Army Staff Sgt. Colton Smith attempts a choke against Jesse Barrett during an elimination bout to join the cast of The Ultimate Fighter Season 16 (Photo by Al Powers / Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
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Liz Carmouche, top, grapples with Ronda Rousey during their UFC 157 women's bantamweight championship mixed martial arts match in Anaheim, Calif., on Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013. Rousey won the first women's bout in UFC history, forcing Carmouche to tap out in the first round. (AP / Jae C. Hong)
Illinois Army National Guard Sgt. Neil Magny will fight Seth 'Polish Pistola' Baczynski in Fight for the Troops preliminaries that will be streamed live online. (Robert Zuckerman)
Sgt. 1st Class Tim Kennedy will face off against Brazilian Rafael 'Sapo' Natal in the top card Nov. 6 for this year's Fight for the Troops. (Courtesy photo)
At the first Ultimate Fighting Championship’s mixed martial arts “Fight for the Troops” bout five years ago, Sgt. 1st Class Tim Kennedy was among the sea of soldiers in the crowd cheering on his favorite fighters.
This time he’s the main event.
“This is like coming home for me,” Kennedy tells Military Times OFFduty. He’ll face off against Brazilian Rafael “Sapo” Natal in the top card Nov. 6 for this year’s Fight for the Troops, which will be televised live on Fox Sports 1 from Fort Campbell, Ky.
Kennedy is among four veterans and active-duty troops slated to storm the octagon that night, including:
■Former Marine Liz “Girl-rilla” Carmouche will face off against Alexis Davis. Carmouche made history as the first woman in the UFC. She’s also the first opening gay fighter in mixed martial arts’ equivalent of the NFL.
■Active-duty Staff Sgt. Colton Smith, winner Season 16 of “The Ultimate Fighter,” squares off against Michael Chiesa, winner of Season 15.
■Illinois Army National Guard Sgt. Neil Magny will fight Seth “Polish Pistola” Baczynski in preliminaries that will be streamed live online.
Now in its third iteration, this year’s Fight for the Troops will raise money for the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, a nonprofit that helps wounded troops and their families.
The first Fight for the Troops event was total carnage, even by UFC standards. Held near Fort Bragg, N.C., six fighters suffered injuries so severe they had to be hospitalized.
“It was pretty bloody,” says Kennedy, who served on active duty in Iraq with Special Forces and is now in the Texas Army National Guard. “You put a bunch of professional fighters in front of a military crowd, and they’re going to fight.”
He’s girding for the same level of intensity now that he’s the one in the cage.
“There will be fireworks the whole night,” he promises.
Kennedy says he’s looking forward to his first fight in front of a military crowd since winning the Army Combatives Tournament four years ago.
“It’s going to be awesome. There’s nothing bad about it. I do something great, people are going to scream. I do something not great, and it will be quiet — which both do great things to a judge’s mind.”
In pre-fight smack talking, Natal has told reporters he expects to submit Kennedy, who’s never tapped out of a fight.
Kennedy’s not hearing it. “I’m not saying I’m never going to get submitted ever in my life, but he’s not going to submit me Wednesday night.”
With two fights under her belt in the UFC, former Marine aircraft electrician Carmouche says she learned some valuable lessons from her last bout in July against Jessica Andrade, who she pummeled with a hurricane of punches winning with a TKO in the second round.
“While I came out dominant and with the win, I let her have control for a little bit of that round, and that’s something I don’t intend to do again. I’m going to implement my game plan and stick to it the entire time.”
As for what that plan is, like good opsec, she’s keeping it close hold.
“You’ll have to wait and see.”