Ahh, the advantages of low expectations.
In the co-main event of UFC 121 on Saturday, former Strikeforce middleweight champion Jake Shields made his much anticipated UFC debut against welterweight contender Martin Kampmann. Though the betting odds were by no means lopsided, this was expected to be the Jake Shields show.
In the days leading up to the event, UFC president Dana White had continually stated that with a win, Shields would next be fighting for the welterweight championship. The same offer was bewilderingly not extended to Kampmann, basically limiting the fight to only two options: Shields wins or Shields loses.
With Kampmann removed from the general focus on the fight, it was clear who the pressure fell on. And with those kinds of lofty expectations, sometimes just winning isn't enough.
Shields did end up walking away with a victory, but it was of the close and ugly split-decision variety. Kampmann undoubtedly was the more impressive of the two on the feet, and he certainly held his own on the ground against the grappling phenom.
Shields' conditioning looked very suspect after just the first few minutes of the fight, while Kampmann looked in terrific shape.
It was one of those rare occurrences when, after the fight, the winner's stock drops and the loser's stock rises just ever so slightly to where they are basically even. So where do the fighters go now?
Prior to the fight, Shields was assured a shot at the title by Dana White as long as Shields got a win. It certainly wouldn't be the first time White went back on his word if he were to retract that statement—ask Jon Fitch—and it wouldn't be the last.
Putting Shields in a main event after this dismal performance would be a hard sell that even the UFC would have trouble pushing, but let's just assume that White keeps his word on that front.
What I'm more curious about is what's next for Martin Kampmann?
After coming so close to upsetting the apple cart, Kampmann should still be in line for a big fight, despite coming out on the wrong end of the decision. But when looking at the available welterweight contenders, there are very few options for the Dane that make a lot of sense.
A rematch with Carlos Condit would be an attractive option for the fans—the first fight was a barnburner won by Kampmann via close split-decision—but Condit is arguably one fight away from challenging for the title himself, so a fight with Kampmann might be a step backwards.
Mike Pyle is coming off a career-best performance over previously-undefeated John Hathaway at UFC 120 and would be a logical next opponent for Kampmann. But they both train at the same gym and, as is the trend in MMA, the two teammates likely would have no interest in facing each other.
Of the few seemingly available welterweights in the UFC, three stick out to me as probable matchups for Kampann's next appearance: Diego Sanchez, Chris Lytle and Jake Ellenberger.
Sanchez stamped a career-resurrecting win over Paulo Thiago just moments before Kampmann and Shields entered the octagon.
It was a brilliant performance by a fighter the fans are very familiar with. Sanchez now looms as a big name and a credible opponent for any welterweight trying to climb the ladder.
A match between Sanchez and Kampmann would look very pleasing to the fans.
Lytle is currently riding a four-fight win streak, most recently out-slugging former champion Matt Serra at UFC 119 for a unanimous decision. Lytle has made a career out of winning "fight of the night" bonuses, and a bout with Kampmann would likely go the same way.
Both are incredibly well-rounded fighters, and continually leave it all in the cage. If Lytle wants to make a run at the top of the division, going through Kampmann would be one way to get there.
Ellenberger has looked like a million bucks since entering the UFC, and most recently turned John Howard's eye into a gruesome, swollen mess at UFC on Versus 2. There are many that believe Ellenberger is bound for the upper echelon of the welterweights, and a win over Kampmann would be quite a feather in his cap.
The fans are now familiar with Martin Kampmann. He has fought 11 times in the UFC, only losing three of those, and has put on a list of memorable performances.
Though he officially lost to Shields on Saturday, I think the fans are looking forward to his next bout more than a Shields title shot.