Every fighter has flaws. Some are more prominent than others, and some fighters succeed despite their flaws, which seem to outweigh their skills.
Martin Kampmann is one of my favourite fighters in MMA because of his well-rounded game and finishing instincts—which every up-and-coming fighter should be focused on emulating instead of hoping smack talk will earn them big fights.
Kampmann has, however, a reputation for great comebacks, and you don't get to be known for that and for having great defense at the same time.
Here I will be discussing the flaws in his game, and on Monday, I'll talk about all the things I love watching him do better than anyone else.
In the days of Joe Frazier's success at the top levels of boxing's heavyweight division, one sentiment about him was repeated fight after fight.
"Joe Frazier has never won a first round in his life."
This is tongue in cheek and obviously untrue, as Frazier has several first-round knockouts on his record, but it's not a meaningless joke. Like many big punchers, he was always a painfully slow starter.
There has always been a group of men who only really "wake up" when they have taken a few good punches to the face or even been knocked down. Kampmann is perhaps the best example of a slow starter hanging around the upper echelons of MMA competition.
Just look at his last three performances. He was caught cold in each one, twice in the first round. Certainly, he was not fighting slouches, but touted as a skilled technical striker, he was still getting caught by the wild broadsides of Jake Ellenberger.
Ellenberger beat him from pillar to post in the opening round, but after the break, Kampmann found his rhythm almost immediately as he connected a sharp counter right hand that put his opponent on wobbly legs.
Kampmann's great redeeming feature is that he is one of the finest opportunists in the division (along with his upcoming opponent at UFC Fight Night 27 on Wednesday, Carlos Condit). If he has an opportunity to finish, he almost always will.
Ellenberger got caught, and Kampmann inevitably put him away, but there were few moments in that bout where you could say the Danish fighter had an edge.
One of the biggest flaws in his game, and one that allows mediocre strikers to put gloves on him, is his awful cage awareness. His movement is smooth as you like as he glides around the cage, but in response to an attack, he backs straight up against the fence.
Against the fence is just a miserable place to be. A fighter can no longer move backward, and his feet are forced close together as his opponent barrels in, which removes all the advantages that being in a stance brings. He is easier to hit and can't return fire with any power.
The example I always use to demonstrate the effect of being against the cage or ropes is Bas Rutten. He is a beloved fighter but was never a great technician like Maurice Smith. Yet he landed good shots on Smith and many others by push kicking them onto the ropes and diving in with punches as their legs were under them and they were rebounding back at him.
If ever you see a fighter swinging with his back to the fence or ropes, remember that nobody hits as hard with his back to the wall and his feet straight underneath him.
Kampmann and Stefan Struve have to be the worst offenders in the UFC for backing up to the cage, but if anything, Kampmann is worse because he has the skill in his footwork to avoid hitting the fence—just not the cage awareness.
Diego Sanchez, Jake Ellenberger, Thiago Alves and Rick Story each backed Kampmann onto the fence, started swinging and connected cleanly on him. In his most recent bout, as soon as Johny Hendricks lunged toward Kampmann, he ran back against the fence.
His most recent bout demonstrates his slow starting ability. From the start of the fight, he was bouncing on the balls of his feet. Every time he bounced, he came clear up off the mat and sacrificed his ability to move fast in any direction.
Whether he thought he could fight Hendricks like this or, more likely, was trying to wake his legs up and get them working in coordination with his will, I do not know. But the important point to note is that Kampmann was knocked out in that fight because he was bouncing.
Kampmann was so far clear off the mat that as he bounced forward he gave himself no time or ability to react as Hendricks lunged in. In competition karate, a competitor learns to time his lunges as his opponent bounces forward, as most karateka bounce in a forward-back rhythm.
Hendricks could have timed Kampmann's bounce. More likely, he just lunged when he wanted to, and Kampmann's own choice to bounce prevented him from reacting.
Kampmann's catch-and-pitch counter game is marvelous. He has a solid jab that is combined with a bounce in (which is rare outside of traditional boxing), and he uses his front kick brilliantly as a counter to aggression.
I will analyze all of these elements in a more positive article next week. His front kick on the jaw of Alves was almost identical to the one that Travis Browne landed on Alistair Overeem at UFC Fight Night 26, which I examined in detail.
All of those positive elements are the reverse side of the coin on a fighter who is so talented but often defeats himself with his own technical and psychological flaws.
Kampmann might be able to light up some of the most technical fighters in the UFC on the feet, but he will still struggle with wild brawlers unless he sorts out his cage awareness and defense. He needs to come up with some kind of strategy to avoid punishment while he slowly gets himself into a fight.
Pick up Jack's eBooks Advanced Striking and Elementary Striking from his blog, Fights Gone By.
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