Army Sgt. 1st Class Tim Kennedy’s path to UFC

Army Sgt. 1st Class Tim Kennedy will fight Roger Gracie on July 6 in his Ultimate Fighting Championship debut. (Colin Kelly/Staff)

Army Sgt. 1st Class Tim Kennedy will go into the octagon July 6 for his debut Ultimate Fighting Championship bout with a painful reminder of his first fight as a pro mixed martial artist nearly 12 years ago. It’s right there staring him in the face every time he looks in the mirror.

That scar above his right eye came when his opponent cut him wide open in the first round. Kennedy wanted to keep fighting, but he was spilling so much blood that the fight was stopped in less than three minutes. That was Aug. 31, 2001.

No doubt, Kennedy has felt the sting of defeat. In the years since, he has fought twice for the Strikeforce promotion’s middleweight (185-pound) championship title and lost both bids.

Sweat like a pro: Get Tim Kennedy’s hard core workout, here.

But just like the U.S. 12 days after that first fight, Kennedy knows how to pick himself up off the mat and come back with a vengeance. Indeed, he’s won 15 out of 19 pro fights, most by knockout or submission, many with the brutal efficiency of a first-round victory.

“That’s part of my military character, I think,” Kennedy said. “You back one of us into a corner and you can only expect one thing: us coming at you like wild, rabid dogs. We’re not going to quit, and if we underperform or you hit us when we’re down, we’re just going to come at you even harder.”

Kennedy enlisted in 2004, earning both Ranger and Special Forces tabs before deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan. Since leaving active duty a few years ago, he’s continued to serve in the Texas National Guard, where he is now a sniper and combatives instructor for the state’s newly forming special ops unit focusing on Africa.

“If you’ve been hit, if you’ve been put down, if you’ve lost, that next time you come out, you have to make a testament, you have to make a demonstration, a showing that it’s not going to happen again,” Kennedy said.

It’s that kind of passion that earned him a slot in the UFC stable. He was picked up by professional MMA’s equivalent of the NFL when Strikeforce shut down this year.

That’s also the passion he’s bringing into his upcoming battle, which will air on Pay-Per-View, against Roger Gracie. Yeah, one of those Gracies. If you know MMA, you know that name. Roger Gracie’s grandfather founded Brazilian jiujitsu, creating a martial arts dynasty that has included some of the most influential figures in the sport.

“There’s so many of them,” Kennedy said with a laugh. “But of this generation of Gracies, Roger is without a doubt the most talented of them all. He has more world titles than any grappler on the planet. He is the best grappler on the face of the earth right now.”

With a 6-1 record since becoming a pro MMA fighter, the 6-foot, 4-inch Gracie is a seven-time world champion in jiujitsu.

Gracie recently described Kennedy’s endurance, his ability to keep his foot on the gas throughout a match, as one of his opponent’s “most dangerous” weapons.

Kennedy “is known to be strong physically, too. I need to be equal with the gas to him so he tires first,” Gracie told Brazilian MMA website Tatame. “He is a dangerous athlete and, perhaps, the best guy [on the] floor that I will face in my career.”

The respect is mutual.

“We have a healthy respect for each other,” says Kennedy. “He knows that whether it’s a 15-minute fight or a 25-minute fight, I am the same in the 24th minute as I am in the first minute. I hit hard and I’m hard to take down. It would be a real bad idea if he came into our fight out of shape.”

Niceties aside, Kennedy wants this fight to send a message.

“The Gracie name is legendary in MMA and jiujitsu. With that said, I think they belong on a jiu-jitsu mat, not in the cage,” he said. “The statement I want to make to the entire family is you probably don’t want to fight in MMA.

“I want this to be a demonstration of how different the sports of jiujitsu and MMA are. Of course they complement each other, but I want every single Gracie from this fight forward to say, ‘Maybe I’ll just go do jiujitsu tournaments instead.’ ”

Jon Anderson is a staff writer for OFFduty.