The Jake Shields Era has ended.
Saturday night in Houston, Strikeforce will crown a new middleweight champion. While the company originally hoped to hold an eight-man tournament to determine the next 185-pound champion, they eventually landed on a match-up between Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza and Tim Kennedy. The decision suits the Green Beret just fine.
“I’m not a huge fan of tournament formats for a belt,” offered the 30-year-old title contender. “I like tournaments; I think they’re fun, I’ve done a few. The first time I faced Jason [Miller] was in a tournament, I just don’t like them for a belt. A belt has always been the number one or two guys, and the winner of that fight either keeps or has the belt.”
That is the scenario that will take place at the Toyota Center.
While names like Dan Henderson, Cung Le and two-time Kennedy opponent Jason “Mayhem” Miller were amongst those mentioned as potential tournament contestants, Strikeforce made the right decision in putting Kennedy across from Souza to battle it out for the belt. Of the fighters who call the Strikeforce middleweight division home, they are the two most deserving of this opportunity, and Kennedy is looking forward to facing the Brazilian jiu jitsu specialist.
“No one has really gotten to see everything that I have to offer yet. Combined my Strikeforce fighting time is like nine minutes or something,” Kennedy stated. While his math is a little off – he’s spent over 18-minutes in the cage defeating Nick Thompson, Zak Cummings and Trevor Prangley – he’s certainly been impressive thus far.
“All three of those fights were very similar,” continued the three-time Army Combatives tournament winner. “All three of those guys were weak off their back. Now a guy like Jacare, who is actually dangerous (off his back), I’m going to knock him out because I know he can’t take me down.”
That is a bold statement given his opponent’s Brazilian jiu jitsu pedigree.
Souza is a five-time world champion and widely considered one of the best jiu jitsu players in all of mixed martial arts. He won the 77-87kg division of the 2005 ADCC Submission Wrestling World Championships, and finished second to Roger Gracie in the Absolute division that same year. Four years later, he defeated 2007 Absolute division champion Robert Drysdale 2-0 in a grappling superfight.
“Everybody knows what Jacare does really well,” began Kennedy in his assessment of his opponent’s game. “He’s a juggernaut when he’s got top position, and he’s not terrible at anything, but his stand-up’s not great. His clinch isn’t great. His wrestling is good, but it’s not great.
“I think he’s soft when he’s on his back,” continued Kennedy, adding that he believes Souza has been able to get by on his natural athletic talents to this point in his career. “In every way for him, it’s a tough fight for him. In my mind, it’s my fight to lose because I have a whole lot of ways to beat him.”
A victory would make Kennedy the new middleweight champion, and while he relishes the opportunity to compete for the vacant title, a part of him still wishes he could have earned the title the old fashioned way.
“I definitely take the opportunity without any second thoughts,” started the 12-2 resident of Austin, Texas. “But I have a very huge disappointment about not being able to win the belt from the defending champion. I’ve always appreciated the hype that is around the champion who has the belt; he defends the belt, he owns the belt and then he has to go in there and defend it again.
“You have to go in there and you don’t take it to a five-round decision or squeak out a win by leg kicks or wrestling and laying on him – you have to beat the champ – and I like that aspect of it. So yeah, I’m disappointed, but opportunity only knocks a couple times in life and I’m definitely going to capitalize on it.”
Not getting the opportunity to wrest the belt away from the departed former champion puts the winner of Saturday’s title bout in a precarious position. Regardless of how impressive they are in victory, the new champion will surely face countless questions about not having to beat the last man to wear the belt in order to be crowned the company’s top middleweight. The blueprint for putting those questions to rest has already been drawn in Kennedy’s head.
“I’m always going to go out there and put on a good show. Once I have that belt, however many times I defend that belt, I think at some point, somebody is going to have to take their hat off and recognize that maybe [I do] deserve to have it.
“But Jake was an amazing champion and those are some big shoes to fill,” continued Kennedy. “I think that puts a lot of responsibility on whoever wins this fight, to have that metamorphosis to become a really great champion.”
Kennedy is more than ready to accept that responsibility and looks forward to taking the first step on the journey from worthy challenger to respect champion on Saturday night in Houston.