After consecutive and controversial losses to Jake Shields and Diego Sanchez in 2010-11, followed by a unanimous decision victory over Rick Story that was initially announced as a split verdict, Martin Kampmann probably heard the phrase “don’t leave it in the hands of the judges” more times than he would care to remember.
The solution? “The Hitman” took it out of the hands of the judges in his next two bouts in 2012, a submission win over Thiago Alves and a knockout of Jake Ellenberger. If he can make it three in a row over Johny Hendricks this Saturday at UFC 154 in Montreal, he won’t just be looking at a shot at the welterweight title, but possibly Fighter of the Year honors. Now that’s taking that phrase to heart.
“I think you definitely have to go in with the killer instinct to try to finish the fight,” said Kampmann, who always was able to get opponents out of there; but in the last two, he’s done it in dramatic fashion, coming back from some shaky moments to finish world-class contenders like himself. And that may be the secret - when you swing for the home run, you have a greater chance of striking out. Kampmann’s willing to take that risk when others won’t.
“Some guys come in very defensive and then it can be hard to get the finish,” he said. “If you want to get the finish, you have to go in and take chances, but at the same time you leave yourself vulnerable too.”
Sometimes it’s the price you have to pay, not just for victory, but for glory, and after years of fights in the UFC where he battled quality foes, won more than he lost, and always produced performances that earned him respect from fans and his peers, Kampmann’s MMA Q Rating skyrocketed this year with his wins over Alves and Ellenberger.
“I’m glad I have the fans supporting me,” said the 30-year-old native of Aarhus, Denmark. “I think I always put on a good fight and always put on a good show, and the fans that have been watching my fights over the years, they know that when I’m fighting, it’s gonna be a good fight. I’m coming in to finish the fight, and sometimes that leaves me in harm’s way too, so I might end up getting punched a little bit too, but that makes for good fights.”
The only concern about Kampmann’s increased emphasis on the finish and delivering the drama that ensues is that the one thing that may betray him isn’t his chin or his resolve, but his skin.
“I cut really easy,” said Kampmann in the understatement of the year. “Good thing I can eat a pretty good shot (Laughs), but my eyebrows cut real easy and I’ve been getting stitches in a lot of my fights, and I would hate to lose because of a cut. I lost because of a cut a long time ago in the beginning of my career (against Andrei Semenov in a pre-UFC bout in 2004), and it sucks. I’m trying to get better at avoiding the damage and trying to not get hit as much. I still want to go out and put a beating on my opponent and get the finish, but I’d like to take less punishment as well.”
Yet the strange thing is that once he sees red, it seems to amp him up even more, whether it’s to remind him that he’s in a fight, or to add that extra sense of urgency that if he doesn’t finish things now, the doctor may intervene. Whatever it is, it seems to be working for Kampmann, making it a good and bad thing for him.
“When I started my career I was a real fast starter and I had a lot of first round stoppages,” said Kampmann, who has finished 11 of his 20 wins in the opening round. “Somewhere along the way I started to turn into a slow starter, and I’m trying to get away from that, and that’s something I’ve been working on in training. But when I start tasting my own blood if I get hit with a good shot or I get knocked down, then I’ll go into autopilot and that’s sometimes when I fight the best.”
The lesson being, don’t hurt or cut Martin Kampmann.
“Don’t knock me down – you’ll be in trouble,” he laughs.
One person who probably has a pretty good indication of that fact is Hendricks, stemming from their training sessions together in Las Vegas a few years back.
“I trained a lot with Johny in the past, so we know each other pretty well,” said Kampmann. “He was helping me with wrestling and I was helping him with his striking and of course, he’s got a tremendous wrestling background and some of the best wrestling pedigree in the UFC. On top of that he’s got real heavy hands and can really throw and put the hurt on people. So that’s something to watch out for.”
And despite having nearly ten years and 25 fights as a professional, this is the first time Kampmann is in the position where he is fighting someone he worked with so closely. He doesn’t see it as something that will be an issue on fight night though, a good thing considering the high stakes involved.
“I trained with (Jake) Shields, but only a few times before I fought him, and I’ve run into other guys, but I used a train a lot with Johny,” said Kampmann. “It was a lot of years ago though, so he’s gotten better and I’ve gotten better, and a lot of stuff can happen. Still, we know each other’s strengths are and what to watch out for, but it’s not gonna hold us back when we’re in there fighting. We’re still coming in there to take each other’s head off, and we’re gonna beat each other up. If we can beat each other up in training, I think you can beat each other up in the fight too.”
This time you can get paid for it too.
“That’s a plus,” he laughs.
Kampmann is aware that the fight is no laughing matter, and with a title shot on the line, the veteran from Denmark can almost reach out and touch a dream coming to fruition.
“Of course that’s always been a goal and a dream of mine ever since I started fighting in the UFC,” he said of fighting for the title Georges St-Pierre and Carlos Condit will be battling for in Saturday’s main event. “When I fought outside the UFC, the dream was to fight in the UFC, and since I got in the UFC it’s always been a goal and a dream to get the title. If I’m doing something, I’m doing it to reach the top and I train hard and bust my ass every day in the gym to be the best and beat the best, and I want to fight the best the UFC has to offer. I want to fight GSP or Condit for the belt, and I want to win the belt.”
It’s something he thinks he’s right on time for.
“I feel very sharp right now, and I feel ready,” he said. “I’m getting smarter, getting better, I’m starting to come into my own, and you’ll see on November 17th.”
Martin Kampmann - The Finisher
"I’m coming in to finish the fight, and sometimes that leaves me in harm’s way too, so I might end up getting punched a little bit too, but that makes for good fights." - Martin Kampmann