This week, Martin Kampmann officially announced his retirement. It wasn’t much of a surprise seeing as how it has been well over two years since we had last seen the Dane in the Octagon, but it is still somewhat sad to see the exciting welterweight call it a career from a fan’s point of view. And I certainly was a fan, and can’t recall a fight where I found myself rooting against him.
Kampmann started his MMA career in 2003 in the European circuit, running his record to 8-1 with his lone loss coming to UFC veteran Andrei Semenov. Making his US debut as a late replacement for Jose Landi-Jons on the WFA revival show in July of 2006, Kampmann scored a quick KO of Edwin Aguilar to wind up on a UFC card the following month. He won his first four UFC bouts, three of them by first round submission, with the lone exception being a decision win over future title challenger Thales Leites in Leites’ UFC debut. Even without getting the finish, Kampmann was highly impressive, as he pieced up the Brazilian grappling ace with his highly technical striking.
Known as a striker due to his extensive Muay Thai and kickboxing background in the European scene, Kampmann established himself as an all-around threat and someone to keep an eye on. At 26, he had the look of a longtime contender. He’d meet an early demise against Nate Marquardt in his next UFC appearance, prompting him to drop down to the welterweight class where he would stay for the rest of his career. That was also where he’d create the majority of his career highlights.
Following a relatively easy victory over Alexandre Barros in his welterweight debut, Kampmann would be the man to welcome WEC welterweight kingpin Carlos Condit into the UFC when the WEC’s heavier weight classes were folded into the organization. The fight would be a turning point for Kampmann’s career, as it turned out to be a true battle of young up-and-comers.
Kampmann almost ended the night early with a deep guillotine that would have finished most opponents, only for Condit to wiggle out. Condit launched into his trademark flurry of offense from there, cutting open Kampmann and going for a rear naked choke finish of his own in the second. Kampmann went to his wrestling in the final round with a couple of takedowns, surviving a late guillotine attempt from Condit to take a split decision victory over the much-hyped “Natural Born Killer.”
The victory made many sit up and take notice of Kampmann, as he was being discussed as a potential opponent for whomever emerged as welterweight champion from the much ballyhooed UFC 100 event between Georges St-Pierre and Thiago Alves. It didn’t happen. Kampmann was expecting to face Mike Swick at UFC 103, only for Swick to pull out with an injury, bringing Paul Daley to replace him on short notice. Not fully prepared for the Brit’s heavy hands, Kampmann suffered a standing TKO loss.
Rebounding with victories in his next two fights, Kampmann was again in position to gain a title shot at UFC 121, as he again served as the welcome wagon to a hyped newcomer in Jake Shields, who was riding a 14-fight win streak into the fight. Depending on who you ask, the streak should have ended there. Shields took the first round with his vaunted grappling, but gassed badly after a bad weight cut depleted his energy levels quickly. Kampmann easily out-struck him the final two rounds, and even offered some submission attempts during that time to do enough in the eyes of one judge. Unfortunately that wasn’t enough, as the takedown and rear naked choke attempt by Shields at the end of round three put him over the top in the eyes of the other two judges.
Kampmann didn’t complain, and faced a rejuvenated Diego Sanchez next in what would be a return to his exciting roots. Kampmann stuffed all but one of Sanchez’s takedown attempts while carving up Sanchez over the course of 15 minutes, leaving Sanchez a swollen, bruised, and bloody mess by the conclusion. Again, unfortunately, the judges saw things in the favor of Kampmann’s opponent as Sanchez’s trademark aggression fooled them into awarding him the fight (wouldn’t be the last time).
A ho-hum decision over Rick Story followed, and Kampmann entered the defining stretch of his career. Pitted against Thiago Alves in the main event of an FX card in March of 2012, Kampmann was on the receiving end of a brutal beating from the Pitbull, as Alves looked better than he had since before his title fight with GSP. Kampmann landed some shots of his own, but they lacked the oomph Alves had on his. With less than a minute to go it seemed Alves was on his way to a decision victory and a return to contender status. Then as he had Kampmann backing up, Alves inexplicably went for a takedown attempt after battering Kampmann on the feet throughout the round. Kampmann caught Alves’ neck in a guillotine and squeezed with all of his might, getting a tap from Alves and a victory in the process.
Next was Jake Ellenberger who was coming off of wins over the last two guys to beat Kampmann in Shields and Sanchez. Most believed Ellenberger would get a title shot if he could get past Kampmann, and it looked like it was going to happen as Ellenberger floored Kampmann with a left hook 30 seconds into the fight and damn near finished him with the ensuing ground strikes. Kampmann survived, and Ellenberger spent the rest of the round regaining his energy as he’d spent a large chunk of time pressing Kampmann against the cage. The problem is he allowed Kampmann to recover as well. A brawl opened the second round, with Kampmann being bloodied from Ellenberger’s flurry, again falling behind of the judges’ cards. As the action went against the cage, Kampmann clinched up and let loose some vicious knees to the head of Ellenberger that floored the American and put him out.
Kampmann’s stock had never been higher, winning three in a row on the heels of two controversial decisions, and he’d have had seven wins in a row had those controversial calls gone his way. He would be placed in a title eliminator against Johny Hendricks at UFC 154, while GSP would do battle with an old foe of Kampmann’s in Carlos Condit. Similar to how the Ellenberger fight started, Kampmann would eat a haymaker in the opening minute of the fight. This time, he wouldn’t recover, and Kampmann’s run was definitively over.
Kampmann would only fight one more time, in a rematch against Condit. Kampmann looked like a beast early on, taking the opening frame from Condit before fatigue became a factor for him. Condit took more and more control with each passing frame before earning a finish in the fourth round. Their main event battle took home “Fight of the Night” honors. Kampmann would move on to coaching, becoming the head coach at Team Alpha Male for a time following Duane Ludwig’s exit from the premier little man camp. Now Kampmann looks to leave MMA behind for the time being to spend time with his family.
Kampmann was an easy fighter to like. Despite being on the wrong end of a pair of controversial scorecards against Shields and Sanchez, he never complained about the judges screwing him over. He never beat on his shield for a title shot. He just went out and did his job, and usually did so in a very entertaining fashion. Then again, perhaps because he kept his mouth shut he never got the accolades he should have received, as Conor McGregor has shown us all what a flapping jaw can get you (i.e. a Lightweight Title shot without ever having defended his Featherweight Title).
As I look at the landscape of the welterweight division when Kampmann was there, it seems safe to say that Kampmann was the best welterweight of the era to never receive a title shot. Sure, that title comes with a huge asterisk attached to it, but those are still some very lofty heights that most never achieve in the sport. Kampmann engaged in some very memorable battles, and though he was on the wrong side of some, he won his fair share as well. He isn’t an all-time great, but he is certainly a fighter worth remembering as he moves on to the next stage of his life. Best of luck Martin, and thanks for the memories.