On April Fools’ Day of 2009, Martin Kampmann and Carlos Condit stood in the middle of the cage enduring the longest moments for an MMA fighter. After spending 15 competitive minutes trying to knock out or submit their opponent, all they could do now was wait for the judges’ decision. It was a fight that unquestionably could have gone either way so the loser would have little room for complaint.
This was unfamiliar terrain for Kampmann and Condit. The two built reputations as finishers, looking to end the fight via TKO or submission rather than fighting for points. Condit was 23-4 and Kampmann 14-2 at the time, yet this was only the second time each man had to endure the long wait for a judges’ decision.
UFC ring announcer Bruce Buffer announced that Cecil Peoples had scored the bout 29-28 for Condit and Douglas Crosby had scored the bout 29-28 for Kampmann. It would all come down to the deciding score of Nelson “Doc” Hamilton. As Buffer declared Kampmann the victor, the Danish fighter slowly raised his hand in relief and Condit was left standing in dejection.
This Wednesday on FS1, Condit and Kampmann will rematch. Invariably, in a rematch discussion shifts towards the loser of the first contest. There is motivation to avenge that loss and prove supremacy. But in a close decision, the winner too has all the motivation in the world to avoid having to leave fate again in the hands of the judges.
When Kampmann looks back at the first fight with Condit, he is left with more in the way of regrets than positive memories. In a close fight, there is always more that can be done and small mistakes can cause major ripples.
“I thought I made a lot of mistakes,” Kampmann says. “I was way too submission happy. I’ll go for a leg lock or guillotine and give up top position. If you get it, the fight’s over and it’s all gravy but if you don’t, then he can come down on you with big punches. I need to look for submissions, but I can’t chase it. It was a good fight with good back and forth action and I thought I earned the win. But this time, I don’t want it to be close. This time, I want to beat him down and establish I’m the better fighter.”
In order to achieve that goal, Kampmann has to deal with a dangerous and improved Condit. Since their first bout, Condit is 5-2 with his only losses coming via decision to #1 and #2 welterweights Georges St. Pierre and Johny Hendricks. Condit also has tremendous motivation coming off those two losses in succession and looking to avenge his previous loss. Condit poses many of the same traits as Kampmann, with excellent technical kickboxing skill and crafty submissions.
Kampmann also has to deal with internal challenges. He is coming off his longest layoff in five years, taking time off after a first-round knockout loss to Johny Hendricks to heal up nagging injuries. Kampmann has had knee issues in particular that he trained around for years. Allowing those to heal up is valuable not only in the short term but for his long term future as a 31-year-old competitor. But it could lead to some rustiness as he returns to action. That potential problem could compound with a longstanding Kampmann concern: his tendency to start slow in fights.
Four of Kampmann’s six career losses have come via first round stoppage. In other fights, he has had to overcome slow starts to win later on. As a result, Kampmann has placed increased emphasis on starting fights strong. In training, rather than sparring for extended periods to build cardio, he will spar all out for five minutes then take a break before sparring hard again with a fresh opponent. The idea is to replicate the experience of starting a fight when an opponent is at his most dangerous.
“My biggest problem is that I repeatedly get caught early on,” Kampmann observes. “Even against Jake Ellenberger when I won. A lot of fights I’ve started slowly. I’ve worked on that. I feel sharp and mentally ready to go from the beginning. I don’t want to be the slow starter that has to get punched to wake up. That’s not good. I want to fight from the beginning and once I get that going you’re going to see a completely different Martin. I haven’t shown nearly the best of what I can show.”
As for the loss to Hendricks, Kampmann says that setbacks tend to eat at him but there are benefits to being knocked out.
“The good thing about getting knocked out is it’s easy to forget,” he wryly quips.
The Condit-Kampmann bout is a very important fight in the welterweight title picture. After Georges St. Pierre and Johny Hendricks meet for the welterweight title in November, the next challenger is still completely up in the air. Rory MacDonald is a top contender but is coming off an uninspired win over Jake Ellenberger and has said he won’t fight his mentor St. Pierre. Demian Maia could be in the mix if he beats Jake Shields in October but he is unlikely to move pay-per-view numbers. Condit or Kampmann could be right there with an impressive win.
While Kampmann has long chased a welterweight title shot, he keeps his focus on the challenge in front of him. That approach has earned him respect within the game even if it hasn’t made him into a superstar. It’s also the proper mentality when entering a rematch of a fight that you won. Wednesday is all that matters for Kampmann and Condit right now.
“I’d love to get an immediate title shot after beating Condit,” Kampmann acknowledges. “That would be awesome. But there’s a title fight later this year so I’d be happy to beat someone else too. It’s up to the UFC. I can just win fights and win them in dominating fashion.”