew through Trevor Prangley, and I didn't think you were gonna lose, but I didn't think you were gonna blow him out like the way you did. I mean, you ran over him. Do you feel now that you've caught up for the time that you lost serving the nation? Again, not saying you're bitter about it. Do you feel like you're peaking? Did you play catch-up now?
TK: I think I'm caught up, but I'm nowhere near peaking. I think I'm about 70% of where I can be. I'm still getting stronger, I'm watching my speed get faster, I'm watching the techniques that I couldn't pull off a year ago pull off, but I still see things that I'm not doing that I know I'm going to be doing a year from now. And two years from now, I'm still gonna be growing as an athlete, growing as a martial artist, growing in my technique. So, no, I haven't peaked yet, but I think I've caught up to the rest of MMA.
LT: Let me ask you about the main event on this card and see how you feel about it. If you have a prediction for it, we'd appreciate it. "King" Muhammed Lawal, one of the top prospects, if not the top prospect in all of MMA, taking on "Feijao" Cavalcante. Do you have a winner in mind regarding that event?
TK: Yeah, I think Mo Lawal's too athletic, too good of a wrestler, and too explosive with his hands. I think he has enough tools to be able to stop "Feijao" in every way, and to be able to control him on the ground and do damage in every position. So I have a third or fourth round TKO, or even a decision win for Mo.
JK: Hi, Tim, this is James Kimball here. How're you doing? Doing good?
TK: I am excellent.
JK: Great. In a recent Ranger Up promotional video - which was outstanding, by the way - you touched on how fighters compare competing in this sport to going to war, and how that bothers you. Do you feel as though you have an onus to represent the United States military in the mixed martial arts community?
TK: No, no, I don't. I'm honored and privileged that I'm able to represent the military community. You know, I don't have a problem with those people describing it-- I'll even describe certain fights as a "war" or "battle." I just chuckle inside, kind of giggle when people are like "oh yeah, that guy had such a war," you know, "he really knows what a war is." And it's like, "oh man," you know... It's more of like an internal... I don't know, I guess it's almost snotty or snobby. I guess I'm kind of a dick, but it's like "oh, you really don't know what it is." And you're not supposed to. Most people shouldn't. You know, thank God that almost every American doesn't ever have to see war. But I think, internally, I kind of just chuckle when people say that word.
LT: Let me throw you a curveball, Tim, out of nowhere, and be completely honest, I'm just curious to hear how you think about it. What is your opinion of the MMA media?
TK: MMA media...
LT: You totally have the floor. Whatever you feel like, say it.
TK: I think you guys are mostly yes-men. You kinda cover the stories that you think every-- Like, I can only hear about Brock Lesnar so many times, and I don't care. The guy has six fights. I want to hear about the real down-and-dirty stories that are really plaguing the industry, like how guys have to go down to Mexico to get knee surgery, or how 65 to 70% of MMA athletes don't even have insurance, or how some boxer is about to make $24-30 million for a fight and we have fighters that make, on average, $2-3,000 a fight. Those are things that not many people talk about, but, in my opinion, are like the relevant, disgusting, black-eye issues of the sport. And, I don't know, we're just kind of soft. We like to print things that most people like to read, but we'd never really get down to some of the things that should be improved.
LT: I'm curious about the term "yes-men." What does that mean exactly? Help me understand that, because I don't disagree with it, actually. I think I know what you're trying to say. If you're asking "why do they cover Brock Lesnar so much?" and not these issues that you bring up -- and the fighter who went to Mexico, for the folks who are listening over the radio, was Joe Stevenson; he had to go to Tijuana, Mexico, to get X-rays on his knee -- why that impulse? Why do they gravitate toward Brock Lesnar and not stories like that, in your mind? What is the cause of that?
TK: I think for the same reasons that certain places-- you know, the Top 10 in each respective weight class is like UFC fighter, UFC fighter, UFC fighter, because they don't want to get blacklisted by Dana White. So they kinda play the yes-man, they kind of do the stuff to get appreciated or known. You know, Gilbert Melendez and Nick Diaz - just recently has Nick started being in the Top 10 of the 170 weight class, and Gilbert Melendez in the Top 10 of the 155 weight class. Those guys have been at the top for years, but they've been in Strikeforce, so who knows about those guys? It's just a tragedy that-- you know, are we really having promotions that are dictating how journalism in a sport is? I think right now it kinda is, and I'm just hoping that someday it won't be that way.
LT: Well, it's not even "kinda," it's definitely that way.... Let's circle back to this fight, if we can. I certainly think that it's the biggest fight of your career, if for no other reason than that it's for a title. The contendership process, being a contender for a title-- now, the title was vacated, but you got picked to fight for it first out. Is the process of being a contender in any way different than the lead-up to, let's say, your fight with Prangley?
TK: No, I'm actually preparing just as hard for this one as I did for my last one. The lead-up isn't any different. Right after my fight with Trevor, Scott and Rich told me flat out, "hey, you need to start preparing for a five-round fight." And I was like, "so much for my vacation" - I thought I was going to Hawaii. So, bam, right back in the gym seven days later. So, no, I don't think anything's different. I don't care if it's the biggest fight, I don't care about the venue, I don't care about the promotion. You know, it's a fight and I'm fighting a specific guy and I'm tailoring my fight to that guy.
LT: So, Strikeforce is currently considering a four-man or eight-man tournament. There were some questions about whether it was gonna happen. Scott Coker, the president of Strikeforce, basically said that they haven't decided four- or eight-man. Irrespective of being four- or eight-man, the middleweight division is arguably Strikeforce's strongest, or one of the strongest. If you had a choice of competitors beyond "Jacare" -- and this is nothing to do with looking beyond "Jacare," I'm sure you're not looking beyond him -- but if you had a choice of opponents, do you want that rematch with "Mayhem" Miller? Where do you stand on this? Is there somebody in that division you're looking at?
TK: There's a whole bunch of guys I think I would match up really well with and have an exciting fight. Yeah, Jason, Scott Smith, I have losses to both those guys. Cung Le looked really great against Scott in his last fight. Jason's 1-1 right now. I think if he gets out there and looks really good in the four-man tournament, or eight-man tournament, or a superfight and does well in that, maybe that puts him in the position to fight for the title. You're right, 185 is stacked and there's a whole bunch of guys that I'm looking forward to fighting and I think I will be fighting in the very near future.
LT: A win over "Jacare" puts you where in the rankings? We do the rankings with USA Today - we've got "Jacare" at #11. If you win, does it put you in the Top 10?
TK: Yeah, I think so. Look at how I beat Trevor, look at how I beat Zak [Cummings], look at how I beat Nick Thompson. Nick was like #6 or 7 in the world at the time when I fought him. Zak Cummings was 10-0 when I fought him. Trevor Prangley is a super tough guy. "Jacare," I think, consistently is ranked somewhere between 9th and 13th in most rankings, and a solid win over him -- compounded by back-to-back wins of late, all TKO or submission finishes -- yeah, I think I'd be Top 10.
LT: Is there anybody in the middleweight division you think is ranked inappropriately? Either too high or too low?
TK: No. Most of those guys are pretty veteran guys. Where's Robbie Lawler at right now?
LT: Robbie Lawler is presently at number ten, right on the cusp.
TK: Number ten. No, that seems right. Another guy in Strikeforce that I think I'm inevitably gonna be fighting, and I think he and I would have a real fun fight. 185 looks good.
LT: The argument about Dan Henderson losing to Jake Shields. Do you think Dan Henderson-- listen, his resume speaks for itself. Obviously he's one of the most accomplished guys ever to enter into MMA. Is he too old? Is he still a viable competitor? Where do you think Dan Henderson really is?
TK: I think Dan Henderson is still very dangerous. I think he's an amazing wrestler. I think he's a very talented athlete, so experienced. And I think he can bring the fight to almost every single guy in both 205 and 185. You know, Jake had the right tools to put Dan in the worst positions. Put a good wrestler on his back over and over and over again and that guy's in for a rough night. It's the same thing that I do with good wrestlers, is I put them on their back and just control them with good jiu-jitsu. So, no, I think he's still very dangerous. You know, he might be in the twilight of his career, but so is Randy [Couture] for the past five years. The twilight of a guy's career in MMA seems to last a really long time, and by no means can anybody look over that guy.
LT: It certainly does. Tim Kennedy takes on Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza this Saturday, August 21st, at the "Strikeforce: Houston" event, Toyota Center in Houston, Texas, live on Showtime. Best of luck to you, Tim Kennedy. Thank you for being on MMA Nation and hopefully we'll talk to you again very soon.
TK: Always an honor for me to be on here. Thanks for your time.