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Tim Kennedy on Michael Bisping: He's a dirty fighter

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Esther Lin

Tim Kennedy's not afraid to admit that in one sense, he's grateful for the opportunity to fight Michael Bisping.

"The Count," after all, is one of MMA's most sought after opponents. If you get a date with the bombastic British middleweight, your profile will inevitably be raised.

"I think everyone from 170 to 205, there are probably heavyweights out there who are like ‘I'll fight Michael Bisping,'" said Kennedy, who meets Bisping in the main event of the TUF Nations Finale in Quebec City on April 16. "I'm fortunate because he's a really good fighter. He's a long-time, perennial, marquee UFC contender."

But that's where the good words for his foe end. Bisping has made it plain in recent weeks that he doesn't like Kennedy, and on Monday's edition of The MMA Hour, Kennedy returned the favor.

"I don't like the guy," Kennedy said. "It's just another opportunity for me, it's just, every time he opens his mouth, it's just, this makes it so easy for me to want to hit him."

On a recent MMA Hour appearance, Bisping went on the offensive. First he made fun of a video in which Kennedy appeared in a dress, stating he was "acting like a queer."

Kennedy, when played the tape of Bisping's statements, more less laughed them off.

"I'm have to going to give a little credence to his word, I never wanted to say this before, Michael Bisping might be right about something," Kennedy said. "I should not dress up a woman. Queer? Is that negative? Is he supposed to be insulting me with that? I don't know what that homophobic comment has to do with anything."

But then Bisping went for the jugular, questioning Kennedy's commitment to a fight career. Bisping noted that fighting is his only identity, while Kennedy is known equally as an Army Ranger and a professional fighter.

This time, Kennedy wasn't giving an inch in his response.

"His identity is completely encapsulated with being a fighter," Kennedy said. "That's not who I am. I fight because I like it, I'm good at it and I've always done it. I've been a martial artist, like him, since I was a kid. Six, seven years old I started doing karate. Moved into Japanese jiu-jitsu when I was 10. I love it. But he's totally right. He's a fighter first. That's not me. I'm a family man. I love my family, I love my wife. I'm a soldier, I put my family and my country first over anything, any day."

And Kennedy isn't afraid to lob back a few verbal grenades of his own. The way he sees it, Bisping is first and foremost a dirty fighter.

"I don't know him personally," Kennedy said. "I've never gone and had a drink with him, or chatted it up, or rubbed elbows at a party. So I can't speak to what he's like outside the cage at all. The only thing I know is how he fights. ... Not just spitting on opponents, not just kneeing downed opponents, etc. etc. etc. He always eye gouges. He always kicks to the groin. He always grabs shorts. He always grabs the cage. He always lifts his arm over the top of the cage. Not habitually, but always. Every fight, he does it. He's a dirty fighter."

As for how he might mitigate Bisping's perceived dirtiness when they get into the Octagon, Kennedy says it starts with officiating assignments.

"I'm hoping we have a strong reffing presence," Kennedy says. "That does make a difference. There's a big disparity between having guys like Big John McCarthy and Herb Dean in there that are aggressive."

Beyond that, it's about keeping your cool under fire.

"You have to be mentally prepared for him to do dirty things," Kennedy said. "I can't freak out when he grabs my shorts. i have to be aware of him trying to poke me in the eye with his fingers."

Of course, this is more than just a grudge match for Kennedy. It's also the fight which could parlay him into middleweight stardom. Kennedy has gone 5-1 in a span dating back nearly four years, with his only loss in that time a decision against Luke Rockhold. With three straight wins and two in the UFC, Kennedy knows what a win over Bisping would mean.

And it helps that he's training for the bout with Jackson's MMA in Albuquerque during a busy month for the gym. Campmates Jon Jones and Travis Browne are also appearing in April main event bouts, and the enthusiasm is carrying over.

"Everyone is on top of each other making sure that everyone is doing the right thing," Kennedy said. "Diets are right, schedule's right, it's just focused. It's the machine right now. So many good guys there, you can't get away with anything."