Tim Kennedy still believes he won his initial meeting with Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza last August when the two fought for the vacant Strikeforce middleweight title. If the champion can get through Luke Rockhold in September, Kennedy should get a chance to gain some revenge after earning a clean sweep of the scorecards against Robbie Lawler on Saturday night.
Though he looked more worse for wear than his opponent, Kennedy was clearly the better man in the cage. The 32-year-old soldier mixed up his striking with dogged takedown attempts to keep Lawler off balance and unable to connect for most of the evening. The one good punch Lawler landed split Kennedy on the bridge of the nose, causing a torrent of blood to paint parts of the canvas, and giving Kennedy his catchphrase for the night.
“It’s just blood,” he said to the judges as he climbed off the mat after the bell rounded to end the fight. He repeated the refrain a couple times in the post-fight interview as well, adding he was glad to see the judges score the action, not the physical appearance of the fighters.
Kennedy followed the game plan many expected him to utilize, staying away from Lawler’s power and trying to keep the fight on the ground as much as possible. Though Lawler showed improved hips and his usual solid takedown defense at points, the 29-year-old veteran was once again too one-dimensional to muster much offense. While he was moving well throughout, Lawler rarely pulled the trigger.
Conversely, Kennedy was a ball of energy through the opening two rounds, throwing leg kicks, front kicks and jabs to maintain distance. When he did shoot for a takedown, the decorated Army Staff Sergeant didn’t stop until he dragged his opponent to the canvas. Every time Lawler scrambled and tried to slip away, Kennedy would reach up and grab a hold of him again, pulling him to the mat however he could, earning comparisons to both a wolverine and a mongoose from the Showtime broadcast team.
Though he slowed in the final round due to the damage inflicted on his nose by a left uppercut from Lawler, there was no question Kennedy had earned the unanimous decision in this one. The question now is what’s next?
Kennedy has spoken regularly about wanting to fight frequently and make the most of his time away from active duty with the Army. The problem is that his place at the top of the division and the overall lack of depth on the Strikeforce roster leaves him without an immediate dance partner.
There are very few free agent middleweights on the market, fewer still who would merit an immediate trip into the cage with Kennedy at this stage, and the choices from the Challengers series are even more limited. Kennedy ash earned the right to fight name-brand competition, but outside of Rockhold and Souza, Strikeforce is fresh out of options in the 185 pound ranks.
Having lost to Souza last August, Strikeforce might not be interested in matching the two up again this quickly. It would be the only fight that makes sense for both fighters, but making fights that make sense has never been the key component of putting together fights under the Strikeforce banner.
The best hope for Kennedy may be an upset win for Rockhold. The 26-year-old American Kickboxing Academy product has won six-straight fights and is 7-1 in his career. All his wins have come by finish in the first round, but he’s taking a big step up in competition when he meets Souza in September.
But none of that is Kennedy’s concern. He did his part on Saturday night, dismantling Lawler and leaving the cage with another impressive victory in hand.
The rest is up to Strikeforce.