I recently had the opportunity to spend some time talking to Strikeforce rising star, Tim Kennedy. Tim is an amazingly talented MMA fighter who derives great pleasure from skull stomping his opponents. However, there is much more to Tim than his career as a top rated MMA fighter. Tim is a decorated Special Forces sniper who has served multiple tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is a devoted husband, friend, and business partner. And for those that get to know him, he is a truly funny guy that laughs his way through life all the while bringing a smile to those around him. Ok, the Tim Kennedy love fest is over, people might start to talk, let's get to the interview.
When did you get started in martial arts?
When I was 10-11 years old. Growing up, my mother was very active in her church and was determined to raise civilized and cultured boys. In contrast, my dad was perfectly happy to raise boys who would become real men, not some dainty metro-sexual. My dad was a narcotics officer, a man's man, who traveled a fair amount for work - every time he would leave, my mom would enroll us in dance class, cooking class, anything that might help to tame or soften the knuckledraggers my dad was determined to raise. Every time dad came home he would enroll us in Jiu Jitsu, boxing, bear wrestling, eating the still beating heart of a freshly killed dear - anything he could think of to imbue us with the warrior spirit.
What attracted you to being an MMA fighter?
It was around 1998 when I started to notice that MMA was taking off in popularity, then I realized I'm already doing Jiu Jitsu, wrestling, boxing, and Muay Thai at a fairly high level - I was an MMA fighter before I even knew I was an MMA fighter.
You've trained with John Hackleman at the Pit, what was that experience like?
It was a weird experience. John is an amazing person and a brilliant coach. However, he wanted to control all aspects of my life, which did not work for me. I am a very independent person who views fighting as only one aspect of my life. It was my perception that John wanted fighting to be my entire life. We just have different philosophies on the subject.
Early in your career you had several fights with Jason Mayhem Miller, you each won a fight. Do you think you will get a chance at a rubber match now that Mayhem has signed with Strikeforce?
I better! The first fight was a skull stomping. The first round and a half of the second fight was a skull stomping until he hit me with an illegal elbow. Blood was in my eyes, I couldn't see shit then he lay on top of me and managed to fool the judges into giving him the victory. I just need to put an exclamation point on this so there is no question that I kicked his ass.
Just as your professional career was taking off - you walked away from the fight game to join the Army. What lead to that decision?
I was a dickhead. I was self-absorbed. Everyone was telling me I was going to be a champion and I thought that made me way cooler than I actually was. Watching the Twin Towers fall on 9/11 opened my eyes that I needed to serve. I needed to be concerned with people other than myself. Being a professional fighter was no longer what was important to me.
Tim, what about Special Forces?
Very funny Lex, screw those guys; they're all fat with long hair. Just joking. Being a Special Forces Soldier was one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life. After 9/11 I knew I wanted to be in the Spec Ops community because they were the guys already taking the fight to those responsible for 9/11. I looked into becoming a Navy Seal and a Recon Marine, but the Army had a program called Special Forces Baby which fast tracked me to go directly to Special Forces school. Becoming a Green Beret was the fastest way for me to get to Afghanistan and kick some ass. (click on the Special Forces link to watch a funny damn video that explains my question)
What skills or traits that you learned as a Special Forces Soldier and sniper translate to fighting in the cage?
Perspective. What I did in Afghanistan and Iraq was deadly serious. Being a professional fighter is tons of fun, but it is not life or death and other people are not depending on me to stay alive. When I walk into the cage I'm there to have fun and that's it. Consequently, I am very relaxed, which allows me to be focused on the task at hand - skull stomping!
It has been widely reported that you were awarded a Bronze Star for Valor, what lead to that award?
The nature of Special Forces work is secretive so I'm not at liberty to talk about it. But let's just say I don't like officers, it should have been a Silver Star.
You have a diverse group of sponsors ranging from an irreverent manufacturer of super cool military apparel to the world's leading buyer of gold. How do you choose your sponsors?
The MMA business is evolving as it becomes more mainstream, but there still are some shady people in the business. So I look for sponsors that have excellent reputations that deliver important products or services to their customers and where I have an existing relationship. Ranger Up and Cash4Gold.com both are great companies that are great to work with. I know the people in both companies; I can trust what they say.
You frequently mention an organization called Soldier's Angels; tell me about them.
Soldiers' Angels are awesome! I met them on a trip to Walter Reed with Matt Hughes and the guys from Ranger up. What impresses me about the organization is that everyone in the organization is a volunteer. They are a group of sweet people doing really cool things for our wounded warriors. I'm honored to help further their cause.
You were recently featured on Inside MMA for an event we did together called Train The Troops MMA. What was that experience like?
The recent Train The Troops MMA was the first in what we hope will be many opportunities to use the expertise of professional mixed martial arts fighters to provide an additional level of training that the troops could not get anywhere else. Also, it is a great morale boosting event for both the troops and the fighters. Our first event with the Marines was a huge success. It was an honor to be involved with the project. The Marines were just awesome; they were easy to teach because they were eager to learn. Each and every Marine stepped onto the mat with the attitude that they were going to learn something that may one day save their life when they go down range.
You and Jon Walsh, a Force Recon Marine, 7 time combat vet, and professional fighter were recently featured in what is the funniest youtube video I've seen in a long time. The video revealed recently declassified Spec Ops hand-to-hand combat techniques. What was your favorite move in that video?
Without question it is when we were demonstrating how to kill an opponent with a "wet willie". When I pulled my finger out of Jon's ear I remember thinking "should I lick this? Better not, no telling what kind of Marine funk he has in those nasty ears".
One of my buddies is a Marine GySgt who recently deployed to Afghanistan. What advice would you give him or anyone else that is headed to Indian country?
Keep your friend's close and everyone else at 10 meters - which is an easy shot.
You recently transitioned from the active duty Army to the active duty National Guard. What has that experience been like?
The Texas National Guard has been absolutely awesome to me. My job is to train Soldiers to shoot and fight. However, when I'm not teaching Soldiers, the Texas National Guard gives me a great deal of latitude to travel for fights and training. I am very fortunate to be in the position that I am.
Since your return to MMA you've absolutely manhandled your opponents, what's next for you?
I don't know what Strikeforce has in store for me. It looks like I will be fighting in March of 2010. To be honest, I'm ready to fight right now. I just want to fight good guys and put on fights that entertain the fans.
During your last training camp you spent some time training with some real MMA gurus in the form of Mark Dellagrotte, Matt Phinney, and Tim Burrill. How did that experience impact you?
I went to Boston for a month and worked with some of the best in the business. Each of the guys is a tremendous subject matter expert. Matt Phinney, who is Jorge Rivera's striking coach and an instructor at Rivera MMA is hands down the best striking coach in MMA. Mark Dellegrotte at Sityodtong taught me the finesse and subtle nuances of Muay Thai that most fighters never grasp. And finally, Tim "Panda" Burrill of Tim Burrill Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in Rhode Island is a master of no gi Jiu Jitsu and MMA grappling. The truly awesome part of the experience is that they each were able to translate their respective knowledge into a coordinated MMA plan of attack that allowed me to dominate my opponent.