The countdown for the TUF Nations finale is in its final stages, with just a day separating fans from a night of fights. The card features some interesting match-ups, but none can compare to the one that's been years in the making between UFC Top 10 middleweights Michael Bisping and Tim Kennedy.
The rivalry, while sharing some similarities to other MMA ‘beefs' in that there's plenty of smack talk and posturing, also carries another element that I've personally not seen before. It appears to have a sponsor involvement that has carried over from another fighter.
Tim Kennedy's sponsor, Ranger Up has now sponsored two of Bisping's opponents, starting with Jorge Rivera and rounding out with Kennedy in this upcoming bout. It's altogether new that we see a sponsor heavily involved in their athlete's rivalry, so the fight buildup becomes more interesting, especially when you have parody videos coming out routinely.
In a recent MMA Sentinel interview with Tim Kennedy, he discussed the issues that he has with Bisping and fielded questions that ranged from fighter pay to fighting with an injury and military service. Here's what he had to say:
Every fight I have to win. I hate losing. I am a bad sportsman and I'm not a good loser. It's not like I'm going to walk up and shake hands. All that said, that doesn't change by who the opponent is. All my fights I approach with the same intensity. I'm just a dude who likes to win, only I don't go so far as to cheat, like he does. I'll be doing everything in my power to ensure that I get the victory.
He's not bending the rules either, he's crossing the line. The rules aren't designed to be bent. It's like the free throw line. You're either on one side or the other. There's no in between. You're not allowed to grab shorts; he does it every time. You're not allowed to grab the cage; he does it every time. You're not allowed to eyepoke or kick to the groin; he does it all the time. I don't know if there's a rule about spitting on your opponent's corner, but I think it's implied that you're not supposed to do that.
While I have zero respect for him as a person, I do respect him as a fighter and I respect his skills in the cage. I have a very healthy respect for how he fights and how he ekes out close decisions. There's nothing he can do that would intimidate me in there. Maybe he could if he looked at me with his weird eye. That could be scary for me.
Exploiting the Eye
The scary part is that I hit hard. Ask everybody here on my team. I hit hard from everywhere; from on the ground, I hit hard on the feet. If the dude is gonna stand and trade with me, I'm gonna hit him. The docs have cleared him to get in the cage with me, so I pray to God that he's 100% healthy, because I'm going to hit him hard. I hit hard enough to hurt healthy people. Michael Bisping, if you're not 100% healthy, don't get in the cage with me.
It took me 8 months to get ranked Number 8, but it's taken him 9 years to get ranked Number 5. He's a great test for me if I want to keep moving up in the division. He is, without a doubt, one of the marquee, perennial contenders that I have to get through to prove that I deserve to be in the upper echelon of my weight class.
I'm gonna tell the truth this time. I'm 100% healthy going into this fight. The thing is, if I wasn't healthy, I'd totally lie about it. Everybody asked that question last fight camp and I had a torn quad going in. I could barely walk. I was putting make-up on it to hide it from the athletic commission. I was all, ‘Best camp ever! I can't wait to get in there' when in truth, I had a nearly detached rectus femoris.
I'm good now, though. It was a great fight camp. My weight cut won't be bad at all. I'm going to be ready to go.
I don't have anything against England. I love his country. I've been deployed with and served with those guys. I was in Iraq right next to those guys. I've bled next to them and been on missions with them. I have absolutely nothing against his country. They're an ally and a great country. I just don't like him.
I have mental problems. When God was making people, he was like, ‘I'm gonna make this one slightly special, as in he needs clinical and chemical help for the rest of his life type of special.' I don't know what it is. I just don't care. If my heart is going to explode, I want it to explode in training, so I'm gonna push it until it gets right there.
The point of departure for me was when I got to Special Forces. Here I am a professional athlete-I was kind of big on the California MMA circuit-and I thought I was the bomb. I got there, and these dudes ran circles around me. My first motivation was just to be able to keep up with them. Then I deployed with them, and everything changed. I didn't care about keeping up with them, I cared about always being the biggest and best contributor to my team. I didn't want to be the guy that got tired and said, ‘Hey Sgt. I can't do another hit', or my buddy gets shot and I can't pick him up and carry him. I can't be that guy.
Something switched. Maybe I lost my soul, or maybe I just went full retard. I'm not sure, but whatever it was that changed, it's made me not care anymore, and I will just go and go and go until I die.
The Diaz Brothers & Fighter Pay
I've got to tip my hat to the entire Cesar Gracie crew. They also don't care [laughs]. From Melendez to Nick to Nate, they just say whatever they want. That's who they are and how they roll. It's pretty badass that they have the courage to be like that.
I like the way those guys go about things. Gilbert Melendez asking to be released from his contract immediately to go to Bellator and letting them know exactly what he was offered for the first right to match. Free market is kind of what we're founded on and it's awesome.
The UFC has taken care of me. I'm happy and excited to become a marquee fighter for them. The sport is still young. Do I think we should be getting paid what basketball players, baseball players, football players, even hockey players are making? Absolutely. Are we? Definitely not. I have zero complaints, though. I went and re-negotiated my contract, and one of the things I asked for was Bisping.
I think you have to have a different perspective about who you are and why you're fighting, and it can't just be for the money. I'm a purpose driven guy and Bisping is contrary to what I am. Me asking to fight Number 5 guy as part of my contract negotiations was just as important as everything else. We all have different approaches.
It changed me. I went in as a selfish little prick, and I came out as a dude that had been broken and remolded. The version that came out was a way better version of the one that went in.
I was not meant to be in the military when we're not at war. There are different types of soldiers; what I call like a garrison soldier, is somebody that their uniform is always good, they know the book, they know what to do, they're great at standing in formation and issuing orders.
I'm not that dude. My uniform is always jacked up, my haircut is always jacked up, I have a beard, I wear blue jeans to work, but if you put me in a firefight, then I'm really good. If you want to call in an air strike, I'm really good. If you give me a rifle and tell me to shoot someone a couple miles away, I'll get rounds on him. It's just...yeah, I was just never meant to be in the military if we're not at war.
Yeah, I'd fight him again. I smashed him the first time. The second fight was close, I thought I won it. The ref saved him a couple times, but I would definitely fight him a third time. I have a lot of respect for him as a person. I think he's talented in so many ways, both in and out of the cage, so yeah, had he stayed healthy and sane, and stayed competitive and relevant, I would have loved to have fought him a third time.
Something has to change. The way that it works right now, we have to go to the UFC to get approval for every individual sponsor and we are losing out on a lot of potential revenue. If we're wearing a uniform, and they have a plan about how to increase our earning potential, then I would love to hear it.
How it is right now, I go to them with 10 sponsors, and they say ‘No' to 8 of them, that really hurts me as an athlete in my earning potential. My understanding of their intent with the uniforms is obviously to make it aesthetically pleasing. Instead of having walking billboards in the cage, there would be a clear, symmetrical look to all of us.
Then we would have a limited space for our sponsors. If we're all wearing Under Armour, does that mean they're paying us? If I am a Nike sponsored athlete, and I'm wearing Under Armour fight shorts, you know...how does that work? Are they compensating me for damaging the deal to exclusively wear somebody else's stuff?
I don't know how this will all pan out. They could just come down and say, ‘I don't care who your other sponsors are. I don't care if you have an exclusive agreement. If you're going to fight, this is what you're going to wear.' It's a scary road we're going to go down, but it has to happen. If we want to get paid like all the athletes in other professional sports, then we've got to look like it.
This interview also featured a 15 minute segment for Game of Thrones discussion. The audio can be found here if you'd like to check that out, as Tim is a huge fan of the show.
You can follow Tim via his Twitter account, @TimKennedyMMA