Martin Kampmann was rolling along pretty nicely in 2012 before he got in the cage with Johny Hendricks at UFC 154 in Montreal. A few months earlier, he’d downed Jake Ellenberger in an old-fashioned slobberknocker after surviving an early onslaught. And that was nothing compared to his come-from-behind victory over Thiago Alves in Sydney, Australia, when he sunk a guillotine just inside a minute to go in the bout. That fight, on its improbability alone, might go down as his opus.
By late 2012, Kampmann, on sheer resiliency, was rounding the bend to a title shot.
But as happens in fighting, confrontations make for divergent paths. Hendricks knocked the overly incautious Kampmann out 46 seconds into the bout en-route to a battle with Georges St-Pierre and ultimately the UFC’s welterweight title. Kampmann, meanwhile, ended up losing his next bout against Carlos Condit in a fight that left him playing head games with himself.
That was over seven months ago, back in August. He hasn’t fought since, and realistically, he can’t say with certainty right now if he ever will again.
"You know, as a fighter you never really want to retire," he says. "I’ve always enjoyed fighting. It was a hobby of mine that I was able to make into my living. So I feel very fortunate that I’ve been able to do that.
"But, I just knew that I wanted some time off and at the same time I didn’t want to waste it, so I’m pursuing other possibilities that can benefit me and my family for the future. I’ve been coaching. I like to give back to the guys who have the hunger, and the dreams to go out and try to make something of themselves in the sport. Because I started out like that."
Kampmann says he’s still training at Xtreme Couture in Las Vegas, the gym he’s been at since it opened, and still making the rounds to Syndicate and Robert Drysdale’s for ground work. Of late he’s been working an affiliation program, as well, getting out and helping along young fighters both in America and in his native Denmark. Coaching is a natural segue for him. And as an avid poker player, just like fellow fighters Mike Swick and Heath Herring, he’s also doing promotional stuff for Ultimate Poker and trying his hand at the tables.
For now, though, he isn’t thinking about fighting.
Some of his time away has to do with the cumulative toll of so many memorable fights; memorable because everybody knows Kampmann loves to knuckle up with anybody who’s willing. It’s that mentality that got him dropped the first time he came into orbit of a title shot back in 2009, when Paul Daley -- a late replacement for Swick -- knocked him out in the first round. You can’t help but think of the Nate Marquardt fight at UFC 88, either, Kampmann’s last as a middleweight, when he got systematically hacked down along on the fence in a long, ruthless sequence. Or his battle with Diego Sanchez (Fight of the Night), or his first fight with Condit back in Nashville.
Most of his 27 professional fights, actually.
Kampmann has always been right at home standing in the pocket hunting heads, which though thrilling to watch that’s one hell of a muse to court. Even with the crisp, fluid striking, the fearlessness of his style either rewards him in the end or gets him in trouble. Most recently, it’s been the latter, and that’s forced him to reassess things. In January, he decided to put back on his shoes and take a break from competing.
And right now he doesn’t have any real idea if he’ll return to the cage again or not.
"You never know," he says. "I don’t want to say I’m retired and then six months later come back. I’d rather say I’m taking a break, and if I feel like taking a fight in a couple of months, I’ll call up Joe Silva and I’m sure he’ll have a fight for me."
One thing that has plagued Kampmann was the nightmare scenario in Indianapolis, when he went for broke early in the Condit rematch and suffered an adrenaline dump. Even though it’s a fight game cliché, Kampmann is pretty sincere in saying seven months later that he was in great condition heading into that bout, a fact that betrayed him as he realized that his whole gas tank had been siphoned five minutes into a five-round fight.
"Against Condit I just gassed," he says. "I simply gassed. I was dominating the first round, and I’ve had some fights where I’ve come out and had a slow start, where I had to get beat up a little bit [before coming on], so I was so focused in that fight to come out and go hard from the get go, to the point that I amped myself up maybe too much.
"I was on him first round, taking him down a bunch and keeping it on him. But after that first round I came to my corner. I was dead tired already. I think I just psyched myself up too much. That’s the worst feeling in the world when you’ve still go four rounds left and nothing left in the gas tank. And I don’t know, I was in great shape for that fight. I shouldn’t have been gassed out at all. I was going five rounds with different guys in the gym, there was no reason to gas out, but when you’re under the lights…it’s different when you go in the cage, sometimes you can’t train for it."
Even spent, the 31-year old Kampmann hung with Condit until the fourth round, when he finally crumbled after getting blasted with several knees and punches. In the aftermath, he’s been left to ponder these damned if you do, damned if you don’t scenarios, the kind of mind games that creep into a seasoned fight veteran’s life.
"Whatever it was, there’s a lot of mental games in this sport," he says. "Usually when I fight I fight very relaxed, sometimes too relaxed and it causes me to get beat up in the first round and I have to come back, but at least I can keep going forever because I start out very relaxed. That time with Condit, just the opposite. I didn’t come in relaxed, I was amping myself and going hard from the beginning. In return I didn’t last the whole time. I’ve got to find a happy medium, a middle ground somewhere."
And that’s some of the stuff Kampmann’s been thinking about during his break.