It's fairly rare that a fighter can win seven fights in a row in the UFC and still not receive legitimate consideration as the No. 1 contender in his division. Recently, lightweights Jim Miller and George Sotoripoulos pulled off lengthy streaks, only to lose in their eighth fights before they could impress UFC brass enough for a shot at gold.
That's exactly the scenario facing Jake Ellenberger (27-5) at Friday night's TUF Live Finale. Riding high off back-to-back victories over top 10 welterweights Diego Sanchez and Jake Shields, the Nebraska powerhouse looks to add a third, Martin Kampmann, to his resume. If he wins, it will be his seventh straight victory overall, but it's virtually a lock he'll have to keep piling up more wins to eventually challenge for a belt.
Hoping to play the role of spoiler is Kampmann, a fighter who always seems to be involved in close fights.
For evidence, let's look at his last four. In his most recent against Thiago Alves, he was on the way to losing a decision when he locked up a Hail Mary guillotine choke in the fight's final minute. Against Rick Story, he went to a split-decision win. In a wild fight with Diego Sanchez in March 2011, he lost via unanimous decision, though most observers and a FightMetric analysis chose him as the winner. Even before that, he lost a razor-close split decision to Shields just before Shields lost in a title bout against Georges St-Pierre.
Suffice it to say, Kampmann (19-5) is no easy out, though solid as he is, he's not a world-beater, either. In other words, he's a finesse fighter, which is no criticism but an observation that is important in this upcoming stylistic matchup.
Ellenberger is different; he has the tools to dominate fights and bull his way to victory in short order. His success comes through a very well-balanced and complete skill set. He is a good striker, hits with power, is aggressive, and has a strong takedown game.
In recent years, he's made the biggest strides in his striking. Notably, according to FightMetric, he lands 47 percent of his strikes and only gets hit 31 percent of the time by return fire. Given the usual difference in power between him and his opponents, that's often going to be a recipe for victory.
One of the reasons his striking is so good is that he mixes things up well. He can quickly transition from an overhand right to a double-leg, and that opens up avenues for success. As a result, his takedown accuracy rate of 59 percent is well above average.
Kampmann is similarly well-rounded as a fighter, though I would suggest he has two areas of technical superiority in this fight. One comes from his textbook striking. While Ellenberger is perfectly content to stand his ground and fire off bombs at times, Kampmann is far more interested in capitalizing on footwork and angles. This isn't to say Ellenberger doesn't have good fundamentals; his are very good and probably even underrated. It's just that Kampmann seems to hold on to his longer, even in the heat of battle. The other slight advantage I'd give him is his submission game, with seven career finishes by way of tapout and a very attack-heavy style based on chokes.
The rest of his game, to be honest, may have some struggles against Ellenberger. While he's a technical striker, he can't come close to matching his thunder. While he's a good wrestler, he doesn't have Ellenberger's power or technique. Give Ellenberger's style, those differences are hard to ignore.
One other issue: Kampmann has been KO'd three times in his career, and Ellenberger has huge power (17 career KO's). Can he stand up to it? His recent outings are a good sign, but in reality, of his recent fights, only Alves has the kind of power that Ellenberger will offer.
The X-factor? Conditioning. This is a five-round fight and Ellenberger has slowed down in the third round of fights with Diego Sanchez and Carlos Condit, the latter of which cost him a major breakthrough victory in his UFC debut back in 2009. It's certainly possible that Ellenberger tires and Kampmann's technique leads him to take over the late rounds.
Ellenberger has said that he won't let any concerns about gassing slow him down if he gets Kampmann in trouble. Ten extra minutes is a lot of time, and fatigue can't be hidden, so if we get to the fourth and fight rounds, it's anybody's fight.
Ultimately though, I don't think we'll get there. Ellenberger is an action fighter and he'll force Kampmann into bad positions where his power will be too much. Ellenberger via second-round TKO.