The welterweight spotlight shines on champion Georges St-Pierre and interim title-holder Carlos (Natural Born Killer) Condit on Saturday at UFC 154.
But the 170-pound division will also be impacted by the co-main event at Montreal’s Bell Centre, which sees Martin (The Hitman) Kampmann face Johny (Bigg Rigg) Hendricks.
Kampmann, for one, believes the winner of his fight should get the next title shot.
“I hope so. I can’t see anybody else that would deserve it,” he said. “All the wins that both me and Johny have, I think it should definitely come down to being a No. 1 contender fight. There’s nobody else in the division that can claim the same run that we’ve had.”
Kampmann (20-5) and Hendricks (13-1) have been on a roll of late.
Kampmann, whose record includes a 2009 victory over Condit, is coming off wins over Rick (The Horror) Story, Thiago (Pitbull) Alves and Jake (The Juggernaut) Ellenberger.
Hendricks, a former NCAA champion wrestler at Oklahoma State, is riding a win streak that has left T.J. Waldburger, Mike Pierce, Jon Fitch and Josh Koscheck in his wake. Fitch and Koscheck have both challenged GSP for the title.
Kampmann and Hendricks used to train together in Las Vegas at Xtreme Couture. Hendricks was helping Kampmann with his wrestling. Kampmann offered tips on striking in return.
“We were hanging out a little bit to, so we know each other fairly well,” said Kampmann. “But I still feel confident I’ll get the win though.
“It’s not going to hold us back in the cage. We’re still going to try to beat each other’s heads off. But that’s going to be set aside afterwards. When we’re in the cage, we’re there to fight.”
In addition to his wrestling prowess, Hendricks has heavy hands — he needed one punch and just 12 seconds to stop Fitch, who had a five-inch reach advantage. But Kampmann is the better technical striker.
“He swings kind of reckless sometimes. That will leave openings for me to exploit but at the same time, if you get caught by those punches, it’s going to hurt,” said Kampmann.
“But I feel good. I’ve been caught with big shots before and I’m going to keep fighting either way. I’m prepared to take a punch. But of course, I’d prefer to do all the punching and not getting hit.”
The 30-year-old Dane, who now calls Las Vegas home, is 11-4 in the UFC. A former middleweight who dropped down to welterweight, his record might be even better if the judges had looked on him kinder in close fights against Diego Sanchez and Jake Shields.
He says he’s tired of talking about those fights, although he remains mystified how anyone could give the decision to Sanchez — who looked like he had been in a car crash after the fight.
“It’s in the past and I can’t change the past. But I can look forward and I’m on a good winning streak and I’m onto better things.”
It helps explain Kampmann’s aggressive approach in the cage, however. He has four fight bonuses to his credit.
“I don’t want to go to the judges’ decision,” he said. “I’ve had poor experience going to the judges so I come to finish fights and that makes good fights. Sometimes unfortunately it also leaves myself a little bit in harm’s way but if you want to put your opponent away, sometimes you;ve got to take some chances and go for the kill.”
Kampmann can be his own worst enemy. He has a big heart and rarely steps back. That means he can be drawn into a brawl.
“Sometimes I do make it a little bit more exciting that I want,” he acknowledged. “Sometimes I seem to need to get punched a little bit before I wake up. But once I get hurt or get knocked down, that’s when I go to auto pilot and that’s sometimes when I seem to fight the best.”
And win or lose, it’s rare that Kampmann finishes a fight without leaking blood.
Given that track record, it helps that Kampmann is durable. After a decent start against Alves, he was getting the worst of it before locking on a third-round guillotine choke.
Kampmann is active when it comes to submission attempts. His 21 attempts are tied for sixth in the UFC.
He was in trouble early against the hard-hitting Ellenberger, who knocked him on his butt within the first minute and busted up his face early in the second round.
“I needed some stitches and I’ll be honest with you, he had me rocked pretty good too,” Kampmann admitted. “He caught me with some good shots.”
Kampmann, who rallied to win by second-round KO via some vicious knees, had knee surgery after the June fight to clear up a nagging injury.
He took a welcome four weeks off because of the surgery.
“I was a little banged up after that fight,” he said.
Kampmann never got into martial arts to make a living. He says he just had a passion for the sport.
“The first pro fights I had, I wasn’t getting paid much. I fought for less than $200, I fought for $150. It wasn’t the money that got me into it ... It used to be a hobby and now I feel fortunate enough to make a living doing my hobby. Very few people can do that so I feel very fortunate and thankful to the UFC, because they’ve done such a great job promoting the sport.”
Kampmann, who is married with a 15-month-old son and another boy due Dec. 6, says he may return to live in Denmark some time.
“I like Las Vegas for all the training benefits. I have great friends here, and I have great sparring partners and a great gym to train at. But I could never see myself living in Las Vegas forever. It’s too hot. It’s too hot out here and too far from the ocean.
“I grew up next to the ocean in Denmark and I miss that.”
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