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9/27/08 11:28 PM
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 What was this doing out on the Underground? I never saw it posted in here.

Combatives champ to turn pro, leave Army
By Michelle Tan - Staff writer

He’s a combat veteran who has turned down invitations to fight in the nation’s top mixed martial arts circuits so he could deploy with his fellow Green Berets.

Staff Sgt. Tim Kennedy has won the light heavyweight division at the all-Army combatives tournaments three years in a row and professes a deep love for his job in the Army.

But his bosses at Special Operations Command won’t let Kennedy fight in professional, civilian MMA tournaments, and this fall, he plans to go on terminal leave and eventually leave the Army to pursue a career in hand-to-hand fighting.

Kennedy, whose enlistment is up Jan. 5, said he considered re-enlisting.

“Special Forces as a whole, our mission is so cool,” he said. “It’s the greatest thing the Army could do ... [and] I would train 20 hours a day if I could.”

So, at 28, with his two passions tugging at him and time running out on two careers built for men in their prime, Kennedy is giving up his Army career after almost five years in uniform.

Kennedy, who is assigned to the 7th Special Forces Group at Fort Bragg, N.C., is not the only soldier in the Army who is heavily involved in combatives or MMA, but, from all accounts, he is among the best and toughest MMA fighters in the Army.

These soldiers, who train daily to step into the MMA ring, struggle to find acceptance in certain parts of the Army as they participate in a sport that for a long time suffered from the perception that its almost-no-holds-barred fights were too brutal.

But MMA has moved into the sports mainstream, largely because of the popularity of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, the world’s leading mixed martial arts association. The UFC is so popular that its pay-per-view events outsold boxing and wrestling in 2006.

And when soldiers fight professionally in civilian tournaments, their presence can be a powerful recruiting tool for the 18- to 24-year-old men who are obsessed with MMA.

The Army does not have a policy prohibiting participation in these types of off-duty activities, said Lt. Col. George Wright, an Army spokesman.

But a Jan. 31 memo signed by SOCom commander Adm. Eric Olson expressly prohibits participation in “commercial, combat-oriented competition events in either personal or official capacities.”

The memo says, “Events prohibited include, but are not limited to, ‘mixed-martial arts,’ ‘cage fighting and combat boxing’ events, ‘tough man’ contests, ‘combat missions’ competitions, survival events, non-Department of Defense competitions pitting special operations forces and other elite government entities against each other, and similar events.”

The ban is in place because SOCom invests a significant amount of time and training to prepare its personnel for arduous missions around the world, spokesman Navy Lt. Cmdr. Marc Boyd wrote in an e-mail to Army Times.

“The intent of the policy is to prevent a non-duty-related injury from temporarily or permanently ending a special operator’s military career,” he wrote. So far, no SOCom personnel have been injured in these types of events, Boyd wrote.

Special operators can request an exception to the policy, Boyd wrote, but officials are unaware of anyone ever doing so.

Kennedy said he was told by commanders that he wasn’t allowed to fight, and he learned a few weeks ago that he could request an exception. He is considering doing so. However, Boyd said, Kennedy would need an exception for every fight, and any exception must be approved by Olson.

Every chain of command has the ability to determine whether its soldiers are allowed to fight, said Sgt. Jeff Yurk, the combatives noncommissioned officer in charge for the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg.

Yurk, who works closely with Kennedy, said the 82nd Airborne “is fully supportive” of soldiers who want to continue combatives training.

“It’s important to remember you’re a soldier first and you’re a fighter second,” Yurk said. “As long as it doesn’t interfere with the mission, absolutely. All of the same attributes that make a great fighter are the same attributes that make a great soldier.”

The Army is missing an opportunity because MMA is considered by some to be an extreme sport, Yurk said.

“It’s a great recruiting tool,” he said. “[And] anytime, for whatever reason, we lose a soldier, a good soldier, a soldier like Tim, who’s a decorated SF soldier, knowing him personally and knowing the things that he stands for, the type of dedication he has, to lose someone like that is a travesty. It’s something that could be prevented.”

Matt Larsen, director of the Modern Army Combatives Program, agreed. He emphasized that combatives is a training tool to prepare soldiers for combat.

“Tim Kennedy is a three-time Army combatives champion,” he said. “He’s an excellent representative of the Army. It’s my opinion that the strength of the Army is in our soldiers, and when people see our soldiers, the Army is better off and we should be encouraging our soldiers.”

Larsen said he would hate to see Kennedy leave the Army.

“He’s an excellent soldier,” Larsen said. “I know he’s turned down large sums of money in order to prioritize his duties as a soldier.”

Title fights in the major MMA associations are worth, at a minimum, thousands of dollars for the fighter, whether he wins or loses, Larsen said.

Big-name fighters such as Chuck Liddell and Randy Couture, both UFC champs, are millionaires.

Kennedy has the potential to challenge Forrest Griffin, the current light heavyweight UFC champ, Larsen said.

“He’s at the level to make enough money to make this worth his while,” he said. “He can already make enough money to make this a viable career. I want to see him still soldiering and doing what he does for the Army’s benefit as well as his own, and that’s what he wants, too.”

Kennedy said his local chain of command has supported his enthusiasm for MMA.

“My local command, my sergeant major and my commander, they definitely supported me as long as it never interfered with our company’s mission, but they could only [do so much to] insulate or protect me from their command,” Kennedy said.

The Army also did not like that Kennedy would earn money — a lot of money, potentially — if he fought in civilian tournaments, he said.

Kennedy, who fights at 185 pounds, said he has twice turned down the chance to fight in the UFC, including a title fight against Nathan Marquardt, who has an MMA record of 29 wins, eight losses and one draw. He had an offer to fight Paulo Filho for the World Extreme Cagefighting middleweight title and is now mulling over an offer to fight Dan Miller for the International Fight League middleweight title.

“What I make in a year in the Army I can make in one fight,” Kennedy said.
9/27/08 11:28 PM
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Kennedy said he doesn’t want to leave the Army.

“Every single cool-guy school that exists in Special Forces, I’ve been to,” he said. “All the ones guys spend their careers to get to, I’ve already been to. It blows my mind that [the Army] would spend that much money [on me]. I definitely want to stay in.”

He added that there are other soldiers in similar positions.

“We love our jobs but we’re frustrated about all the things we can’t do,” he said. “My dream come true would be the Army says, ‘You can fight. Go get all the middleweight titles out there.’ I think I could, given the time and opportunity to train.”

Kennedy, who is a few months away from completing his master’s degree, said he realizes how much impact he can have as a soldier on his audience, on potential recruits, for little money.

“I’m not a NASCAR. They don’t have to spend four grand to put ‘Army’ across my hood,” Kennedy said. “The exposure I could create, relative to what NASCAR can do, put ‘Army’ [on a pair of shorts] on Tim’s butt and just let him go.”

Larsen said the Army could harness Kennedy’s talent and allow him to represent the service while he’s still competitive. Larsen estimates Kennedy has four or five more years of competitive fighting in him.

“It doesn’t make sense at all that we pay civilians to do things that we don’t allow soldiers to do,” he said. “For example, we pay a civilian to drive in NASCAR. Would we let a soldier drive in NASCAR? We pay a civilian to ride a bull. Would we let a soldier right a bull in a rodeo? I don’t think any of our guys are asking to go away from being soldiers. They’re just asking to be able to do this and be soldiers.”

Yurk cited Brian Stann, the current WEC light heavyweight champ. Stann, who continues to fight professionally, was a Marine when he fought in the WEC. He won his first professional fight in January 2006, and only in May of this year did he leave the Marine Corps as a captain, according to a Corps spokesman at the Pentagon.

“The Marines are smart,” Yurk said. “They have always tried to sell themselves as having the greatest hand-to-hand fighters in the world. Whether that’s true or not, perception is reality. But the Army, especially the community that Tim is in — the community of quiet professionals — Tim never has anything on him [when he fights] that says ‘Army.’ He doesn’t promote the Army because they’ve told him not to. The people who know about Tim Kennedy, it’s very rare that they know he’s a soldier.”

If the Army lets him fight as a soldier, Kennedy said, he just wants time to train for some big fights in the pro circuit.

“Let me go train with the best guys,” he said. “When I’m not training, when I’m not fighting, I can do whatever the Army wants me to do. I’ll always be a good soldier.”

In a typical training cycle, fighters train for two months for a fight, then take a month of down time to recover before training for the next fight, which translates into three or four big fights a year, Kennedy said.

“That creates some ample down time to do anything the Army needs, as long as it doesn’t interfere or [isn’t] counterproductive for training,” he said.

As time winds down to his terminal leave and the Army doesn’t appear to be changing its mind about letting him fight, Kennedy said he will return to the career he had before the Army, working in criminal justice and with troubled kids.

He also will return to San Luis Obispo, Calif., where he grew up and where he trained for years with UFC champ Liddell.

“That door is always open for me there,” Kennedy said. “I’ve got to go with the top 10 guys, guys like Chuck, for me to get better.”
10/1/08 11:42 PM
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Member Since: 12/11/07
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Tim's a great dude and this whole thing was unfortunate.

You'll see him back in the cage early 2009, and he's fired up about it.
10/12/08 10:39 AM
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Member Since: 2/18/08
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EliteFightCompany, QandDon
TTT for a great soldier and even better fighter
10/15/08 6:08 PM
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I had been wondering about him---I saw him fight for the IFL and he seemed like a world beater---I can not wait to see him return to the cage
10/20/08 6:50 AM
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 Pipe hitters union

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