The UFC has worked closely with the United States military for the past decade to show their appreciation for the commitment and sacrifices made by the men and women in uniform who protect this country.
In addition to UFC fighters visiting American military bases around the globe for seminars and training programs, in 2008, the promotion rolled out Fight for the Troops events that seek to raise money and awareness for soldiers suffering from brain trauma suffered during combat.
On Wednesday night, the Octagon rolled through the Army base at Fort Campbell, Ky. for their third installment of Fight for the Troops series.
With the United States military being the focus of the night, the setting was perfect for Special Forces Weapons Sergeant and Green Beret Tim Kennedy to return to action. The former Strikeforce title challenger was coming off a unanimous decision victory over Roger Gracie at his official UFC debut at UFC 162 in July, and he was looking to build further momentum when he squared-off with Rafael Natal on Wednesday night.
The surging Brazilian stepped in on late notice for Lyoto Machida, who was tapped to face Mark Munoz at Fight Night 30 on Oct. 29, and with Kennedy having an established name in MMA, "Sapo" saw the fight as the perfect opportunity to take a huge step up the middleweight ladder. Yet, with Kennedy fighting in front of his brothers and sisters in arms, getting through the sniper was going to be a tough task. And one Natal ultimately wasn't capable of accomplishing.
The 30-year-old Gracie Fusion fighter found early success by mixing up his striking attack, but a leaping left hook from Kennedy put him flat on the canvas and brought an end to the fight in impressive fashion.
Where the typical UFC event is open to the public, the card at Fight for the Troops 3 was specifically put on for the soldiers currently serving at the Army base. The intimate nature of the setting created a raucous environment for a solid night of fights. The action inside the small cage was as "in your face" as it gets with every punch, kick, knee and spinning elbow that landed echoed off the Army garrison walls in Fort Campbell.
From Derek Brunson kicking off the show and nearly Brian Houston's head in the opening bout on the card, to Kennedy pinging Natal with a blazing left hand, Fight for the Troops 3 brought the noise.
Let's take a look at the good, bad and strange from FFTT3.
Tim Kennedy has been on a mission for respect. Despite competing for the Strikeforce middleweight title on two occasions during his stint with the now-defunct San Jose-based promotion, the 34-year-old California native has been consistently overlooked in the 185-pound collective.
He set out to turn the tide on that issue when he faced Roger Gracie at UFC 162 in July. But once again, despite Kennedy earning the unanimous decision victory over the world-class grappler, there wasn't much acclaim to be had in the aftermath.
On Wednesday night at FFTT3, Kennedy swung the momentum in his favor as he salted hard-nosed Brazilian Rafael Natal in the first round of their tilt in Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Natal was able to keep the war veteran off balance with his striking in the early going, but a perfectly timed left hook put Sapo on the mat and staring up at the lights in the Army garrison.
While Natal was a late replacement for Lyoto Machida and didn't carry a high ranking in the division coming into the fight, the fashion in which Kennedy put him away should serve to get the wheels moving on his push upward.
Of the group of women who became the first to officially sign with the UFC, Alexis Davis was on the low end of the name recognition scale. The scrappy Canadian was known by the hardcore portion of the MMA fanbase for putting on gritty, high-paced affairs, she but was overshadowed by the higher profiles carried by fighters like Ronda Rousey and Miesha Tate.
This circumstance forced the "Ally-Gator" to take the hard road to a title opportunity. That said, judging by the way she's handled the opposition inside the cage, it doesn't appear Davis minds having to do some extra leg work to get to the top of the mountain.
After defeating Rosi Sexton in her debut at UFC 161 back in June, the 29-year-old added a big feather to her cap by outworking former title challenger Liz Carmouche during their co-main event scrap at FFTT3. Davis used a technical approach in her striking game to keep the former Marine out of rhythm as she picked apart Carmouche in route to a unanimous decision victory.
With two Octagon victories under her belt, Davis puts herself firmly on the title radar in the women's bantamweight division. Rousey and Tate are two months away from settling their feud at UFC 168, and that timeline will most likely put Davis at least one win away from a title opportunity. With former No. 1 contender Cat Zingano still recovering from knee surgery, a bout with recent debutante Jessica Eye would make sense for Davis' next fight.
Yoel Romero is a monster. The former Olympic silver medalist took another big step in establishing himself as a mixed martial artist as he brutalized Ronny Markes with a vicious overhand left that brought their tilt at FFTT3 to an abrupt halt. Twice he's fought under the UFC banner and both times has violently separated his opposition from their consciousness.
The 36-year-old Cuban is simply a beast inside the cage, and with that established, let's keep things moving.
Where the prospect label can create a unique amount of pressure, but Rustam Khabilov doesn't seem to be affected in the slightest. The 27-year-old Russian has looked lights out in his two showings under the UFC banner and carried a five-fight winning streak into his bout with Jorge Masvidal.
There was some heat created in a pre-fight build up as Masvidal took shots at the Jackson's MMA-trained fighter's record, but Khabilov kept his cool throughout the fight. While Khabilov's grappling is his primary strength, it was his striking that made the difference against the Floridian, as he got the better of "Gamebred" in the majority of their exchanges.
The fight took a big turn in the third when "The Tiger" landed a perfectly timed spinning heel kick that sent Masvidal crashing to the canvas. The American Top Team fighter was able to recover and finish the fight, but the damage had been done, and Khabilov took the unanimous decision victory on the judge's scorecards.
The victory makes it three straight inside the Octagon for Khabilov and will put him closer to the next tier of the lightweight division.
Coming off the first loss of his professional career to Jorge Masivdal at UFC on Fox 7 in July, Michael Chiesa has had a bad taste in his mouth. Not only did he suffer his first setback under the UFC banner, but he basically did so in his own backyard of Seattle, Wash.
The 25-year-old came into his bout with Colton Smith at FFTT3 looking to get back into the win column, and after weathering some early adversity, he accomplished the task in impressive fashion. Chiesa hit a huge throw that put Smith on the mat. With the Army Ranger dazed, Chiesa locked in a rear naked choke where a Smith tap ended the fight.
The featherweight division has quickly become one of the most competitive weight classes under the UFC banner, and Dennis Bermudez continued his climb to the next tier by defeating Steven Siler at FFTT3. "The Menace" fought like an animal as he kept a high pace and non-stop pressure on Siler throughout the 15-minute affair, and he picked up a unanimous decision victory in the process.
The New York native has now collected five consecutive victories and his will guarantee his next opponent will come with an established name attached.
Staying with the theme of unleashed wild beats, Francisco Rivera certainly proved to be exactly that against George Roop. "Cisco" is known for his heavy hands, and he put them on the rangy bantamweight at will during their tilt on the preliminary portion of the card.
After a back-and-forth opening round, Rivera stung Roop with an uppercut in the second that spelled his demise. As the Tuscon native attempted to scramble to safety, the 32-year-old Californian poured on the violence as he swarmed in with a barrage of punches to secure the finish.
With the victory over Roop, Rivera's record under the UFC banner moves to 3-0-1 under the UFC banner. The only blemish on his record during this run came when his knockout victory over Roland Delorme at UFC 149 in July of 2012 was overturned due to Rivera failing his post-fight drug test.
Fighters in MMA don't get paid by the minute and Derek Brunson earned a lightning-quick payday at FFTT3 as he submitted newcomer Brian Houston 48 seconds into the bout. After landing a head kick that dropped Houston to the canvas, the South Carolina native pounced and sunk in the fight ending rear naked choke. The win over Houston makes it back-to-back victories for Brunson as he moves to 2-0 under the UFC banner.
Yancy Medeiros came into FFTT3 looking for his first win inside the Octagon, and he accomplished that task by defeating savvy veteran Yves Edwards. The 26-year-old Hawaiian starched the American Top Team fighter with a crisp counter uppercut to earn a first round knockout victory.
Amanda Nunes became the first woman to win two fights (chronologically speaking) inside the Octagon as she defeated Germaine de Randamie in the first round of their tilt on Wednesday night. “The Lioness” smothered de Randamie from full mount where she dropped a torrent of elbows that forced referee Herb Dean to call a stop to the fight.
While the future appeared to be bright for Colton Smith after winning the 16th installment of The Ultimate Fighter, things have taken a sharp turn south for the 26-year-old in 2013.
After suffering a knockout loss at the hands of Robert Whittaker at UFC 160 back in May, the Army Ranger came into his bout with Michael Chiesa at FFTT3 looking to get things back on track. With the bout taking place at the Army garrison at Fort Campbell, the setting appeared to be ideal of Smith to make a triumphant return to the win column, but Chiesa had other plans.
Despite Smith finding success and coming close to locking in a fight-ending choke in the opening frame, the season 15 TUF winner reversed the momentum in a big way in the second. Chiesa hit a throw that planted Smith directly on his head, and before the Texan could regain his senses, "Maverick" sunk in a choke of his own and ended the bout.
The loss to Chiesa on Wednesday puts Smith in a tough position as he's now dropped back-to-back showings inside the Octagon. While two losses won't cost him his place on the UFC roster, it certainly puts his back against the wall and will create a huge sense of urgency in his next outing.
There are few fighters in the current era of MMA more loved by their peers than Yves Edwards. The American Top Team staple has built a storied career where he's faced a collection of the best fighters to ever compete in the lightweight division. His 16-year journey has taken him to every major stage in the sport, including multiple runs under the UFC banner.
Unfortunately for the "Thugjitsu Master," his most recent stint with the UFC may be coming to an end as the 37-year-old was defeated by Yancy Medeiros at FFTT3. The loss to the young Hawaiian was his third consecutive setback inside the Octagon as he has now put notches into the loss column in four of his last five showings.
Where his two previous losses during this stretch came via split decision, the first-round knockout he suffered on Wednesday night was far from the look he needed. When the depth of talent and highly competitive nature of the lightweight division is factored into the equation, Edwards could have a very difficult time holding on to his roster spot following his loss to Medeiros.
On a brief and final note, I have to throw a quick entry into this category to referee Mario Yamasaki. While the long-time official handled the bout between Yoel Romero and Ronny Markes in solid fashion, allowing the Brazilian to take an unnecessary bomb before he stopped the fight was a bad look.
As soon as Romero's left hand landed, Markes' soul drifted up into the ether, and there was no need for the Nova Uniao product to take one last shot before Mario waved it off.
The matchup between Bobby Green and James Krause was a highly anticipated bout featuring two of the lightweight division's most talented prospects. Both were coming off victories in their official Octagon debuts, and their showdown in Fort Campbell was expected to be fireworks.
Unfortunately for all parties involved, the exact opposite transpired.
Despite the action getting off to a solid start with each fighter landing in exchanges, Green cracked Krause deep below the belt, which brought a temporary stop to the bout. After the Grindhouse MMA fighter recovered, it was only a matter of moments before a second low blow from Green found its mark and dropped Krause to the canvas.
For the second infraction, referee "Big" John McCarthy deducted a point from Green and instructed him to keep the kicks up to avoid further penalization. Krause was given a few minutes to recove, and once he regained his bearings, the action resumed. But only for a brief clip, as a third Green kick below the belt put Krause face down on the mat writhing in pain.
McCarthy waved his hands, signaling an end to the fight to which it initially seemed would be a disqualification victory for Krause. Yet, as confusion hung heavy inside the Octagon, McCarthy announced Green's kick was legal and awarded him the victory via TKO.
Despite Krause's protests and commentator Joe Rogan pointing out the third kick actually did hit the cup before reaching the belt line, the fight had officially been stopped, and the decision would be official. While the action inside the cage goes down at a rapid pace and McCarthy is one of the best referees in the game, the video review in the aftermath clearly points to a botched call on his behalf.
That said, with Krause basically giving himself up following the kick, and McCarthy seeing it as a legal strike, he had no choice but to call an end to the bout.
The result is undoubtedly a strange situation and an unfortunate ending to what should have been one of the event's best scraps.
The final entry into this dubious category comes with the overall theme to the event and the military ties to a handful of fighters involved on the card. Of the competitors with military experience, only Tim Kennedy found his way into the victory column on Wednesday night. The Army Ranger gave his fellow soldiers something to cheer about while Liz Carmouche, Colton Smith and Neil Magny all came up short in their bids to claim victory at FFTT3.
Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report.
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