A Strikeforce reunion will take place in the middleweight division as Tim Kennedy (15/04) and Roger Gracie (06/01) square off in their UFC debuts and look to send a message within a weight class that is crying out for new stars. When this match up was announced it raised a few eyebrows, as most expected the Strikeforce crossovers to be paired with established UFC veterans in order to build their profile within the organization. Nevertheless as the fight draws closer it presents the intriguing prospect of a distinctly well-rounded fighter in Kennedy facing a gifted specialist in Gracie, who continues to improve in all areas of his game, having transitioned over from competing exclusively in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
Fight Breakdown –
Although Kennedy is extremely well versed on the ground (eight of his wins coming by submission) and Gracie continues to make great strides on the feet, it cannot disguise the fact that each man must look to contest the fight where their opponent will feel least comfortable and regardless of Kennedy’s success in the grappling realm he would be foolhardy to embrace that game when faced with one of the most decorated submission fighters in the world, just as Gracie would be playing with fire if he chose to strike with the former Green Beret.
Kennedy has impressive wins over the likes of vaunted sluggers Melvin Manhoef and Robbie Lawler yet has fallen just short when faced with the elite of the division, dropping decisions in championship fights to Luke Rockhold and Ronaldo ‘Jacare’ Souza. Yet with those defeats there comes a greater experience, allied with a more versatile skill set than that of his upcoming opponent. Every fight begins on the feet and this is where Kennedy must shine, using that greater familiarity to frustrate Gracie when he inevitably shoots in for the takedown and punish him on the feet with his superior striking arsenal. If he can use his wrestling to remain standing for the majority of the contest he will have opportunities to impose his boxing, which could prove his key to victory.
It has been reported that Gracie has learned from the experiences of previous BJJ standouts like Demain Maia as well as his own devastating knock out loss to Muhammed ‘King Mo’ Lawal and will look to use the other nuances of his game to facilitate his phenomenal Jiu-Jitsu skills, with which few in the division can compare, rather than try to match opponents in all departments. If Gracie can effectively use his reach and apply his brand of suffocating pressure, he will be able to keep Kennedy on the defensive and frustrate the Greg Jackson trained fighter.
Why It Matters –
After twice challenging for the Strikeforce middleweight title and with a background within the military in which he still actively serves, you sense Kennedy feels a little undervalued and underutilized since making the leap over to the UFC, but he now competes on a card spearheaded by Anderson Silva and faces a man with a name synonymous with mixed martial arts. A win over a Gracie would represent a stellar achievement and help to solidify his status on the UFC roster, particularly after his recent remarks regarding UFC fighter pay.
Thirty-one year old Roger Gracie enters the octagon as the fourth member to represent his family within an organization they helped establish and follows in the footsteps of the legendary Royce, Renzo and more recently Rolles. With the name Gracie, there comes an added sense of expectation and pressure so it will be fascinating to see how the latest Gracie UFC graduate deals with this extra dynamic, as he looks to earn his place among the top contenders at 185lbs.
Kennedy is the more complete fighter but this is a particularly dangerous match up for him, as he prefers to take opponents down and dominate from top position. He will be hard pressed to implement this strategy against Gracie and so it will depend heavily on whether he can keep things upright long enough and do significant damage in the process. I expect Gracie to implement his game plan more effectively and do enough to get his hand raised come announcement time.
Gracie via unanimous decision.
Tags: anderson silva, Demian Maia, Greg Jackson, Luke Rockhold, Melvin Manhoef, Mixed Martial Arts, Muhammed "King Mo" Lawal, Renzo Gracie, Robbie Lawler, Roger Gracie, Ronaldo Jacare Souza, Royce Gracie, Strikeforce, tim kennedy, UFC 162