With a little help, Martin Kampmann could be riding a five-fight win streak right now. That's a big "if" of course, but when you consider the fact that Kampmann out-struck both opponents in his losses, and denied them on 25 of a combined 30 takedown tries, it's clear that he's performed better than his record indicates.
His UFC on FX 2 opponent Thiago Alves, on the other hand, is attempting to leave behind the worst stretch of his career, going 2-3 in his last five fights. As Alves recently told MMA Fighting, it was a period of time that shook his confidence, but a recent submission win over Papy Abedi has him feeling as if he's back on track.
These aren't two fighters on parallel courses. Alves (19-8) has at least sniffed the top of the mountain. A former No. 1 welterweight contender, he acknowledged that the difficult part of the journey isn't getting to the top, it's maintaining that place as new threats come from beneath.
Kampmann (18-5) is essentially playing that role here. Though the Dane does have a notable win over current interim champion Carlos Condit, it came in Condit's first UFC bout in a controversial decision. So a win over Alves would mark his most significant victory since that point.
Both fighters have gained reputations as strikers first and foremost, and most expect the bout to be heavy on standup for the duration.
While Alves is largely considered the more powerful striker, Kampmann is thought to be more technical and polished.
In particular, Kampmann likes open space, using his strong footwork and a long jab to keep opponents at distance. Because of his confidence in moving in and out of range, he excels when the fight is in the middle of the octagon. While he's not known as a power striker, he is fairly accurate, landing 44 percent of his strikes according to FightMetric statistics.
Alves earned his reputation as a wrecking ball of a striker, a violent puncher with carving kicks that often target the legs. He often uses this attack to break down his opponent's base and soften him up for clinch work later on.
Unlike Kampmann, Alves isn't so worried about precision as he is about generating power. He lands at a lower percentage than Kampmann (39 percent), but he's far more capable of changing the fight with one blow.
Interestingly, FightMetric shows that they land a very comparable number of strikes per minute (3.36 for Kampmann and 3.11 for Alves), so if this fight goes to the scorecards, it could be another difficult decision for the judges.
Both fighters are underrated as wrestlers. Kampmann in particular has always shown himself to be quite capable in close quarters, connecting on more than 50 percent of his takedowns, and more impressively, stopping 80 percent of his opponents' tries against him. If it does go to the ground, Kampmann may have a slight edge, as four of his nine UFC wins are via tapout, and he's shown an impressive guillotine choke. Alves though, is difficult to keep on the ground for any period of time.
Alves isn't a notorious takedown artist, but he's shown some proficiency in that department when necessary. With a career mark of 69 percent in takedowns, Alves often surprises opponents with his well-timed attempts. For instance, he took down Rick Story and John Howard during his matches with them, though both were believed to be better wrestlers than him. He even took down Matt Hughes back at UFC 85. And while his takedown defense number (61 percent) is far lower than Kampmann's, that number is skewed by his bouts with Georges St. Pierre and Jon Fitch, who took him down a combined 19 times.
One area to watch closely is when the action moves towards the cage. As noted, Kampmann likes to fight at range. Some of his worst moments have come as he's gotten backed against the fence and taken fire. That area has been his trouble spot, as he got stopped there by Nate Marquardt and Paul Daley, and has had issues with lesser fighters there as well.
Because Alves punches well from short range and also has a strong clinch, this might be the area where the fight is won or lost. If Kampmann defends it well, he can out-work Alves. If not, the Brazilian's power can make it a short night.
Despite Alves' long stretch without a knockout, power doesn't fade at age 28, and Kampmman has shown the propensity to be hurt by strikes. I think Alves does most of the damage here with his heavy hands and scores a TKO finish in the third round.