"I’m there to fight and he’s there to fight, so this is going to be a scrap, this is going to be a war.”
The mercurial New Mexican’s recent shedding of his moniker – replacing the nickname, astonishingly, with its polar opposite and much sunnier “The Dream” – is relatively commonplace in Hollywood circles. But such a switch is rare in the land of MMA.
But does Sanchez’ next opponent, Martin Kampmann, give a hoot about Sanchez following in the footsteps of music icon Prince and NFL player Chad “OchoCinco” Johnson?
“Great for him,” Kampmann said flatly, giving way to a long, awkward pause.
I waited to see if the Danish welterweight wanted to add to his statement. And waited … yet nothing more trickled out. Querying Kampmann about Diego Sanchez’ name change was akin to asking Ivan Drago if he noticed whether Rocky Balboa had pumped some iron to look more buff before their fight. Fortunately, Kampmann later revealed during the interview that the Sanchez name does hold some meaning and value to him, albeit in a different context.
“Diego is a great name and I want to fight guys with a name and guys that are tough,” said Kampmann (17-4), who is coming off a razor-thin split decision loss to No. 1 contender Jake Shields. “Guys like Diego will help me get closer to a title shot.”
Assuming, of course, that Kampmann can topple the middleweight winner of the inaugural season of The Ultimate Fighter season. It is an intriguing main event, pitting one of the UFC’s most fiery and emotional fighters (Sanchez) versus one of its most even-keeled and stoical (Kampmann). Both men have enjoyed staying power in the UFC, Sanchez since 2005 and Kampmann since 2006. Both hail from top training camps, with Sanchez (24-4) back with Greg Jackson and Kampmann a product of Xtreme Couture in Las Vegas. One thing to watch during the fight: Kampmann conceded that he historically has experienced difficulties against southpaws, the stance Sanchez uses.
“I’ve fought a couple of southpaws and I’ve been sparring with them,” Kampmann said. “I used to not like to spar southpaws but I’m starting to feel comfortable.”
Don’t expect a methodical, play-it-safe strategy from either fighter. These are two of the sport’s most aggressive 170-pounders, and Kampmann isn’t shy about claiming an advantage in one area of the bout.
“I think a standup fight definitely favors me but he’s still dangerous and not to be underestimated,” said Kampmann, a former college engineering student who dropped out of school four years ago and moved to Las Vegas to train. “Diego likes to throw the lead uppercut and he’s got power, sometimes people rush in and he can catch you off-guard, so I’ve got to be aware of that. He’s good at mixing his standup with his takedowns. When you’re worried about the takedown it makes you susceptible to being hit.”
An eight-year pro, Kampmann came into the game as a sprawler and brawler, and has bolstered his game considerably with top-shelf Brazilian jiu-jitsu skills. He owns a Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt under multiple-time world champion Robert Drysdale and has never been submitted in his career. Many were surprised at how well Kampmann fared against Shields, a more acclaimed BJJ black belt. In fact, as fatigue took its toll on Shields, it was Kampmann who aggressively threatened with submissions. In hindsight, however, Kampmann regretted his tenacity.
“I was disappointed with my performance,” he said. “I worked too hard trying to submit him. I gave up top position trying to submit him. When he ended up on top he was content to stay on top and ride out the clock. He wasn’t really doing any damage or going for any submissions. You win the fight in the judges’ eyes when you stay on top. He’s a real good jiu-jitsu guy. I feel I was close to locking a choke up a couple of times but he’s a tough guy and he got out of it. I’ll learn from it and come back stronger.
“I like Diego’s style: he comes to fight, he doesn’t come in there to lay on you. Those are the guys I want to fight. I’m there to fight and he’s there to fight, so this is going to be a scrap, this is going to be a war.”
Kampmann said that following the bout in Louisville he will fly back home to Denmark for a two-week vacation, a trip he often makes after fights. He expects to be in a celebratory mode when he reconvenes with family and friends.
“I’ve worked a lot on my wrestling and submissions, but I’d like to get back to my roots which are boxing and Thai boxing,” said Kampmann, who acquired the nickname “The Hitman” from a Danish journalist years ago. “I’d like to go for a knockout this time. I feel it’s time to go back to my roots.”