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Melvin Manhoef Says MMA Is His Priority, Expects Epic Fight with Tim Kennedy

After years of constant back and forth shuttling between mixed martial arts and kickboxing, Dutch striking powerhouse Melvin Manhoef is committed solely to MMA in 2011. His year kicks off at March 5's Strikeforce: Feijao vs. Henderson event, when he takes on former No. 1 middleweight contender Tim Kennedy.

Speaking on a teleconference, the 34-year-old Manhoef said while he was not retiring from kickboxing, he would shelve his pursuits in that sport for the foreseeable future while working to round out his MMA game, which has been criticized for holes in his ground defense.

"I've made small changes, more on the ground," he said. "In past fights, I was always trying to bang and knock somebody out, but [now] I give more time to my [Brazilian jiu-jitsu], my wrestling. All the things changed."

Manhoef explained that usually when he spends time trying to improve one discipline -- jiu jitsu, for example -- it comes at the expense of training time for his striking.

Because he would often take an MMA fight and K-1 fight within weeks of each other, sometimes he would enter the K-1 fight not feeling as prepared as he could have because of the time he sacrificed to spend on ground skills.

"I'm going to stick only to the MMA game," he said. "I have to work hard on that. Because if you're betting on two horses, if you don't have all your attention on one, your mind's not 100 percent there. This year, I'm only going for MMA fights, and not standup."

Manhoef has lost two straight in the MMA realm, suffering a first-round knockout at the hands of Robbie Lawler in Jan. 2010 before losing via submission to Tatsuya Mizuno in July.

Though Manhoef has a respectable 24-8-1 record, five of his last six losses have come via tapout. That makes his fight with Kennedy a perfect gauge of how far his grappling skills have come. Kennedy (12-3) has six wins via submission and is known for a powerful ground attack from the top position.

That's just the kind of style contrast that Manhoef is looking for. In fact, he expects the result to rival that of his epic 2006 Cage Rage win over Evangelista "Cyborg" Santos, which is considered by many to be one of the wildest, fiercest, most primal brawls in MMA history.

"He's a tested fighter, an all-around fighter," Manhoef said. "I like when he pushes and comes forward. It's going to be a good fight. I can not predict how I'm going to fight or what I'm going to do. But I think the fight will be so hot that everybody will talk about it like the Cyborg fight again. It's going to be the fight of the night. Or the fight of the year, I think."

It's a strong statement, but one from a fighter at something of a crossroads. He's lost four out of his last six in MMA, and two in a row in K-1. He's a man with something to prove, not just to other fighters or fans, but to himself.

"I want to win, Tim wants to win," he said. "I really want to win. For me it's very important because I want to prove that I'm still here, I'm still strong and I'm still Melvin. For me it has to be a must-win fight."

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