‘Hitman’ Relegated to Watchman

By Tim Leidecker Oct 19, 2007
Of the interested observers for Saturday's UFC middleweight title fight, it will be impossible for Martin Kampmann (Pictures) to avoid imagining what could have been.

Flash back to July 2006: Brazilian fighter Jose "Pele" Landi-Jons could not compete in his WFA 4 undercard fight against Edwin Aguilar (Pictures). In steps Kampmann, who had only been in the United States to train, jumping at the chance to face the Mexican knockout artist on short notice.

In less than three minutes, the Danish "Hitman" made his successful North American debut via technical knockout. Even though his future with the WFA was short-lived -- like the WFA itself -- the then 24-year-old kickboxer had made such a good impression on the Zuffa brass that they moved Kampmann to the UFC even before they acquired other WFA assets like Quinton Jackson (Pictures) and Ryoto Machida (Pictures).

Fast forward to April 2007: After three consecutive victories in the Octagon against Muay Thai expert Crafton Wallace (Pictures), Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt Thales Leites (Pictures) and heavy-handed slugger Drew McFedries, the Aarhus, Denmark, native was scheduled to meet former UFC middleweight champion Rich Franklin (Pictures), who fights Anderson Silva Saturday in Cincinnati, Ohio, in a title eliminator. On top of that, the fight was supposed to headline the UFC's debut show in Northern Ireland.

That's when disaster struck. While preparing for the fight, without a doubt the biggest of his young five-year career, Kampmann blew out his knee. He ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament, his lateral collateral ligament and his meniscus -- arguably the worst injury for any athlete.

"The first couple of weeks after surgery were horrible," Kampmann says. "I was really excited about fighting Franklin, so it was a big disappointment to pull out. It's hard to say what would have happened in that fight."

The blond Dane was relegated to rehab instead of preparing for a potential showdown with middleweight champion Anderson Silva. Ever since, his desire to get right back in the mix has been strong and persistent.

"I can't wait to get back," Kampmann says. "I'd be real happy just to get back in the cage, no matter who they match me up with. If my knee is good and I'm back fighting, I'm happy -- that's it. I miss it a lot, man."

Those are the sentiments of a true fighter. Even though Kampmann had been a star in Europe before stepping a foot on American soil -- he was the middleweight champion for Cage Warriors, one of the premier organizations in Britain -- his desire for greater goals burns deeply. That's why he moved from his quiet hometown in Denmark to the entertainment behemoth of Las Vegas, where he joined Randy Couture (Pictures) and his stable of excellent fighters at Xtreme Couture.

Kampmann has not regretted the move. "My fighting style has definitely improved since joining team Couture," he says. "I have so many good guys to work with, so I can improve my game in all areas."

The Danish striker and his new teammates have not only clicked in the gym. "When you train as much as we do out here, it's nice just to relax and chill out when you're not training," Kampmann says. "I like to hang out with the guys or be with my girl, maybe go watch a movie. Oh yeah, and I like playing poker."

From those words it appears that the Scandinavian has settled down nicely in Vegas. So what's next for the man who could very well be a draft for a totally atypical mixed martial artist, with no tattoos, no dyed hair and no chip on his shoulder?

"I hope I can start training more intense in a month maybe," he says. "It's my goal to get a fight sometime in the beginning of the next year, but it all depends on the knee. I feel it's going the right way though."

Even when he couldn't spar full contact, Kampmann still worked on his game. In particular he focused on the one aspect many experts would single out as his weakness: his lack of size in a UFC middleweight division that features fighters like Patrick Cote (Pictures) and Dean Lister (Pictures), who cut from more than 200 pounds.

In general, however, Kampmann does not see his size as a handicap.

"I think I'm doing fine at my weight," he says. "I've won all my UFC fights so far. Not having to cut too much weight can be an advantage too. I've been lifting and gaining a little weight after my surgery. I'd like to add a little more, but I'd still fight either Cote or Lister. I think I would do well."

After being at the right place at the right time for his WFA fight and then having a tough break with his injury, karma is now balanced again for the likeable Dane. And with his work ethic and the excellent team behind him, Kampmann could soon take the final steps toward a title shot, where he'll be doing more hitting than watching.

"I'll be back strong," he promises. "And as for the number of tattoos you have: They don't help you kick ass."
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