Two of the best welterweights on the planet will meet tonight (June 1, 2012) as Jake Ellenberger battles Martin Kampmann in the main event of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) Live Finale in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Ellenberger has won six straight fights in the welterweight division and is coming off two very impressive performances, knocking off original Ultimate Fighter Diego Sanchez and finishing former title challenger Jake Shields. He's been in discussion for a title shot and if he can put away the very dangerous Martin Kampmann tonight, it would be nearly impossible not to give him one.
Martin Kampmann has long been considered one of the best 170-pounders in the UFC, but he's really stepped up his game as of late. Hell, if not for two controversial decision losses to both Shields and Sanchez, he could be on a six fight winning streak as well. "The Hitman" has all the tools to vie for the title, and he's got one hell of a roadblock in front of him in Ellenberger.
Will "The Juggernaut" continue his tremendous momentum against Kampmann? Can "The Hitman" drag Ellenberger into deep waters and drown him? What's the key to victory for both men tonight?
Let's find out:Jake Ellenberger
Record: 27-5 overall, 6-1 in the UFC
How he got here: Jake Ellenberger won his first 11 fights all by stoppage while fighting primarily in Midwest promotions near his Nebraska home before earning an opportunity to fight in the IFL. He had a rude awakening in his promotional debut, losing a decision to Jay Hieron and he never quite got on track in the promotion, going 2-2 while also mixing in multiple fights with other leagues during his downtime to gain experience.
A solid four fight win streak while fighting for M-1 and Bellator earned "The Juggernaut" a trip to the UFC where again, he'd have a tough first fight against current UFC interim welterweight champion Carlos Condit. Ellenberger blasted Condit early with some serious power but "The Natural Born Killer" bounced back to take an extremely close split decision in one of 2009's best fights.
Since that loss, Ellenberger has won five straight which includes four stoppage victories due to strikes. The Reign Training Center fighter smashed Sean Pierson at UFC 127 and then followed it up with by far the biggest victory of his career, a 53 second drubbing of former title challenger Jake Shields, stopping him for the first time in over 10 years.
"The Juggernaut" followed up his incredible knockout with a main event victory over Diego Sanchez, dominating the first two rounds before fading late in the third. Any questions about his cardio will likely be answered in the five round main event against Kampmann tonight.
How he gets it done: Jake Ellenberger needs to hurt Martin Kampmann badly in the stand-up during the early portion of this fight. That's when he's most dangerous and it also happens to be when his Danish foe is usually most vulnerable. The Nebraska native has some of the heaviest hands of any welterweight in the world and he'll definitely need to land them hard if he wants to get the win.
Kampmann can take a shot too so if Ellenberger hurts him, he has to follow up. Kampmann has been rocked before, but even in the two fights he lost via TKO, they were controversial finishes where he recovered quickly or didn't even fall down. If Ellenberger connects with power, he needs to swarm "The Hitman" immediately and go for the kill just like he did against Jake Shields.
Another potential key is to mix things up by trying to put Kampmann on his back, although he has to be careful as the Great Dane has a very dangerous guillotine choke as evidenced by his last bout against Thiago Alves. If Ellenberger shoots on him, he can't just duck his head into Kampmann's armpit and power him to the ground. He has to respect his opponent's potentially hazardous ground game
Kampmann likely has slightly better striking technique, but Ellenberger can afford to eat a shot to give one as he hits harder. There have been questions about Ellenberger's endurance, so if he can get a finish in the first round or two, he needs to really force the issue.
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. Now he's slated for yet another high profile welterweight main event.
How he gets it done: Kampmann can hold his own against Ellenberger in the striking department, but he doesn't have "The Juggernaut's" power. Look for him to try to hop into the pocket and connect with his technical boxing while avoiding Ellenberger's heavy hooks. He can't afford to eat too many of those. No one can.
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 Ellenberger off guard.
If there's one area where Ellenberger could be exposed, it is likely his ground game when he's on bottom. Kampmann should mix in takedown attempts to keep his Nebraska-born opponent guessing. The longer he can confuse the powerful slugger, the better his odds improve as Kampmann has terrific cardio and he should have a big advantage if the fight goes to the championship rounds.
But first he's got to weather the storm. If Kampmann wants to win, he shouldn't be taking too many big risks early in the fight which will (hopefully) allow him to take over late.
Fight X-Factor: The X-Factor for this fight is glaringly obvious, it's the extra two rounds. An event like this wasn't going to have a five round main event, but Ellenberger's fight against Diego Sanchez, a bout he was winning badly in the first 12 1/2 minutes, put an end to that. Ellenberger faded badly and Sanchez dominated at the end of the third. From then on, every signed main event was going to be five rounds.
If this fight were three rounds, Ellenberger would likely be a gigantic favorite as he's a very strong starter, but if those extra two rounds come into play, it could be a huge bonus for Kampmann. He's never really had any issues in terms of his conditioning late in a fight, as evidenced by his last minute stoppage of Alves earlier this year.
Bottom Line: This is a tremendous main event which isn't getting nearly enough attention as it should. Both Kampmann and Ellenberger are legitimately top 5-6 ranked welterweights on the planet right now, but the division is so bogged down by Condit and Georges St. Pierre waiting to unify that the winner of this fight hasn't even been guaranteed a title shot. This fight is almost guaranteed excitement as between the two of them, Kampmann and Ellenberger have garnered four "fight night" bonuses in their last five fights combined. I expect a high action bout with some serious potential for a finish as Ellenberger is capable of knocking anyone's block off in the opening couple rounds and Kampmann is much more likely to secure a submission or knockout later in a fight. Expect anything and everything.
Who will come out on top at The Ultimate Fighter Live Finale? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!