August 3 2011 Last updated at 11:56 AM ET
WHY TIM KENNEDY WON'T STOP TALKING ABOUT THE
MILITARY, EVEN IF YOU WANT HIM TO
Kennedy took to the center of the cage to give his
post-fight remarks after winning a decision over
Robbie Lawler at Saturday night's Strikeforce event,
you could almost hear many MMA fans rolling their
Here he goes again.
It was more stuff about the
military. More stuff about the soldiers
who are in "real" fights overseas, even
calling out a wounded solider who he'd
brought into the cage with him. At best,
some critics said, it was cloying. At
worst, opportunistic self-promotion on the
backs of fellow soldiers. Just thank your
sponsors and move on. Why does it have to
be about the military every time?
Kennedy's heard it before.
like people are kind of resentful of me
because it," he told MMA Fighting this
week. "I don't mean to throw it in
people's faces. I was actually reading on
Sherdog[.com] and there was like 400
comments under the thread line that said
something like, 'Does anybody else want to
kill themselves when they hear Tim Kennedy
talk about the military?' That was the
whole thread, and there were something
like 400 comments of people saying, 'Yeah,
I hate it so much every time he brings it
It's not every MMA fan, of
course, and some mind it less than others.
But for a certain segment of the
population, Saturday night's display was
another example of Kennedy playing up his
own background as an Army Ranger and Green
Beret sniper as a sort of pro wrestling
gimmick, using wounded soldiers as his PR
Tim Kennedy Post-Fight
It's funny, though. To the man
supposedly being used as a prop that night
-- SFC Mike Schlitz -- it felt very
"It's an honor that he
would point me out, but at the same time
it was very humbling," said Schlitz. "It
was really his moment to shine. To put it
off on me really just shows you the kind
of character Tim has."
watched Kennedy's fight against Lawler,
you probably noticed Schlitz standing in
the cage with Kennedy afterward. He was
the one with the wide grin and the
prosthetic arms. He was the one who
Kennedy pointed to when he reminded the
crowd that, while he may have left some of
his blood in the cage, there were people
overseas who were sacrificing far more for
the sake of their country.
one of those things where, okay, I just
beat Robbie Lawler, who's been a top-ten
guy at 185 [pounds] for probably the last
four or five years," Kennedy said. "I
controlled the fight exactly according to
the game plan, but then standing in the
cage with Mike was humbling and made what
I did completely irrelevant. Like it
couldn't even matter, just because Mike
was in the cage with me."
story is nothing special. Just another
wounded soldier tale, the kind we've all
seen and read over and over again for
years now. Your typical boy-meets-war
story. You know how it goes.
a directionless youth. Boy joins the army
at 19. Boy gets blown up by a roadside
bomb in Iraq. Boy burns alive. Boy loses
hands. Boy is medically discharged after
14 years of service. Boy returns home. Boy
must begin a new life, now with prosthetic
arms and burns over most of his body.
worth a few minutes of TV time during
something as an important as an MMA fight,
obviously. Nothing worth getting worked up
If we did have a second to
spare, however, Schlitz might tell us
about what happened on February 27, 2007
that changed the rest of his life. That
is, if we cared to hear it.
"It was a pretty standard day," said
Schlitz. "We were in the southern Baghdad
area doing a basic road-clearing mission.
The mission is, find the IEDs. There's
only two ways that happens: either it
finds you or you find it first.
Unfortunately, it found us that day."
The it that found them on this
particular occasion was a bundle of two
artillery shells attached to a propane
tank. When it went off, it destroyed
Schlitz's vehicle, killing the three other
soldiers who had been inside with him and
throwing Schlitz clear of the blast.
"Unfortunately, I never lost
consciousness," he said. "When I hit the
ground I kind of looked up at my vehicle,
and I could see it was on fire, but I
didn't see my guys anywhere. My initial
reaction was to run for my guys, but as I
got up and was nearing the vehicle that's
when I could tell that I was on fire. I
felt the flames hitting my face, and I
noticed that the flames were right on my
torso. I took my gear off, hit the ground
to roll, basically burning alive. You get
to the point where your muscles heat up so
much that they basically lock up on you.
"I was just face-down in the dirt,
burning alive. In my head, I thought I was
done at that point. But then I could hear
my guys yelling that they were coming, and
I felt that fire extinguisher hit me. I
still say it's one of the weirdest
feelings. It's a moment that's hard to
explain, because you have two sensations.
You have the sensation of that coolant
coming over your body, like you're being
burned, but then you also know you're
being saved. It was very emotional. All my
guys on the ground that day did an
extraordinary job. I'm here because of
Once the medevac
arrived, Schlitz was put into a
medically-induced coma. He doesn't have
another memory for four months. His hands
and arms were burned so badly that the
doctors thought the best option was to
amputate both arms above the mid-forearm
area and fit him for prosthetics.
"Coming out of it, at that point they had
to tell me, hey, you lost your hands and
been burned severely. I'm all bandaged up.
My vision's bad. I'm wearing goggles. I'm
sure you've heard about amputees having
that phantom limb thing, where they can
still feel the limb even after it's gone.
That's how it was. As they told me I
thought, I have my hands. I can feel them.
It took me a while to realize how bad I
was. It was probably a year after the
incident until I finally saw myself in the
mirror. That's when you have the moment of
realizing, okay, I'm injured."
physical side wasn't even the hardest
part. That, Schlitz could deal with. The
prosthetics proved to be pretty adaptable.
Today, he can use them to do just about
anything that a person with hands can do,
he said. The mental challenges were
through their different phases. You want
to blame the world, blame the enemy, or
maybe you're just angry. Maybe you don't
even want to blame somebody, but you're
just angry that it happened. That's when
you fall in this depression, where you
don't want to do your workouts or your
physical therapy. You may not even want to
eat. At some point there has to be
something in your life that makes you want
to shoot for those things again."
For Schlitz, that something was his unit's
impending return from Iraq. His guys, as
he calls them, were coming home. He was
still in a wheelchair, bandaged from head
to toe, and he didn't want them to see him
"That motivated me to
get out of the wheelchair and start
walking. Once I was walking, I didn't want
to stop there. Then I wanted to start
running. Once I could run, I wanted to be
able to go back to Iraq and visit the
guys. Last year I went three times to
visit the troops."
Trips like that,
and like the one he made to Chicago to see
his buddy fight Lawler, those aren't just
social outings. It was nice of Zuffa to
get him cageside seats, and even nicer of
UFC V.P. of Community Relations Reed
Harris to escort him into the cage after
the fight, he said, but it was more than
just a sporting event for him.
"Going to the fights, getting out and
doing those things, it motivates me to
have something to get out and do on my
own, and that's important."
Schlitz first met
Kennedy at a Ranger reunion about a year ago. Since
then they've stayed in contact, in part because they
run in many of the same circles. While Kennedy still
works with fellow soldiers, helping to train snipers
and teach things like room-clearing techniques even
when he's fighting full-time, Schlitz sits on the
board of directors of Gallant Few, a non-profit
organization that helps veterans transition back into
"The three major things facing
veterans right now are homelessness, unemployment, and
veteran suicide," Schlitz said. "This is our way of
helping to mitigate those numbers, just by finding
someone for those guys to talk to, get them integrated
back into their communities by helping them find a job
or write a resume. You get a guy like me who joined
the Army at 19 and spent a good bit of time in the
military, he gets out and he may have never done a job
interview in his entire life. We make sure that he
gets caught up on those things."
But let's be honest, these aren't the things people
want to hear about when there's prizefighting to be
done. Hence the backlash when Kennedy brings it up.
Hence the forum threads and snarky Twitter rants. Not
only are these types of stories a downer, they're not
even sufficiently novel anymore.
ten years of wars, we've heard about so many wounded
vets who have been forced to rebuild their lives that
it's too mundane to seem special anymore. Even the
tales of their injuries are no longer sufficiently
horrifying for us, which is itself horrifying in a
The wars go on, the soldiers get
blown up, but back home we prefer to keep our pro
sporting events free from such interruptions. Tell us
about your sponsors, fine. But don't go off on this
military thing again. We were having such a good time.
For Kennedy, the fact that people are sick of it
is precisely what motivates him to tell them, again
"I think people already have
forgotten," he said. "It's not like I have a
responsibility to do it, but I'm very passionate about
it and I know people have forgotten how many guys we
have overseas, how many guys are messed up, and how
much these guys are sacrificing."
who doesn't have Kennedy's celebrity pulpit, the focus
is on helping the people who are still coming back
from the wars, whether the rest of the country
remembers them or not.
"It's something you
can't always talk about," he said. "That's where that
disconnect comes with civilians and the military,
because there's no way to actually verbalize it and
have someone comprehend what you've seen and what
It's even harder to talk about
when no one back home wants to hear it.