The night belonged to Tim Kennedy. | Ed Mulholland/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images
One can only imagine the electricity that was flowing through Tim Kennedy.
Kennedy knocked out Gracie Fusion’s Rafael Natal with a leaping left hook and follow-up punches in the first round of their UFC Fight Night 31 “Fight for the Troops 3” headliner on Wednesday at Fort Campbell in Hopkinsville, Ky. Natal (17-5-1, 5-3-1 UFC) met his end 4:40 into round one, his modes three-fight winning streak a thing from the past.
“I’m 100 percent overwhelmed,” Kennedy said. “[The military’s] job is infinitely harder than anything I could do in here. I don’t deserve to be here. I love you guys so much. You guys are my heroes.”
The Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt enjoyed some success early, as he tagged Kennedy more than once with straight punches and left visible damage to his legs with heavy kicks. Kennedy (17-4, 2-0 UFC) was only biding his time. With Natal moving backward late in the first round, the Jackson’s Mixed Martial Arts standout uncorked a wicked left hook, and it had the desired effect. Natal fell to the ground in a semi-conscious state, and Kennedy finished him off with a series of jackhammer blows to the face.
“Moments before I threw that left hook, I heard coach [Mike Winkeljohn] say, ‘Tim, throw it,’” Kennedy said. “Instinctively, I listened to my coaches, and I did what they wanted. This is what we do. We finish fights.”
Leg Kicks Carry Davis Past Carmouche
In the co-main event, Alexis Davis hobbled Liz Carmouche with a series of inside leg kicks en route to a unanimous decision in their women’s bantamweight duel. All three cageside judges sided with Davis (15-5, 2-0 UFC): 30-27, 30-27 and 29-28.
Carmouche (9-4, 1-2 UFC) did not have an answer for the Canadian’s kicks. The one-time title contender had her moments -- she opened a horizontal cut above Davis’ left eye with a right hook in the second round -- but spent far too much of the match moving backwards and attempting to shield her lead leg from further punishment. Davis was the aggressor throughout the 15-minute fight, as she controlled the center of the cage and attacked Carmouche with multi-punch combinations and knees from the clinch, in addition to the leg kicks.
“It was incredible the first time, but it’s starting to feel more like home now,” said Davis, who has won her last four fights. “I knew it was going to be a war. She’s tough. Watching her last fight, I saw she came out [southpaw], so we were ready for that.”
Olympic Medalist Palacio KOs Markes
Markes (14-2, 3-1 UFC) surprised the Olympic silver medalist with a pair of first-round takedowns. However, the Nova Uniao representative had no answer for Palacio’s straight left. Over and over again the punch found its mark, snapping Markes’ head back and making its presence known.
The Brazilian upped his aggression in rounds two and three, but outside of a right straight and a few body kicks, he lacked the firepower necessary to give Palacio pause.
Early in the third round, Palacio closed in, fired his left over the Markes defenses and floored his adversary where he stood. Markes remained conscious but was in no condition to defend himself. Two standing-to-ground punches fell next, forcing referee Mario Yamasaki to intervene.
Fast-Rising Khabilov Outpoints Masvidal
Heavily hyped Jackson’s Mixed Martial Arts representative Rustam Khabilov did not disappoint, as he captured a unanimous decision over Jorge Masvidal in a lightweight showcase. All three judges scored it for Khabilov (17-1, 3-0 UFC): 30-27, 29-28 and 30-27.
Masvidal (25-8, 2-1 UFC) forced the Russian to rely on his standup for much of the match, holding his own in the clinch and countering most of his attempted takedowns. The American Top Team veteran leaned on a stiff jab and thudding kicks to the body, particularly in the first and second rounds. Masvidal even surprised Khabilov with a trip takedown with roughly 90 seconds left in round two.
Khabilov found a home for his overhand right and racked up points with combinations to the head and body. In the third round, he connected on the most significant blow of the fight: a spectacular spinning back kick to the neck that sent Masvidal crashing to the canvas. Khabilov pounced to finish, but his experienced foe weathered the storm, regained his wits and returned to his feet. Still, the damage was done.
Chiesa Choke Submits Smith
Michael Chiesa submitted fellow “Ultimate Fighter” winner Colton Smith with a second-round rear-naked choke in a featured lightweight scrap. Smith (3-3, 1-2 UFC) conceded defeat 1:41 into round two, as he tapped out for the first time in his career.
Smith struck for a takedown in the first round, only to see the “Maverick” sweep into mount. Chiesa (10-1, 3-1 UFC) eventually threatened with the rear-naked choke, but his resilient counterpart scrambled to his feet. Once upright, Smith transitioned to Chiesa’s back and fished for a standing rear-naked choke of his own. The 25-year-old Washington native escaped and sent the fight to a second round.
In round two, Chiesa delivered a basic but devastating judo throw, dumping Smith on his head. Left in a dazed state after crashing into the canvas, Smith was unable to defend the rear-naked choke that came next. The tapout followed.
“He was pressuring hard,” Chiesa said. “You just step across and hit the throw. That’s textbook judo, and then I went to my go-to: the rear-naked choke. He was coming in hard. He’s a pressure fighter. I felt it, and it was a perfect opportunity for me to step across and hit the throw. He kind of bellied out, and you can’t make that mistake with me.”
More UFC Fight Night 31 »
• UFC Fight Night 31 Prelims: Controversial Kick Propels Green Past Krause
• UFC Fight Night 31 Play-by-Play