The Ultimate Fighter
"They're not going to see a judges’ decision because I'm going to finish this fight." - Martin Kampmann
From a UFC fan’s perspective, the only tangible difference between a title fight and a non-title fight is a possible 10 more minutes of top-tier talent tussling. Thankfully, last year a new edict was enacted: all headlining bouts could be of the 25 minute variety, allowing elite level fighters to compete in those “championship rounds” regardless of whether any gold is on the line. Even with the current quagmire circling the welterweight belt, the UFC faithful are not left in the lurch waiting to see the best battle the best in these extended contests.
While 170 pound diehards must wait for UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre to heal up for UFC interim welterweight champion Carlos Condit, two equally impressive divisional duelists - Martin “The Hitman” Kampmann and Jake “The Juggernaut” Ellenberger - prepare for a potential five round war at The Ultimate Fighter Live Finale that should satisfy those ravenous masses.
“I've been working hard on my cardio to get ready for five rounds,” tells Kampmann. “Five rounds is a lot more than three rounds. It's 10 more minutes to go at it, to get more bruised up and banged up, and two more rounds I have to get in shape for. I've been working hard and working my ass off to get ready to go in there and beat up Jake Ellenberger.”
For the Danish striker turned all-around threat, the additional two rounds are as much a boon for Kampmann as they are for the frenzied fans in attendance. In back-to-back bouts, he saw the judges turn in scorecards in favor of his opponent (Jake Shields, Diego Sanchez) much to the dismay of Kampmann as well as many Octagon spectators. Giving an accomplished finisher (14 of his 19 wins) like him ten more minutes to work his fight ending magic will almost ensure a night without a judge’s intervention. Regardless of the amount of rounds or checkered decisions, Kampmann is working to end fights with time still on the clock in the first round or the last.
“When I was going into the last fight I was only thinking about Thiago Alves,” tells Kampmann. “That was my concern. That being said, I'm going in there to finish fights. I'm tired of going to judges decisions because judges don't seem to see things my way. That's the past. I come in to finish fights. I'm not there to go to a judges’ decision. I wanted to finish Thiago Alves and I did. I want to finish Jake Ellenberger as well.”
At 30 years old, the veteran of 14 tangles inside the Octagon scored arguably the biggest victory of his career in Kampmann’s Submission of the Night win over Thiago Alves at UFC on FX in March. In front of an absolutely crazy Australian audience, Kampmann went back and forth with Alves for nearly three full rounds of closely contested action. Much to the delight of the fans, the two known strikers felt comfortable trading fists and feet for the majority of the fight. But it was the underrated ground game of Kampmann that secured the bout-stopping guillotine choke with less than a minute left in the final round.
“I'll be honest, I felt like I was behind a little bit,” divulges Kampmann. “I couldn't find my rhythm in the second round. In the first round, I felt good. He got a takedown on me, but I took him down twice too and hurt him with a front kick. The second round, I couldn't really find my rhythm and he was getting the better of some of the exchanges. I felt I was probably behind and I needed to go for the finish. He shot in earlier in the third round where I could have gone for a guillotine as well, but I didn't go for it. At the end of the round, I had the opportunity again and I went for it because I wanted to finish it. I saw the opportunity was right there, so I took it.”
The bonus earning win increased Kampmann’s powerful professional record to 19-5, but the Denmark native is far from satisfied. “I was a little disappointed with my performance actually because I thought I could have fought better,” admits Kampmann who is on a two fight winning streak for the fourth time in his nearly six years within the UFC. “But I was happy I got the win. It made me even hungrier to come back and work even harder and get my focus back, so I could fight even better because the UFC has done nothing but the best for me. I want to come back in this next fight and show them that that was only the tip of the iceberg.”
The next opportunity for Kampmann to wow the ever expanding UFC community is against burgeoning knockout artist Ellenberger at the TUF 15 Finale. The Nebraskan stormed the welterweight ranks with a hotly disputed split decision loss against now interim champ Condit in September of 2009. Since, Ellenberger has enjoyed a six fight winning streak, including back-to-back bonus winning performances in his last two Octagon outings: Fight of the Night with Sanchez and Knockout of the Night over Shields. Ellenberger is a tough test, but the outcome is clear to Kampmann: “He's got heavy hands and good wrestling, but he's definitely beatable and I'm going to beat him June 1st.”
A 25 minute bout being new ground for both fighters isn’t the only thing Kampmann and Ellenberger have in common: four former opponents. “Of course, I've watched his fights and I've got losses against some guys he has wins on, and he's got losses from guys I have wins on,” states Kampmann, about his wins over Condit and Rick Story and his losses to Shields and Sanchez. Ellenberger’s record is vice versa. “Those past fights are in the past, so it doesn't really matter. I've improved since those fights and I'm sure he's improved since them too. I'm focused on beating Ellenberger.”
To get ready, Kampmann is busy preparing in his adopted home of Las Vegas, Nevada. Since nearly Day One in the US, he has trained and continues to train at Xtreme Couture with Jay Hieron, Mike Pyle, and the rest of the highly-regarded pros in Randy Couture’s gym. Like everyone on the roster, Kampmann’s goals in the UFC are a title shot and to be dangerous in all aspects of MMA. He has always been known as a deadly striker with slick submissions, but Kampmann has put the work into shoring up the one hole in his game: wrestling.
“When I first got to the US, I felt like my wrestling was lacking,” tells Kampmann. “What a lot of the European fighters are lacking are their wrestling. It's something I've really worked on and it's paid off because I feel like my wrestling has gotten a lot better. I feel very confident in my wrestling skills. When you're in a division with a lot of wrestlers, you have to be able to wrestle. It's a change I've made. In some of my past fights, I've fought wrestlers and I've taken them down. I feel like the hard work has paid off, but it's still a work in progress. I feel like if you stop improving then you get left behind, so every day I try to improve and get better.”
As he enters the cage for his fourth UFC main event fight, it’s incredible to think that Kampmann got his start inside the Octagon almost by chance in the Summer of 2006. Back then, Kampmann was an engineering student in Denmark with an 8-1 pro record who took a trip to “Sin City” to visit Xtreme Couture teammate Pyle with the hope of fighting in a local MMA show in the US. He got a bout with the World Fighting Alliance, won via TKO in the first, and received a surprising call from the UFC to fight Crafton Wallace the next month at UFC Fight Night 6. All these years later, the Dane is a proud member of the steadily growing international framework of the UFC and is excited to see where it goes next.
“I love the evolution,” says Kampmann. “I love that the sport is only getting bigger and bigger. I love that it is international and giving us the opportunities to fight in a lot of places I wouldn't have gone before. I love to travel and see other places. It's helping the sport grow back home. They just had a show in Sweden, which is close to my home in Denmark. Hopefully, they will have a show in Denmark eventually too. I would love to see the sport grow in Denmark and get bigger. I'm not just a fighter and competitor; I'm a fan of the sport as well.”
On June 1st at The Palms in Las Vegas, “The Hitman” looks to literally stop “The Juggernaut”. “They're not going to see a judges’ decision because I'm going to finish this fight,” affirms Kampmann, who is looking to end fights on his terms. “They're going to see Jake Ellenberger get beat up and get finished. I'm beating up Jake Ellenberger and I'm fighting for the title because that's my goal.”
Belt or no belt, the five round main event affords fighters more chances for a fantastic finish, which is the best news for fight fans.