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Is Tim Kennedy’s cage rust a cause for concern at UFC 205?

(AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Jacques Boissinot)

Tim Kennedy has not fought since losing to Yoel Romero via third-round TKO back at UFC 178. However, he’s the betting favorite to defeat Rashad Evans at UFC 205 this coming weekend at Madison Square Garden in New York City. It’s a huge spot for the 37-year-old veteran, especially considering Kennedy spends most of his time in Army fatigues. It’s also an opportunity to prove he’s still one of the best middleweights in mixed martial arts today.

After all, Kennedy scored a 3-0 Octagon record before losing to Romero in September of 2014 and holds a five-round decision win over current 185-pound champion Michael Bisping. He’s been one of the more consistent fighters in the division and a guy who can dictate any fight with pressure, persistence, solid ground work and sheer athletic capability.

That said, the Army Sergeant First Class hasn’t competed in over two years. At his age, the long layoff may affect Kennedy one way or another when he steps inside of the cage to challenge a desperate Evans on the biggest stage in the sport. To think Kennedy can reenter the Octagon with his timing, fluidity and confidence intact is a little bit of a stretch. It’s more likely that the former Strikeforce title challenger will encounter some sort of cage rust this Saturday in NYC. But to what extreme?

As mentioned before, Kennedy’s last UFC appearance was a knockout loss to Romero. While Kennedy had the Cuban powerhouse hurt entering the third round of their matchup, Romero was able to spend a little more time on the stool to collect his wits before unloading on the Army veteran and ending him in devastating fashion. More can be said about Romero’s stool time, but that’s irrelevant when discussing Kennedy’s upcoming matchup with a former light heavyweight champion.

Instead, we need to acknowledge the fact that Kennedy suffered his first knockout loss of his career the last time we saw him. Without stepping inside of the cage since UFC 178, the loss to Romero has to be in the back of Kennedy’s mind. It’s something that could slow him down, create hesitation from an offensive standpoint and prevent him from being the same guy who bullied “The Count” and sent Rafael Natal into another dimension.

You also have to consider that Evans, although struggling in his own right, could pose a different threat than what Kennedy is used to. As a guy who hasn’t competed in nearly 26 months, Kennedy would benefit from some sort of divisional familiarity. Unfortunately for him, Evans has never competed at 185 pounds before. He’s making a drop down from light heavyweight after losing back-to-back contests to Ryan Bader and Glover Teixeira and nobody knows for sure what he’s going to bring to the middleweight table.

Evans was one of the more athletically gifted and quick-twitched fighters at 205 pounds when he was in his prime, but he’s now a 37-year-old fighter cutting extra weight to remain relevant. That is a mess to look at for an opponent like Kennedy, especially since he’s coming back from a long hiatus. The uncertainty of what Evans will be able to do at UFC 205 will most likely affect the early stages of Kennedy’s game.

No matter how rusty Kennedy may be when he first sets sail at UFC 205 this weekend, he’s strong enough and savvy enough to tread rough water and find a way to defeat “Suga.” It may not be the pretty win he needs to be considered a serious middleweight title threat entering 2017, but it’s the quickest way to reestablish his name and regain any credibility he may have lost opposite Romero.

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