United States Army sniper and mixed martial arts veteran Tim Kennedy returns to the cage on Saturday night in hopes of working his way back into title contention as he battles K-1 veteran Melvin Manhoef in middleweight action. Kennedy last fought back in August for the vacant Strikeforce middleweight title, dropping an unanimous decision to Ronaldo Souza. Souza's impressive display of improved striking battered Kennedy over the twenty-five minutes of action, crowning him the champion and sending a message to future challengers.
As an ultimate test to Kennedy's dedication to mixed martial arts, he'll now need to refocus on a new task of building momentum and a list of wins to secure another shot at the title. It's an unfamiliar situation despite Kennedy's success in the sport. He's never held a major title, and he's never been away long enough from the full-time military lifestyle to compete consistently. That has changed.
First up, Melvin Manhoef. The Suriname-born wrecking machine hasn't been a huge success in terms of wins and losses, but his brand of brutality inside the ring or cage has made him one of the most exciting fighters in the world. Devastating power, blazing speed, and the technical know-how on the feet to effectively smash opponents, Manhoef is one of the premier strikers in the sport. Unfortunately, he's not one of the better defensive fighters in the stand-up department, and he's vulnerable to attack on the ground. Two areas in which Kennedy can take advantage quickly.
Manhoef's brutal loss to Robbie Lawler back in January of last year highlighted the defensive lapses that have plagued his career. After demolishing Lawler on the feet for three-and-a-half minutes of action, Lawler unleashed an overhand counter that caught a cheating Manhoef as he tried to finish off the UFC veteran. The moments afterward could only be described as shock and awe as Lawler limped away victorious as Manhoef laid lifeless on the canvas.
Gegard Mousasi, Paulo Filho, Tatsuya Mizuno, Dong Sik Yoon... the list goes on of fighters who have taken advantage of Manhoef's non-existent ground game. Kennedy's best chance to win on Saturday night will be on the floor, working for a takedown early and choking Manhoef out as quickly as possible before he finds a way to unleash the tactical nukes attached to his hands.
MMA fans have a propensity to lean toward the fighter who has the ability to end a fight spectacularly, and that may be one of the reasons why I've talked to fans who believe this is a legitimate match-up. While I absolutely love what Melvin Manhoef brings to every fight, it's difficult to foresee him stuffing takedowns and countering with the fury of fists we've seen from him in the past. Kennedy should quickly take advantage of Manhoef's weak foundation on the ground, choking him out inside the first frame. Don't count out Melvin though. After all, he is the man who came in on roughly one day's notice to smash Mark Hunt's chin into the canvas. As always, I'll be rooting for a Melvin Manhoef revival, but the money's on Kennedy.