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Preview – Zeroed In – Tim Kennedy

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Photos By Q Concepts

Outside the Octagon

Tim Kennedy Has Never Shied From a Fight, Be it as a UFC Fighter or U.S. Army Special Forces Sniper

It is 9:42 p.m., and Tim Kennedy is just wrapping up a grueling 60-minute session with an opponent inside Gracie Humaitá Austin, in Austin, Texas, after teaching a self-defense class at the school. It is the same place where he received the coveted Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ) black belt, fulfilling the longstanding martial arts aspirations of an 8-year-old boy from Central California. He’s far removed from the currently drought-stricken region he once called home, and from that lanky adolescent frame as well; it’s safe to say that he has been even further removed on many other occasions.

After a quick break for water, Tim recounts his former disdain for the belt, stemming solely from the charity and “sponsored” black belts other high-profile mixed martial arts (MMA) athletes have had thrown at them and subsequently accepted over the years. Choosing instead to wear a pink belt for eight years “with other black belts’ blood on it,” Tim all but eschewed BJJ until he met Paulo Brandau and Royler Gracie, who reaffirmed his own belief that a black belt should be earned, not given. “My dad always had this saying,” Tim says while eating an apple the next morning en route to Best of The West Shooting Range on the Austin outskirts of Liberty Hill. “‘Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.’”

No doubt, then, that it must have taken all the strength in the world for his proud father not to smile during the young boy’s first deer hunt, when Tim had a clear shot on a young buck, but chose to pass by simply saying, “I want to wait for an older one.” Of course, the Kennedy patriarch was probably less proud when the teenaged Tim decided to part with the classic car the two built together in favor of a lowered Geo Storm, complete with neon lights and a subwoofer big enough to provoke a California fault line. “Man, I regret that decision so much,” Tim says laughing. “He knew I was going to do what I had to do and from that moment on, he knew he had me.” Still, fighters often “do what they have to do,” and Tim is certainly no exception.


A standout in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), Tim has beaten some of MMA’s best and brightest in the middleweight division, becoming a headline fighter himself over the years. During his early training sessions in California, Tim fought alongside household names like Chuck Liddell and Jake Shields, in addition to sluggers such as Nick Diaz and Gilbert Melendez. Plus, he’s beaten the likes of Rafael Natal (a dangerous BJJ black belt), Michael Bisping (the winner of The Ultimate Fighter 3 and a former Cage Rage light-heavyweight champion), and Robbie Lawler (the No. 1 contender for the UFC welterweight title and a former EliteXC middleweight champion). All admirable feats for sure, but none of them compare to the praise that can be bestowed on Kennedy’s fights outside of the octagon.

After answering the altar call of Sept. 11, the wayward young Tim not only found his purpose in life, he found himself — as a member of the U.S. Army Green Berets as an 18B (senior Special Forces weapons sergeant). “I had no excuse to be the way that I was. I had an amazing dad, an amazing mom, an amazing brother, an amazing sister — and then there was me. So after Sept. 11, I found myself standing in front of a recruiter’s office, trying to find out how I could get on the first plane over there,” Tim says of his initial decision to enlist.


RECOIL: What made you want to serve your country by enlisting in the U.S Army?

Tim Kennedy: I was a douchebag, I think, if I had to summarize myself as a particular type of person. [Laughs.] I was a pro fighter, smart kid, just finished my undergrad studies. I was doing really well in MMA, and I was a bouncer. I just had all of these characteristics of a horrible person. My typical Thursday night was spent wondering what time was I going to get off, what jeans was I gonna wear, and what girl was I gonna hook up with. But then something happened when I saw these planes crash into a building in New York City. I had this moment of reflection; maybe it’s like an out-of-body experience where you get a snapshot of your life. You’re like, “I’m a useless human being. If this is all I’m gonna do in life, then why am I here on this planet?” I had one of those moments. If I didn’t find some direction, in five years, I knew I’d be doing the exact same thing. I wanted to do something significant.

What was the process for making it to the Special Forces?

T.K.: It took like 18 months for me to get the Special Forces contract. That’s called an 18X; it’s the Military Occupation Specialties (MOS) classification for the chance to go to Special Forces selection. If you get through basic training, if you get through infantry school, if you get through Airborne school and pass a course called SOPC, which is a Special Operations Preparation Course designed to get rid of anybody who is marginal, you get your chance to be in S.F. I got through those and went straight to Special Forces selection. We were one of the first few classes of this new 18X program, and we started with 480-something dudes. Not saying that some of the others didn’t graduate later, but of that first group, only 90 of us initially made it. We then got selected to make it to the Q Course [Qualifying Course], which is another training that lasts anywhere from eight months to two years.

What made you want to try to become a professional MMA fighter after your service?

T.K.: I was a pro fighter before I enlisted in 2003, and I was top 10 in the world in ’01 and ’02. A lot of the guys I grew up training with were from the California fighting scene — guys like Chuck Liddell, Nick Diaz, Jake Shields, Gilbert Melendez, and those guys were all becoming UFC champions. When I was in Iraq, I saw Chuck Liddell win the belt, and I was like, “Oh shit, I trained with him a lot.” I saw Jake Shields win his second belt when I was in Afghanistan, and in a way, I was torn between the two worlds. I loved my service and knew I was doing what I was supposed to be doing, but when it looked like I was going to get out, I just felt I had to give it my best shot, which I did.


You are active in a few philanthropic efforts. Can you tell us about the organizations you choose to work with?

T.K.: One of my favorites is Ranger Up, which is a pro-military apparel company that I helped to establish eight years ago. I met Nick Palmisciano in ’06 and I liked the themes of the apparel he was working on, so we decided to take a “veteranpreneur” stance with the company. Working alongside our COO, Tom Amenta, we raise money to hire a veteran, so we are veteran owned and operated. We then select potential beneficiary employees by asking for business plans from veterans who want to be entrepreneurs. They give us their résumé and business plan, and before we decide to invest in them and their plan, they have to come and work for us at Ranger Up for six months. They learn how to run a warehouse, how to do customer service, how to do marketing and advertising, how to do design, how to do billing, how to balance the books, and so forth. They see all of these pieces of the business so they can be prepared for their own endeavors. At the end of the six months, we then invest $100,000 into their idea. We are on our third successful project right now. As our fundraising contingent continues to grow, I’m sure there will be even more. For incentives, we’ll offer different fundraising packages, like a full, all-expenses-paid trip with me to one of my fights. It’s been a great program so far, and I believe it will only continue.

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