Buzzing on Yahoo Sports:

Why I joined the military and why I chose to return to MMA

By Tim Kennedy

Yahoo Sports
MMA: UFC-Fight for the Troops-Kennedy vs Natal
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Nov 6, 2013; Fort Campbell, KY, USA; Tim Kennedy (red gloves) celebrates his win against Rafael Natal (blue gloves) in the middleweight bout during UFC Fight for the Troops at Fort Campbell. (Joshua Lindsey-USA TODAY Sports)

Middleweight contenders Tim Kennedy and Michael Bisping will settle their score in the Octagon in a five-round main event at The Ultimate Fighter Nations: Canada vs. Australia. In the meantime, they'll be trash-talking one another with blogs on Yahoo Sports.

I just read Michael Bisping's Yahoo Sports blog about his struggles returning to the Octagon after his eye injury, and candidly I empathize. Mike and I may not be BFFs, but I know how much any person who achieves this level has given for the sport. I know the sacrifice, the sweat and the hard work. I know how all-consuming it is; how it starts to define you. For Mike, leaving this sport is a catastrophic end. I can imagine him thinking, "What am I, if not a fighter?"

I used to be more like Mike than I care to admit.

Before I enlisted, I was a rising star on the California MMA circuit. I was training at the Pit and I was a regular training partner of Chuck Liddell, Glover Teixeira and all the bad asses of the day. I had wins over Jason Miller, Diego Sanchez, and a host of others. I lived the fighter lifestyle. I was incredibly selfish. Everything was about me. My training. My nutrition. My needs. I was going to be UFC champion. Nothing would stop me. I was a fighter. The idea of "reducing" myself to any station other than that of a fighter was unfathomable. It would have broken me.

Then September 11, 2001, rocked my world. For the first time, I questioned my value and came to the conclusion that I wasn't truly a contributing member of society. I decided I had to do more and enlisted in the 18X program and became a Special Forces Operator. Quickly, I realized something that was very hard to handle: I wasn't the best at everything. In fact, there was a whole lot that I sucked at. Not only were people not catering to me, but they were reminding me in brutal fashion that I was a liability. I needed to perform better – not for me, but for my team. If I couldn't, they didn't want me because a failure on my part could cost us our very lives.

I worked harder. My focus began shifting. I stopped worrying about the magical, most amazing, most talented, best-looking, incredible guy ever named Tim, and started worrying about my teammates. I trained for them. I pushed for them. I bled for them. And at some point, I was no longer just a fighter. I had become a soldier.

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Tim Kennedy reacts to his win during a UFC Fight for the Troops card at Fort Campbell. (USA Today)

On one mission I had shrapnel blow through my right shoulder and the base of my neck. Fortunately for me, the injuries were not severe, but in the moment that it occurred and I realized that I was injured my thoughts were simply, "God, I hope I can still fight on. I hope I won't let me teammates down." I'm not saying that to make me sound special. It's the same thing you will hear from every single person who has been wounded in combat. But I contrast that to who I was before – the guy who needed fighting for his own sense of self worth. If I had an injury in the old days, my life fell apart because I couldn't train, because I couldn't fight, because the world I liked most wasn't available.

That's what Mike just went through and I know that was hard. And he rightly stated that I am a soldier first and a fighter second. The insinuation there is that I am less dedicated, less motivated, and frankly less of a fighter than Mike. The reality is simply that my motivations are different.

I almost didn't come back to fighting. Yes, I love it, but I love the Army more. I fought on the side, in regional matches and between deployments, for a few years, never expecting to pursue that dream again. It was my friends who pushed me to try. My teammates loved that I could hang with top guys. They told me I should go for the UFC. They were my training partners. Guys who had only trained Army Combatives and had never known a top gym showed up every day to prepare me. They didn't all have the skillsets of professional fighters, but they sacrificed for me, took lumps for me, pushed themselves past their limits to make me better. They inspired me.

When the moment came to make the decision about being a full-time soldier or a full-time fighter, I had all but made up my mind to give up fighting. It was my friends who asked me to go this route. It was my friends who told me that I could do more for the Army fighting and beating the best in the world than staying in the active duty force.

I'm still torn up by my decision. I don't know if I was right or wrong to leave, but I do know that my new mission in life is to be the absolute best fighter that I can be, to enter every competition in the best shape and with the best preparation that I can muster. I am committed not simply to winning, but to never letting the men and women of the United States Armed Forces down. I am no longer the selfish kid looking for adulation and personal glory. I'm a man who wants to showcase the warrior spirit that every soldier, marine, airman, and sailor possesses on the largest stage possible, because I believe they deserve that honor.

I'm glad that Mike has overcome a great challenge to arrive at our fight in Quebec. It will only make him stronger, and that's exactly what I want, because when I see my old self across the cage on April 16, I plan on giving him the beating he so richly deserved.

 

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