All losses are not created equal, even when they look that way on paper. Just ask Martin Kampmann, whose record shows back-to-back decision defeats in the UFC -- first to Jake Shields and then to Diego Sanchez -- but who remembers those losses much differently when he looks back on them now.
Maybe that part isn’t so surprising. Both decisions were painfully close -- the loss to Shields was a split decision, while the judges sided unanimously in favor of Sanchez -- and those have a way of leaving a bad taste in a fighter’s mouth. But it’s never just that, Kampmann told MMA Fighting this week from Sydney, Australia, where he faces Thiago Alves at the UFC on FX 2 event on Friday night.
"It took a longer time for me to get over the Shields fight, honestly. It’s harder to forgive yourself than the judges," Kampmann said. "The Diego fight, I think I won that. Everybody who saw it thought I won. I got a lot of support from people after that. But the Shields fight, I was mad at myself."
Mad, Kampmann said, because in his view he "fought a terrible fight," and at the worst possible time. When they met at UFC 121 in October of 2010, Shields was making his UFC debut after a 14-fight winning streak that saw him capture the Strikeforce middleweight title before defecting to the UFC. A victory over him then might have been the biggest of Kampmann’s career, and possibly vaulted him into a title shot against UFC welterweight champ Georges St-Pierre.
Instead, Shields got the nod from two of the three judges that night, and went on the face GSP for the belt the following spring. Kampmann, meanwhile, had plenty of time to beat himself up over what might have been.
"I didn’t fight smart at all," he said. "I was more disappointed with myself than anything, even though you could make an argument for me winning the fight because he was just humping my leg."
When he tried to rebound against Sanchez in March of 2011, the Danish welterweight thought he had it in the bag after three bloody rounds that left his opponent looking like something out of a slasher movie. This time all three judges sided against him, but it was nowhere near as bitter for him as the previous loss.
"When I fought Diego, I felt like I had a good performance. I beat him up for three rounds, landed more punches -- twice the punches he landed -- and I did way more damage. You look at his face and he’s got the scars to prove it. I felt I really got robbed in that fight. But I can’t sit around and sob about it, because I can’t change it. The only thing I could do is beat him up again, but this time hopefully finish it so I don’t get screwed by the judges."
It’s hard not to think about where Kampmann’s career might have gone if either of those decisions had gone his way. It’s also hard not to trot out one of the oldest of MMA cliches and chide him for ‘leaving it in the hands of the judges,’ as if he hadn’t ever thought about trying to finish the fight.
"In three rounds, against tough guys, it’s hard to put somebody away sometimes," he pointed out.
But the reality is that, whatever Kampmann or anyone else thinks about the way the judges scored those fights, the results aren’t going to change. All he can do is apply the lessons he learned in future fights, which is what he hopes to do against the Brazilian powerhouse Alves, he said.
"It does give me motivation to finish my fights, because sometimes the judges don’t always see it the way everyone else does," said Kampmann.
And while Alves, who’s known for making a major cut down to 170 pounds, may think of himself as the stronger fighter, Kampmann’s not afraid to match muscles with him, he insisted.
"I expect him to be strong, but I’ve been fighting at 185 for a lot of my career, so I’m used to handling bigger guys than me. I don’t think it’s an issue. I’m happy to clinch up with him and go power against power."
The missed opportunities and the painful lessons are one thing when you’re a young fighter still finding your footing in the game. But closing in on his 30th birthday, Kampmann is quickly approaching the point where he can’t afford to learn too many more things the hard way. You never know how many chances you’re going to get in this sport. If you let one too many slip by, you could end up with nothing but too much time to sit and think about what might have been.