Tim Boetsch was five minutes away from losing his first bout since dropping down to Middleweight. Granted, he was facing off against perennial top-ranked 185-pounder Yushin Okami, who had only lost to champion Anderson Silva and number one contender Chael Sonnen, in the past five years.
Still, it was surely a hard pill to swallow no matter who good his opponent was. No competitor enjoys defeat.
"The Barbarian" had assumedly dropped the first two rounds on the judges' scorecard during the UFC 144 bout and needed to stop the Japanese fighter -- in Okami's home country, no less -- if he was hoping to walk out of the Saitama Super Arena a winner. With nothing to lose, Boetsch came out and blitzed "Thunder," catching him with thunderous uppercuts that dropped Okami to the mat and forced a reprieve from the referee.
It was a strategy which goes unused so often by fighters who are behind on the scorecards going into the final round. Defeat is imminent but yet, time after time, fighters continue to play it safe rather than going for broke and swinging for the proverbial fences.
It's exactly what Martin Kampmann did last night (Mar. 2) during his bout with Thiago Alves. Busted open and tired, "Hitman" couldn't have liked his chances to pull off a judge's decision. His Brazilian opponent continued to bully him around the Octagon going into the final minutes of the fight and it seemed -- when looking at how fatigued the Dane appeared to be -- like a foregone conclusion "The Pitball" would walk away the victor.
But like Boetsch, Kampmann refused to be denied a critical win. And it paid off in spades.
Aside from a kick that staggered the Brazilian early into the first round, Kampmann spent most of the bout on the defensive. Eating stiff leg kick after stiff leg kick, the Dane saw his chances of winning the fight dwindle with every tick of the clock. The first round -- thanks to the aforementioned kick -- may have gone to "Hitman" but Alves constantly walking his opponent down and also scoring a takedown added more than enough doubt.
The Brazilian began to pull away in the second. It simply didn't appear Kampmann had any answer for Alves' leg kicks and striking combinations. Going into the third and final round, the Dane was showing the wear and tear of fighting the former welterweight title contender.
The first four minutes of the final stanza were an exact duplicate of the previous round with Alves picking his opponent apart much like he did against John Howard a little over a year ago. The performances weren't flashy but they were solid and exactly what Alves needed if he ever expected to challenge for Octagon gold again.
A right caught Kampmann flush and staggered him against the cage. Alves looked to overwhelm "Hitman" with striking but perhaps feeling the fatigue of fighting a world class 170-pounder himself, he opted to take his opponent to the mat presumably to ride out the final minute in a horizontal base.
But Kampmann isn't known to be a quitter. In his welterweight career, he's only been stopped once. He has the heart of a fighter and it showed last night when he swept his opponent and sunk in a guillotine choke with less than one minute remaining in the fight.
After Alves' hand tapped against Kampmann's back, "Hitman" stood up and let out a primal yell as blood poured from his face. It was an incredible sight, literally seeing defeat turn into victory in the blink of an eye. Like Boetsch a week prior, he refused to give up, refused to stop fighting.
Perhaps their performances will inspire more fighters to throw a little bit more caution to the wind if they find themselves in a two round hole going into the final five minute period. It earned both of them respect from fans and from UFC President Dana White but more importantly, it earned them a win.
Boetsch is 3-0 as a middleweight and Kampmann finds himself riding a two-fight win streak and a potential contender for Carlos Condit's interim title should the New Mexico native decide to defend his newly won belt. "Hitman" is, after all, the last man to defeat Condit.
Two men minutes away from defeat. Two men who defied the odds and constructed brilliant comeback victories.
They're the toast of the mixed martial arts (MMA) town.
So why don't more fighters do what Boetsch and Kampmann did?