There are fighters you know are destined for greatness the first time you see them in the Octagon, like Jon Jones and Georges St. Pierre. There are others whose notoriety leapfrogs them into featured positions, a category that includes fighters as diverse as Brock Lesnar and Kimbo Slice.
Then there are those like Martin Kampmann who make up the heart of mixed martial arts. They're neither pegged for superstardom not rushed into the limelight. They simply start out, figure out how to improve upon their weaknesses, fight everyone they're asked to fight, and get better every time out. With enough time, patience, a break here or there, and a whole hell of a lot of hard work, eventually they climb the ladder and get their moment to shine.
The 30-year-old Denmark native has been plugging away in the Octagon since debuting as a middleweight at Ultimate Fight Night 6 in the summer of 2006. He's had little help in terms of favorable matchups or any sort of promotional push.
He dropped to welterweight in 2009 and has watched as one contender after another to Georges St. Pierre's throne has risen and fallen. Kampmann handed current interim champion Carlos Condit the only loss of his 11-fight UFC/WEC tenure. Kampmann is 5-2 in his past seven fights, and his only two losses in that span were a split decision to Jake Shields and a unanimous decision to Diego Sanchez, both of which were fights many felt Kampmann won.
And you can add to that record something that doesn't show up in a fight finder: heart. In the span of three months, Kampmann has put together two of the strongest contenders for 2012‘s comeback win of the year. In March there was his win over Thiago Alves, in which he was on his way to a 30-27, across-the-board loss before finding a way to submit Alves in the fight's final minutes. Then there was Friday's thing of beauty against Jake Ellenberger, in which he survived a brutal early assault and rallied for a knockout win.
Kampmann still hasn't reached the top of the mountain. But simply getting to this point, in turning himself from just another name on the card to one of the game's most respected welterweights, is worthy of admiration in and of itself. And given that the Xtreme Couture fighter has come this far, are you really going to question whether he can climb even higher?
(Official MMAFighting.com ranking policy: Fighters who are under commission suspensions are ineligible to be ranked during the duration of their penalty. At welterweight, this currently affects Nick Diaz, who is suspended by the Nevada Athletic Commission until next February).
1. Georges St. Pierre The champ is still rehabbing his torn ACL.
2. Carlos Condit Condit is waiting for St. Pierre, which sort of defeats the purpose of crowning an interim champion.
3. Johny Hendricks A Hendricks-Kampmann title eliminator sounds like a fighter to savor.
4. Martin Kampmann Did I mention a Hendricks-Kampmann title eliminator sounds kind of awesome?
5. Jake Ellenberger The sooner Ellenberger stops complaining about the Kampmann stoppage and gets back to working on his vast potential, the better.
6. Josh Koscheck Has to decide whether he wants to make another run toward the top of the division, or if he's content at this stage of his career to pick his spots and maximize his paychecks.
8. Jake Shields We're keeping him ranked at 170 pounds until he actually fights again at middleweight, which happens in August.
9. Rory MacDonald Canadian youngster is one big-name win away from a leap in the standings.
10. Ben Askren The Bellator champ's style might not be the most thrilling, but it sure is effective.