Two of the world's top welterweights contenders will duke it out on Saturday night (Nov. 17, 2012) as Martin Kampmann takes on John Hendricks in the co-main event of UFC 154 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
Kampmann has faced a murderers row of top talent throughout his career, having come so close to a title shot but getting derailed. He's now riding a solid win streak including two consecutive thrilling stoppages which have him on the verge of his first shot at the belt. He'll have to get through Hendricks first.
Johny Hendricks took a huge leap in competition nearly a year ago, accepting a fight against perennial number two welterweight Jon Fitch. He rose to the occasion and stopped the AKA standout in just 12 seconds and then followed it up earlier this year with a split decision victory against former title challenger Josh Koscheck to get one step closer to the belt.
Record: 19-5 overall, 10-4 in the UFC
How he got here: Martin Kampmann was very successful on the European circuit and he made his UFC debut as a middleweight in 2006. He won his first four UFC fights before getting overpowered by the bigger, stronger Nate Marquardt. This motivated his decision to drop to welterweight where he won his first two fights including a thrilling decision over debuting WEC welterweight champion Carlos Condit to instantly become one of the top contenders in the division.
He was slated for a number one contenders match against Mike Swick but unfortunately had that bout derailed with an injury to the AKA fighter. Instead, he found himself facing UFC newcomer Paul Daley, who overwhelmed Kampmann on the feet, repeatedly landing heavy shots to force a standing TKO.
Kampmann got back on track with impressive consecutive wins but then was on the receiving end of two extremely close decisions against Jake Shields and then Diego Sanchez earlier this year. His return to the Octagon was delayed this summer after a knee injury but he's healthy again came back with a vengeance in defeating Rick Story via unanimous decision last fall.
With the victory, the UFC put him right back into the spotlight to headline a big FX show against Thiago Alves where, after appearing to be about to lose a decision, "The Hitman" locked on a guillotine choke during an Alves takedown and forced the former title challenger to tap out. In his last bout, Kampmann battled Jake Ellenberger and weathered the early storm, scoring
How he gets it done: Kampmann's best assets are his well-roundedness and his ability to bounce back from trouble. He can take a shot, and even when hurt, has very solid recovery time. On multiple occasions, he's turned the tides against an opponent who had him on the ropes.
If things get rough in the striking, Kampmann is rather proficient in the clinch, and he can at least use it to take a breather and recover. He's also got some sneaky takedowns with trips and body locks which might be able to catch Hendricks off guard.
If there's one area where Hendricks could be exposed, it is likely his ground game when he's on bottom. Kampmann should mix in takedown attempts to keep "Big Rig" guessing. The longer he can confuse the powerful slugger, the better his odds improve. Hendricks has a tendency to get too comfortable off his back and Kampmann can exploit this.
Record: 13-1 overall, 8-1 in the UFC
Key Losses: Rick Story (The Ultimate Fighter 12 Finale)
How he got here: Hendricks was a stud who transitioned to MMA. While wrestling at Oklahoma State University, he claimed both the 2005 and 2006 national championships. After graduating college, he quickly joined up with Team Takedown and began training MMA full time.
In just his fourth professional fight, he was making his WEC debut, defeating an overmatched Dustin Haskins via second round knockout and after the UFC absorbed all WEC weightclasses over 155 pounds, he was taken along for the ride.
"Big Rig" made his UFC debut against The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 7 winner Amir Sadollah and he made quick work of him, crushing the TUF champ via technical knockout in less than 30 seconds. After four straight wins in the division, including another impressive stoppage of Charlie Brenneman, he earned another main card slot against Rick Story on TUF 12 Finale.
Hendricks would be no match for Story's relentless pace, losing a unanimous decision to suffer the first and only loss of his career. He bounced back with consecutive victories over T.J. Waldburger and Mike Pierce and then took a huge step up in competition in Jon Fitch, scoring an unbelievable 12 second knockout of the former title challenger.
He followed that career-defining victory up with a razor thin split decision win over his second straight title challenger Josh Koscheck earlier this year and is now hoping to earn a title shot with a solid performance on Saturday night against Martin Kampmann.
How he gets it done: Hendricks, despite competing for Team Takedown and possessing national champion amateur wrestling skills, should want to keep this fight standing. He hasn't quite been able to transition those elite college attributes into his MMA game, at least against some of the better welterweight wrestlers in the UFC.
What he has been able to develop is an vastly improved striking game, one that continues to grow and evolve in technique and power every time we see him. Hendricks has severe knockout power in his hands if he can land a clean strike to the chin or temple and he'll be looking to catch Kampmann just like Fitch. His left hand is absolutely nasty.
Expect to see Hendricks work his angles, maneuvering his feet so he's not caught out of position and he can fend off Kampmann's strikes or his attempts to close the distance in the clinch. While he's comfortable on his back, he shouldn't even give Kampmann an opportunity to put him there.
The biggest thing for Hendricks to concern himself with is not trying to knock Kampmann's head off. When he thinks about the knockout too much or tries too hard for it, it won't happen. He has to let it come naturally as he definitely has the raw natural power to pull off a stoppage via strikes.
Fight X-Factor: The biggest X-Factor for this fight has to be the pressure of a potential title shot. Having so much on the line can do strange things to people. Look no further than Kenny Florian or Carlos Condit. They fought completely different when the belt or a title shot added extra incentive to win. Both Hendricks and Kampmann are aggressive and extremely dangerous, but with the stakes being raised, one of them might try to fight not to lose instead of trying to win.
Whoever retains their aggression and fights naturally will have the biggest advantage. No goofy gameplan or trickery is going to win this fight.
Bottom Line: These are two of the best welterweights in the world and they're both extremely hungry for a title shot they should have been given after their last wins (each). They're frustrated, anxious and both have the potential to end a fight at any given moment. If this remains a striking battle on the feet, there's serious potential for some extremely fun exchanges and heavy shots getting landed, especially with Kampmann's tendency to get hit hard during fights. Expect at least one "did that just happen?" moment in this fight.
Who will come out on top at UFC 154? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!