Tim Kennedy has been through the hell of war and the enmity of cagefighting, yet it was a friendly training session at his home gym that nearly cost him an appendage.
"I was sparring and my left toe slipped between a space in the mats, and I threw a hard left hook and my toe stayed in the tiny little space while my foot continued to move," he said. "It pretty much tore off my left toe. I had to go and get surgery to put it back on, and now my toe is a good-looking toe."
Kennedy punctuates the story with a laugh, because let's face it, of everything he's seen in his day as a solider and fighter, a partially severed toe suffered while punching someone in the face must rank fairly low on a scale of observed bodily injury and high in level of levity due to cause.
Humor also seems to be part of who he is, based upon the video series produced by his Ranger Up team, including his shot-for-shot remake of the Katy Perry video "Part of Me."
While Kennedy never seems to take himself too seriously, the same can't be said for his approach to his fight career. The decision simply to focus on fighting came after a lengthy deliberation, and resulted in him reluctantly leaving the military in 2009, after his six-year enlistment ran out, with the hope of dedicating himself to MMA and reaching the top of the sport.
Partly because of the anguish that came along with that decision, he feels an obligation to get there, even if the opportunities don't always go his way. In August 2010, he lost a close but unanimous decision to Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza in a Strikeforce middleweight title match.
In the two years since, he's fought only twice, which in itself is a source of frustration for him, along with the overall direction of the Strikeforce promotion. Yet the chance to face champion Luke Rockhold at July 14's Strikeforce: Rockhold vs. Kennedy event offers at least the opportunity to face a worthy adversary.
The toe injury, which was suffered in January, is now of little concern. Kennedy (14-3) was not able to do any weight-bearing on the foot for three weeks, then eased into strength and conditioning and other MMA-related training, and within six weeks, was in full training mode.
By the time the fight goes off, it will have been nearly one year between fights for Kennedy, who last faced live action last July when he beat Robbie Lawler by unanimous decision. Rather than be a cause of concern for Kennedy, the time away has only built his anticipation.
"I'm super excited to fight, especially for the title, especially [against] another very talented athlete," he said. "I've had a lot of breaks, long breaks, some longer than others in my career. Whether I was deployed or just waiting on another fight like this instance. That’s fighting. Sometimes you get a lot of fights, sometimes you gets few. I'm just excited I have one right now."
The feeling is mutual for Rockhold, who recently voiced criticism for Team Greg Jackson game plans, and challenged Kennedy to meet him in the middle of the cage.
"The fact is, if you come for my belt, I won't take it lightly. I'm going to punish you," he said. "Time to make a statement. If you come for my belt, it's not going to go that easy for you."
Kennedy has spent much of his adult life preparing for hostile environments. Judging from the fact that he can laugh at his own nearly severed toe and himself dressed in drag, it seems unlikely that a few uttered words would get him to alter his battle plan, and he hinted as much when discussing Rockhold's criticisms.
"Fortunately for the fans, this fight has two guys that are really well-rounded. I think Luke is a good wrestler, a good jiu-jitsu practitioner, he's a good kickboxer. It's not one where I'm fighting a one-dimensional fighter. This is a fight that has to take place in a whole bunch of different aspects of MMA. It’s going be from start to finish a great fight. I don't think you can prepare one single way for this fight. I think there are some areas I have to push Luke in, and some areas that he's very dangerous in and I should avoid. And that's how I'm going to show up to fight."
A temptation to return to active duty has gnawed at him since making the decision to leave the Army and concentrate on fighting. That's still true today, but with the clock ticking on the 32-year-old's athletic prime and his second title opportunity providing more pressure to win or risk a long road back to the top, it's now or never.
"This is what I said I was going to do, and I have dedicated myself to this," he said. "I have to accomplish as much as I can before I move on."