With one leaping left hook, UFC middleweight Tim Kennedy sent a hangar full of servicemen and women back to their barracks happy.
Kennedy's punch found the off switch on the chin of Rafael Natal at the 4:40 mark of Round 1, earning Kennedy a nice Knockout of the Night bonus. Moments after delivering the knockout blow, Kennedy, a former Army Ranger, jumped atop the Octagon and shouted to the cheering crowd Ft. Campbell crowd.
The message that Kennedy was trying to convey to the thousands in attendance had no chance of being heard over their cheers.
At the post-fight press conference, Kennedy was asked what message he was trying to deliver, "There was a lot of ‘I love you's' and ‘I'm sorry I left you' and ‘I'm embarrassed to be in here' and ‘I'm humbled to be in here' and ‘please forgive me for leaving you,' and just a lot of that kind of sentiment. I wanted to get out of the cage and run up in the crowd and never come back," Kennedy said.
According to Kennedy, those emotions came from feeling somewhat guilty for leaving the Army, "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. If a war kicked off, then she would probably have to give in. Right now, she has the upper hand. I miss it every day."
When pressed about getting back into uniform Kennedy restated that if "a war kicks off" he would "absolutely, for sure, positively" head back to active duty.
Kennedy also said that his victory over Natal relieved some of those feelings of guilt, "Maybe a little bit", but in the big picture "This is a drop in the bucket to what needs to be done, both for me and that community."
That community was fully behind Kennedy from the start of the fight, and to hear Kennedy tell it, those cheers and chants put a lot of pressure on him, "One of my criticisms of myself was that I had to wait for the crowd to stop cheering because I was afraid to emotionally commit to something, and not do it for the right reasons.
It had a negative effect on me because I was waiting. I was apprehensive. There was a lot of reservations.
If there was any amount of pressure that could be put on a single fighter for a fight, I can't think of situation that could be more stressful than this, being the biggest face of the military in the UFC, fighting on the first Fight for the Troops card in, I don't know how many years, and then fighting in the main event against a superstar."
In the aftermath Kennedy said the environment was "overwhelming," but he added that the pressure he felt on Wednesday night was ultimately a plus because when he does "have a title fight, I'm going to know what to expect."
That road to a title fight began with Kennedy's win over Roger Gracie in his UFC debut. The win over Natal moved Kennedy to 2-0 in the UFC and 17-4 overall. Kennedy refused to call out any fighters at the post-fight press conference, but UFC president Dana White did call the victory an important one, and said that Kennedy's next opponent would be a big name fighter.
One possible opponent for Kennedy may be No. 4 ranked middleweight Michael Bisping. Bisping is out of action until April recovery from eye surgery, but if the twitter exchange between him and Kennedy is any indication, that fight would be a slam dunk for UFC matchmaker Joe Silva:
@TimKennedyMMa well it's simple. Call the UFC and say u wanna fight me in April. Put your money where your mouth is big shot.— michael (@bisping) November 8, 2013
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