Since entering the UFC, former Strikeforce title contender Tim Kennedy has wanted nothing more than a tough opponent with a big name who could rocket him to the top of the middleweight division. He got that in his last outing when he stepped into the cage with No. 8-ranked Michael Bisping.
Kennedy is scheduled to step back into the cage at UFC 178 in September against a satisfyingly tough, but low-ranked Yoel Romero.
Romero, the former Olympic medalist, carries a four-fight winning streak into the cage with him against Kennedy. Owner of seven TKOs in eight of his total victories, the Cuban-born wrestler has been on a steady course toward the middleweight crown since first participating in the sport in 2009.
Even at 37, nobody ranked above Romero, including Kennedy, should ever want to fight him—he’s an ever-improving striker who has the luxury of reverting to his world-class wrestling whenever needed.
Don’t let the numbers fool you. Romero’s low ranking among the UFC’s middleweights speaks less about his talents as a fighter and more about the pool of talent the UFC currently harbors at 185 pounds. Of the top six fighters, two have held the UFC middleweight title, two have held the UFC light heavyweight title and two held the Strikeforce middleweight title.
No. 6-ranked Kennedy wasn’t being foolish when he accepted the fight, though. Anderson Silva is still recovering from his leg injury, Vitor Belfort is still dealing with licensing issues, Lyoto Machida and Chris Weidman were busy duking it out at UFC 175, Jacare Souza is busy preparing for his bout with Gegard Mousasi and Luke Rockhold is preoccupied with a broken toe.
Literally nobody ranked higher than Kennedy was available to fight.
And literally none of the available fighters below Kennedy, except for No. 11-ranked Romero, was worth fighting.
It’s possible that a decisive victory over a fighter such as Romero could help Kennedy move closer to the belt. He would be just the second man ever to defeat him and the first one to do so inside the Octagon. Even a less-than-exciting victory over Romero could prove valuable to the Greg Jackson-trained fighter, assuming it’s a grappling-filled victory over an Olympic-caliber wrestler.
It’s absolutely certain that any kind of loss, even a split decision, would all but spoil Kennedy’s immediate hopes at a shot for the belt and move Romero into the top 10.
Kristian Ibarra is a Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report. He also serves as the sports editor at San Diego State University’s student-run newspaper, The Daily Aztec. Follow him on Twitter at @Kristian_Ibarra for all things MMA.
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