This is an intriguing bout because it will test how well Tim Kennedy can fight doing something other than what he likes to do. Kennedy’s game is to take his opponents down and attack with a mixture of strikes and grappling offense. It’s a game that has worked very well for Kennedy, as his only clear loss in Strikeforce was to the much bigger Luke Rockhold. In this fight, however, Kennedy will have to think very hard about taking down Roger Gracie, a man who just might be the best grappler in the world.
Gracie has a career record of 65-7 in submission grappling, including a 3-2 record against Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza and wins over a who’s who of grapplers such as Marcelo Garcia, Demian Maia, Fabricio Werdum, Robert Drysdale, and many others. What’s even more remarkable is that Gracie has never actually lost by submission. In mixed martial arts, Gracie’s application of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu usually results in a submission victory within a couple minutes of taking the fight to the ground.
As impressive as Kennedy is on the ground, he’s out of his domain if he chooses to take Gracie down. A much better game plan for him would be to stand and trade with Gracie, whose striking is rudimentary by MMA standards. Don’t be fooled by Gracie’s 88-47 edge in significant strikes; most of those strikes were landed after Gracie took the fight to the ground. When Gracie was forced to trade strikes against Muhammed Lawal, he was knocked out towards the end of the first round.
Kennedy hasn’t shown any kind of knockout power yet in his career, but he should prove to be the better technical striker in this match. Against Luke Rockhold, who is a very impressive striker, Kennedy was very competitive despite having a significant height and reach disadvantage. It’s not ideal for Kennedy to be forced to strike most of the time, and he only did so against Rockhold because he was unable to land consistent takedowns.
Against Gracie, Kennedy’s striking should be enough to win the fight. The question is one of whether Kennedy can stop Gracie from taking him down. In that respect, Kennedy will be playing a different role than he is accustomed to. With that said, Kennedy’s takedown defense has largely been impressive in Strikeforce. His effective takedown defense rate is 82 percent, a very high number for any fighter, especially one who is relatively small for his weight class as Kennedy is.
I feel that Kennedy should be able to win this fight. Gracie doesn’t have the wrestling pedigree to take Kennedy to the ground, and lacks the striking to be much of a threat on the feet. At the same time, there are a couple potential pitfalls for Kennedy. One is that Gracie might not need repeated takedowns; he might only need one to get a submission finish (although Kennedy should be tougher to submit than the likes of Anthony Smith and Kevin Randleman). Another is that there’s no guarantee Kennedy will fight with a smart game plan. It’s possible that he’ll choose to take Gracie down. If he does so, he’ll enjoy the benefits of top position, but he’ll be playing with fire. Still, as long as Kennedy fights smart, I see him as the favorite to win this match.
Pick: Tim Kennedy by decision