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Kennedy knocks out Natal

Brett Okamoto
November 7, 2013 « Rodriguez handed first England call-up | Chartbeat test »
Tim Kennedy knocked out Rafael Natal © Getty Images
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A decorated service member in the U.S. Army, Tim Kennedy (17-4) scored one of the biggest wins of his career at a special UFC event held on Wednesday inside a military base at Fort Campbell, Kentucky.

A perfectly placed lead left hook scored Kennedy a knockout victory against fellow UFC middleweight Rafael Natal. Referee Herb Dean stepped in with just 20 seconds remaining in the round, handing Kennedy his first knockout win since 2007.

"Moments before I threw the left hook, I heard [my coaches] - they called for it," Kennedy said.

"Instinctively, I listened. I did what they want. At [Jackson's Mixed Martial Arts], we want finishes. This is what we do; we finish fights."

Kennedy trains under coaches Greg Jackson and Mike Winkeljohn, among others, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He fought for the Strikeforce 185-pound title in August 2010 but came up short in a decision loss to then-champion Ronaldo Souza.

A few more victories like Wednesday's, and Kennedy could find himself fighting for the UFC title.

The 34-year-old got off to a sort of rigid start - understandable, considering the atmosphere. Kennedy has a strong military background as an Army Ranger and a Green Berets sniper.

Moments into the UFC Fight Night 31 main event, the crowd started a loud chant of "Ranger up." Natal (17-5-1), however, dictated the majority of the first round. He threw his punches in combinations, landing an early left hook at the end of a three-punch series. At one point, he swept Kennedy off his feet with a leg kick.

Kennedy remained calm and continued to walk Natal down, as is his style. With less than 30 seconds remaining in the round, Kennedy landed the left hook to Natal's chin that dropped him along the fence.

Dean gave Natal a chance to recover, but he was out cold from the initial shot. After two follow-up punches from Kennedy, Dean moved in to stop the contest, much to the joy of the crowd.

"I'm 100 percent overwhelmed," Kennedy told the crowd. "Your guys' job is infinitely harder than anything I can do in here. You guys are my heroes."

Kennedy improves to 2-0 in the UFC middleweight division. He recorded a one-sided unanimous decision over submission specialist Roger Gracie at UFC 162 in July.

Natal, who had been on a three-fight win streak, falls to 5-3-1 in the Octagon. He replaced Lyoto Machida on short notice in this fight, when Machida was moved by the UFC to another card.

Alexis Davis beat Liz Carmouche by unanimous decision © Getty Images
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Earlier in the night, Alexis Davis looked every bit a UFC title contender in a unanimous decision win over Liz Carmouche.

Davis (15-5) terrorized Carmouche's lead leg with an inside kick throughout the 15-minute contest. That kick opened other offensive opportunities for Davis, who took the bout by scores of 30-27, 30-27 and 29-28.

"I feel like I'm on a high right now," Davis said. "She is such a tough fighter and all of her losses are super close, so I knew I was in for a really challenging fight. All the pressure was on her fighting in front of the troops, but I relish the underdog role. This was a big win for me. I can't wait to get back out there and perhaps fight for the title in the near future."

World-class wrestler Yoel Romero is proving to be a pretty solid striker, too.

Romero, 36, added another knockout to his martial arts résumé, dropping Ronny Markes with a hard left hand at the 1:39 mark of the third round. Romero (6-1), who won a silver medal in the 2000 Olympics as a member of the Cuban wrestling team, has recorded knockouts in all six of his MMA wins. He began fighting professionally in 2009.

"I want to give thanks to the U.S. for the opportunities they have given me in my career," Romero said after the bout. "I am an optimistic person and I knew I could overcome anything. It is a great blessing to be fighting in front of the troops of such a great country. I am very proud right now."

Violent takedowns had been Rustam Khabilov's greatest weapon in the UFC thus far. He showed a new one in his latest win Wednesday. Khabilov (17-1) remained unbeaten in the UFC with a unanimous decision over Jorge Masvidal. All three judges scored the lightweight bout for Khabilov, 30-27, 30-27 and 29-28.

Known primarily as a physical grappler, Khabilov pulled an awkward, spinning wheel kick out of nowhere in the final round to drop Masvidal. He also opened the fight by landing a winging overhand right.

"This was a hard night, hard fight and hard training went into this camp," Khabilov said. "This was the best camp I've ever had. I've been working on the 'Tiger' kick you saw me land with my coaches. I'm happy I was able to use it in the fight. I'm very happy with my work tonight."

Michael Chiesa recorded the eighth submission victory of his career, tapping Colton Smith via rear-naked choke 1:41 into the second round.

"I felt like this was a fight to defend my 'Ultimate Fighter' title," Chiesa said. "He was a champ, I was a champ, this was a big fight for me. Also, to do it in front of the troops was a huge honor. Colton is one of their guys, and I'm overwhelmed by the support they still gave me."

Michael Chiesa submitted Colton Smith © Getty Images
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This article originally appeared on ESPN.com
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