'Hitman' sets his target on Marquardt
Danish fighter hopes to continue comeback, move up middleweight ladder
Josh Hedges / Zuffa
Video: MMA from NBC Sports
Cavalcante didn't want fight to stop
After losing his fight with Justin Gaethje due to a deep cut above his left eye, Gesias Cavalcante talks about the decision to stop the fight. Cavalcante says he was ready to continue the fight before the doctors made the call.
• Click here to email MMA Fight Weekly
It wasn’t Schindler’s List, or Gone with the Wind, or even Star Wars. It was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
“I wanted to learn the moves,” Kampmann says with a laugh. “I thought it was cool. I thought it was bad-ass.”
The day he fell in love with martial arts began a journey that would take him around the world to learn different disciplines and ultimately land him in the UFC, where the 26-year-old Danish fighter is in the hunt to challenge the man largely considered the No.1 pound-for-pound fighter in the world, Anderson Silva.
First, the Denmark native has to get by Nate Marquardt at UFC 88 next weekend.
“Most of the guys I've fought, I’ve been able to pinpoint a weakness in their game,” he said. “Not with Nate. He is very well rounded, and one of best guys in the UFC. It’s going to be tough, but I am looking forward to it.”
Kampmann, however, has overcome difficult situations in the past. Last year, he suffered a disastrous, career-threatening injury while in training for the biggest fight of his life: the UFC 72 main event against former champ Rich Franklin.
While sparring at Xtreme Couture in Las Vegas, he went for a takedown against UFC lightweight Tyson Griffin. While defending the maneuver, Griffin slipped and fell right on Kampmann’s knee. The damage was catastrophic, resulting in a torn ACL, MCL and meniscus.
The injury required two separate surgeries, transplanted cadaver tissue, grueling rehabilitation, and kept him out of action for 15 months.
“It was terrible,” he says. “There was no guarantee at all that I would be able to continue my career. You just have to do the work, wait and see. I was really worried and it was depressing not be able to train or fight. I’m a fan, so I’d watch events, but every time you do, you’re bummed that you can’t be a part of it.”
Kampmann ended up in the U.S. after successfully launching his career in Europe, fighting in locations from Denmark to Sweden to Russia and the UK.
In the close-knit MMA community, many fighters have occasion to bump into each, and during a 2003 Viking Fight event in his native Aarhus, he met current Affliction fighter Mike Pyle, who was basically barnstorming through Europe, taking fights in places like Denmark, Lithuania and Russia.
During a semester break, Kampmann called Pyle, who invited him to train with him. Kampmann accepted, and determined that as part of his trip, he would try to take part in his first U.S. match. The call came on short notice, when the organization World Fighting Alliance had a fighter drop off the card due to injury. With only two days’ notice, Kampmann was summoned to take on MMA veteran Edwin Aguilar. On a July 22, 2006 card that featured a host of MMA stars including Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Lyoto Machida, Bas Rutten and “Razor” Rob McCullough, no one finished their opponent as quickly as Kampmann, who needed just 2:43 to earn a TKO.
“There was a little hesitation in taking the fight on such short notice,” he said. “I’d prefer to have more time to prepare, but I decided it was too big an opportunity to pass up. The whole reason I came here was to get a fight. I was training anyway, so I was in shape, and it was a great win for me.”
The victory opened the eyes of many in the MMA world. One of those was UFC matchmaker Joe Silva, and when he needed a middleweight to replace an injured Kalib Starnes and fight on short notice one month later, he extended an invitation to Kampmann, who impressed again with another first-round TKO, this time over Crafton Wallace.
With that win, Kampmann’s mind was made up regarding his future. He took a hiatus from school to train fulltime.
“I liked school, and I liked my program,” says Kampmann, who was earning credits to become a product development engineer. “I was always caught in between with school and training. When I was in school, I would question if I was giving enough to training. And when I was training, I had questions about school. Maybe in the future I’ll go back.”
Kampmann presents an interesting puzzle for opponents. Of his 13 wins, he has six TKOs and five submissions to go with one decision (and one disqualification win), proving that he is well-rounded and capable of fighting wherever the match goes.
He attributes that to his natural progression in combat sports, starting with karate, then Thai boxing and western boxing, and moving to submission wrestling before beginning his amateur MMA career.
“It’s been little steps,” he said. “I wish I started with wrestling, but I’ve improved my wrestling a lot training with Xtreme Couture. Back home, there are lots of Thai boxers but not a lot of MMA guys, so back home I work on boxing. But it’s great training here because there are so many guys talented at so many things.”
Kampmann’s return from the devastating knee injury took place in June, and he earned a guillotine choke submission over UFC veteran Jorge Rivera, but Marquardt represents his biggest challenge to date. The seasoned competitor has a 26-8-2 record and at one time was the No. 1 middleweight contender in the UFC, before suffering a knockout loss to Anderson Silva in a July 2007 title bout.
A win will put Kampmann right on the cusp of a date with Silva. He will likely need at least one more fight afterward, to prove his worthiness and to showcase his skills to the public. But after surviving a setback that nearly derailed his career, he knows things must progress one step at a time.
“Before I was injured, I was supposed to fight in a main event,” he said. “I got injured and was out for over a year, and people forgot about me. It was a long time out. Now, it’s time to fight my way back and remind people of who I am.”