Sixteen fights into his UFC career, Martin (The Hitman) Kampmann has 11 wins and a few regrets.
In October 2010, he flubbed a chance to fight for the welterweight championship when the Danish-born 170-pounder opted to take on Jake Shields at his own game — on the ground. Shields went on to win a split decision.
Last time out, Kampmann (20-6) stepped into the cage against top contender Johny (Bigg Rigg) Hendricks with his head not on straight. Issues outside of training weighed on his mind. Hendricks knocked him out in 46 seconds.
On Wednesday, sixth-ranked Kampmann has another chance to rise up the welterweight ranks when he takes on No. 2 Carlos (The Natural Born Killer) Condit in the main event of a televised UFC card in Indianapolis.
“I think I still have a lot left to prove,” Kampmann said. “The UFC hasn’t seen the best of me, at all. So that’s what I intend to show.”
The bookmakers see Condit (28-7) as more than a 2-1 favourite.
“I love to prove the oddsmakers wrong,” said Kampmann. “I’ve done that countless times before and I’d love to do it again on Wednesday.”
The winner could find himself in the title mix once the dust settles from UFC 167 in November, when Montreal’s Georges St-Pierre defends his crown against Hendricks and No. 3 Rory (Ares) MacDonald, a native of Kelowna, B.C., who trains out of Montreal, takes on No. 9 (Ruthless) Robbie Lawler.
“I’ll be happy to fight either St-Pierre or Hendricks,” said Kampmann, who now calls Las Vegas home. “Of course I’d love to get a chance to avenge a loss and fight Hendricks again. I’d also like to fight GSP since he’s the top guy in the division, he’s been champion for so long.”
Both Condit, 29, and Kampmann, 31, have plenty of weapons.
Physically the six-foot-two Condit has an edge in height and reach over the six-foot Kampmann. But both fighters didn’t come much further than seven-foot-two Roy Hibbert’s shoulder when the Indiana Pacers centre, an MMA fan, dropped in on the fighter workouts Wednesday.
“I think we’re both very well-rounded and we’re able to finish the fight wherever the fight goes,” said Kampmann.
“We both like to go for the finish and that makes a great recipe for a good fight,” he added.
Both fighters are known for their resolve and refusal to break.
MacDonald took it to Condit for the first two rounds when they met at UFC 115 in Vancouver in June 2010, only for Condit to rally in the third and put the young Canadian away.
In 2012, Kampmann was in trouble against both Jake (The Juggernaut) Ellenberger and Thiago (Pitbull) Alves before turning the fight around to win by TKO and submission, respectively.
Both men are prickly on their feet with sharp striking and powerful knees. Condit has the more dangerous kicks and is likely to pull something unorthodox and nasty out of his bag of tricks. Just ask Dan (The Outlaw) Hardy and Dong Hyun (Stun Gun) Kim.
Both can finish you via submissions with St-Pierre noting that Condit is especially tricky on his back, baiting his opponent into a position he can then take advantage of.
Condit is susceptible to the takedown. Hendricks and St-Pierre combined to take him down 19 times in his last two fights. But Hendricks is a former NCAA wrestling champion and GSP is the UFC’s most effective takedown artist.
Kampmann won a split decision when the two first met in April 2009 in the UFC debut for Condit, a former WEC champion. The Dane took Condit down five times in that fight but he only managed five takedowns in his next nine fights.
“That’s a long time ago, but it was a tough fight,” said Kampmann. “I remember I was getting pretty tired in the second round but in the third round I got a second wind. The first two rounds were pretty close but the third round, I think I won it decisively and I think that’s the reason I got the decision win.”
Kampmann has gone 5-4 since, with the Hendricks defeat snapping a three-fight winning streak. Condit is 5-2 since the Kampmann defeat thanks to the recent Hendricks and St-Pierre losses.
Kampmann rues the loss to Hendricks, mainly because he didn’t get a chance to show any of his skills.
FightMetric, which tracks UFC bouts, had Kampmann at zero significant strikes. Hendricks had three, which including a thundering left that put Kampmann down and another to the chin as he lay prone.
“I didn’t show up mentally for that fight,” Kampmann said “I was there but I wasn’t there and I paid dearly for it. You can’t go in and not be mentally ready in a fight like that when you’re fighting a heavy hitter. If he connects, then you’re going to get hurt.
“I’ve done that in the past with other fights where I’ve been knocked down, getting hit, and — coming back — have won it. But it’s not a good thing to go long-term so I’ve changed up. I’m going to come in and be ready to go from the beginning this time around.”
Kampmann did not detail what was weighing on his mind against Hendricks, other to say there were issues outside the fight world.
“I thought I left it outside but maybe I didn’t.”
He insists this time he is ready both physically and mentally for the five-round challenge.
Over his career, Kampmann has been criticized for being drawn into his opponent’s game at the expense of his own strategy.
“I’ve definitely made mistakes in the past,” Kampmann acknowledged. “Especially when I fought Shields. That’s the fight I’m most disappointed in my own performance. Because I pretty much game that fight away. I was beating him ... Even the way I fought, I still thought I beat him. Because he didn’t really do nothing other than lay on me and hug me.”
Despite that, in the cage after the fight, Kampmann pointed to the lack of damage on his face in making his case for the win. Two of the three judges disagreed.
“I was trying too much to submit him, which was stupid,” Kampmann said of Shields, a jiu-jitsu expert. “I should have just pounded him out.”
A former engineering student, Kampmann started out in karate and Thai boxing. He began to add submissions to his arsenal in 2000, studying tapes at first and then training in Sweden and parts further afield.
He made his pro debut in February 2003.
After meeting American fighter Mike Pyle in Denmark, he hooked up with him in Las Vegas to train. The World Fighting Association was looking for a middleweight and Kampmann got the job on two days notice.
He stopped Edwin Aguilar in two minutes 43 seconds in July 2006 to up his record to 9-1. The UFC noticed and he was fighting in the organization a month later.
What started as a hobby for Kampmann, who moved down to welterweight after a 2008 loss to Nate (The Great) Marquardt, has become a career.
“I’m happy,” he said. “I can live and do my hobby and I can compete at the highest level of the sport.
“But I still have goals left that I want to achieve. Beating Condit, finishing Condit is one of them. Of course, getting the title is a goal of mine too.”
Kampmann has endured some tough times along the way. In early 2008, not having access to health insurance, he removed stitches from under his eyebrow using sterilized tweezers, nail clippers and a mirror.
A survivor inside and outside the cage, he says his path to a world title consists of small steps.
“I’ve had some missteps but I’ll keep working my way back.”