Martin Kampmann has listed UFC fighter as his job title for eight years. In that time, without fail, he's followed the same frustrating pattern most mid-level contenders grow to despise. Win a few, build some momentum, then tumble back down the ladder.
Each time, the climb isn't the hard part. It's when you hit the bottom, when you're left shaking your head, trying to figure out where everything went wrong, that's the worst. Let it happen a few times, and it gets harder to cobble together the pieces for another run. But when it happens abruptly -- like, say, the 46-second loss Kampmann suffered at the hands of Johny Hendricks last November -- that's a different beast altogether.
"It's tough training that hard for a fight and then finishing that quick," Kampmann said to MMAFighting.com.
"I didn't show up mentally for that fight, and I've done that in the past. When I fought (Jake) Ellenberger, I wasn't really ready from the get-go either, and so I got knocked out right off the bat. That fight I came back and I knocked him out, so it's something that I worked on to get more mentally ready in the beginning; not having eat a few punches before I wake up and start beating the other guy up, because that's not healthy in the long term, having to fight back every time."
Kampmann spent almost nine months on the sidelines with the image of Hendricks' left hand flickering through his thoughts. The long layoff wasn't by choice. He had a few injuries he needed to take care of, including a pesky knee that swelled up more than he'd liked. A couple personal matters demanded his attention, too. But all the while, the inactivity was his biggest killer.
"When you're coming off a loss, more than anything what you want to do is get back in there and get back on the winning track, get a fight quick. I wish I could've done that," Kampmann said.
"It's hard to swallow, but that's how it goes. That's part of life, you know? You're supposed to learn from your mistakes. If you don't learn from your mistakes then it's really bad. If you can learn from your mistakes and improve upon them, then it's a positive thing."
Kampmann tries to look at the bright side, because really, what else can he do? But more than anything, the 31-year-old understands his loss to Hendricks is symptomatic of a bigger problem, one that is both maddening and also dangerous in the long term: his tendency to start slow, dig an early hole, then need to climb out. Kampmann did it against Thiago Alves, he did it against Ellenberger, and finally it cost him against Hendricks.
"I go into the fight and I kind of start out in that feeling out, sparring mode, thinking instead of coming in," Kampmann said. "When I started out fighting, I always came out hard, go in for the kill right off the bat. And then eventually I got into a more, you know, come in and get into a feeling out process. F--k the feeling out process. It's a fight. Go in and fight, and be ready to fight from the beginning.
"That's why I'm working on making adjustments, and that's what I feel I've adjusted on. I feel that mentally I'm in a different state and more prepared than ever before. I haven't shown the best Martin at all. I've only been fighting at half-capacity. Let me be able to fight at full capacity, I still have a lot left to show."
The road isn't going to get easier. Kampmann understands that. However this time around, he has a new ally on his side. When last Kampmann fought, the official UFC rankings had yet to rise to prominence. Now, despite the Hendricks loss and his inactivity in 2013, Kampmann is still ranked at a respectable No. 6 in the welterweight division. Win a rematch against No. 2 ranked Carlos Condit, and Kampmann's name is almost assuredly thrown right into the title fire.
"He's got a loss to me already. That's sitting under his chin so it's just more pressure on him," Kampmann said.
"I've had bad experiences with the judges before. It's no secret. I whooped Diego Sanchez's ass for three rounds and they f--ked up on that one. But this time I've got five rounds so that should give me time to get the finish.
"I feel more mentally ready than ever for this fight, man," Kampmann said in closing, "And I'm going to show it on Wednesday."