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[Interview] Tim Kennedy talks Michael Bisping's 'classlessness' & rivalry origin

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Tim Kennedy’s third UFC bout is his second headliner on free television in the Octagon. It also stands to be his biggest fight to date, given the rivalry he’s developed with Michael Bisping (24-5; 10-5 UFC) over the years.

When the middleweights collide for the “TUF Nations” finale Wednesday night at the Pepsi Coliseum in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada live on FOX Sports 1, Kennedy (17-5; 2-0 UFC) will bring at least three years of animosity into the cage against Bisping—a 19-fight, seven-year UFC veteran.

Kennedy’s friend Jorge Rivera mixed it up with Michael Bisping in Australia in February 2011. “The Count” disposed of Rivera a shade under the seven-minute mark in truly controversial fashion. First, Bisping caught Rivera with an illegal knee to a downed opponent. Then after finding his way to a technical knockout, Bisping spit on Rivera’s cornerman—another friend of Kennedy’s—Matt Phinney.

“Now we’ve gone down this rabbit hole of idiotic classlessness,” Kennedy recalled to Examiner.com on Monday's episode of Majority Draw Radio . “He’s just lived up to it since then.”

Kennedy, a 13-year MMA veteran, didn’t arrive in the UFC until last year. That’s when the Strikeforce crossover found attaining a grudge match with Bisping to be a real possibility.

“He’s always been on my radar,” said Kennedy. “We’re both middleweights. We’ve kinda always been ranked in the same vicinity. Especially now that I’m in the UFC, now that I’m in the UFC, the moment you come into the UFC, you jump up 10 spots in your rankings. I’m eight now. He’s five. It’s an inevitable fight that has to happen.”

The bad blood between Kennedy and Bisping left for little negotiating before the bout. It happened almost instantly. According to Kennedy, he told UFC President Dana White this during their contract talk:

“I only want a few things: I want the UFC to keep giving back to the military. I want you to start using me as one of your marquee premier athletes, and in doing so, give me a big fight like Michael Bisping.”

Instead of a fighter “like Michael Bisping,” White offered Bisping.

With only two fights in the UFC, Kennedy, a two-time Strikeforce 185-pound title challenger, believes a win over Bisping proves he’s a viable contender for the UFC’s middleweight crown.

The 34-year-old sees Bisping as a strong third notch in his UFC win column. Despite all the personal beef, he knows Bisping has stuck around the big show for nearly a decade for good reason. Kennedy enters the contest a slight underdog. That’s fine by the Army’s Bronze Star Medal recipient. He is confident in a path to victory. In a fight where emotions run high, sticking to a course of action is something the war veteran can get behind.

“If the fight hits the mat, I’m going to have a major advantage there,” he said. “He’s going to be leery of being there with me. I think people underestimate his wrestling. It’s surprising. It’s good. He has a great double leg, but he’s nowhere in the league of where I am as a grappler. I realize it’s a fight, but I want the fight to be in the areas I excel at, and he’s deficient in.”

(Additional reporting and contributions to this story made by Danny Acosta)

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