It's difficult for Kennedy (11-2) to say which career he's more proud of. He feels like he's accomplished more in the military, he says. Becoming a Green Beret, an Army Ranger, and a Special Forces sniper, earning a Bronze Star for valor – those are achievements that bring a special kind of satisfaction.
"But at the same time," Kennedy notes, "ten days after Ranger school I got a two-day notice to fight Dante Rivera in the IFL, and taking a fight like that after being in Ranger school for two, three months, and then going in there and knocking him out, that's a pretty good feeling too."
The downside to Kennedy's military career, at least for fight fans, is that it's led to somewhat sporadic competition (not counting his multiple victories in the Army Combatives tournament) over the last two years. He fought only twice in 2009, and not at all in 2008, making him one the brightest MMA prospects to see so little MMA action.
But on Wednesday night in Los Angeles he returns to the Strikeforce cage for the first time in nearly nine months to face journeyman Trevor Prangley (22-5-1).
The bout signals what may be the beginning of a new era for Kennedy, who says his role with the Texas National Guard now affords him the chance to train full-time and focus solely on his MMA career for the first time since enlisting in the Army in 2003.
"I've only really been fighting full-time for a couple of months, and I'm really excited to see where this is going to go," he says. "Special Forces is totally supporting me doing that. They see the big picture. They realize that right now I'm in my athletic prime, and I really want to go out there and compete and see what I can do."
The bout with Prangley, a decorated amateur wrestler who's fought in every organization from the UFC to the "Kickdown Classic" and everything in between, should provide just such an opportunity for Kennedy to find out what he's capable of.
While Kennedy credits Prangley's toughness and experience and admits that the South African-born fighter might have the edge in the wrestling department, he doesn't expect the fight to turn into a slow grind.
"He's hard to finish, he's strong, and he's one of those guys that can take a beating and keep coming. That's the kind of guy I'm looking forward to facing," Kennedy says. "I think my explosiveness and my cardio, my athleticism, are all going to play a big part. I'm not a guy you can grind away at. I'm not some guy you can take down and wear out and wait for me to get tired and then pick away at me. You have to finish me, and I'm a hard guy to finish."
With a win over an experienced and respected fighter like Prangley, the doors to the top tier of MMA competition may finally fling open wide for Kennedy. He doesn't regret the time he's spent away from the sport while serving his country, he says, but that doesn't mean he isn't eager to test himself in the crowded Strikeforce middleweight division.
There's even one familiar foe in particular that he's keeping an eye on, and that's Jason "Mayhem" Miller, who Kennedy split two closely-contested fights with earlier in his career.
"I would love to fight him again. I was really not happy with that last fight, both with my performance and with some of the things that happened during the fight. Another fight would be a lot of fun."
For Kennedy, a man who knows what it's like to be in a battle with much more at stake than a number on his professional record, 'fun' might the best word to describe why he keeps coming back to MMA. It's an opportunity to test himself, to revel in the competition. The military may have kept him from pursing a pro fighting career with the same single-minded focus that many of his peers have, but it doesn't mean it's hindered his athletic career at all, he insists.
"I've loved every second. Since I enlisted in 2003, I've had nothing but success in every aspect of my life. I can only attribute that to my experiences in the military," Kennedy says. "Some things that I've been through in the military have been really painful, and yeah, they sucked really bad. From Special Forces school to SERE school to Ranger school to sniper school, those are not fun things to go to.
"But there's a sense of achievement in doing them and then getting to go out to a place like Afghanistan with this extra set of tools that you've learned, that's when you feel like you really love what you do and you're doing good things."
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