If these two were squaring off at high noon, twenty paces apart on a sun-baked desert road while the patrons from a nearby saloon gathered 'round to gawk in silent anticipation: Martin Kampmann (18-5) would be the type of pistoleer to draw iron with both hands and methodically fill you with two chambers of lead from all angles while somersaulting side to side. Thiago Alves (19-8) would calmly expel a slabber of chewing tobackey and raise up a bazooka with the intention of dissipating your entire existence with one squeeze of the trigger, leaving only an Atomic Shadow.
They are both excellent strikers but with contrasting styles. Of his seven career TKOs, Kampmann has just one in the Octagon -- he's a lanky, precision puncher who wreaks havoc on the perimeter by gradually accumulating damage with an artful volume of blows. Alves is a straight-up, Muay Thai mauler who deliberately wades into the trenches with a head-hunter's mentality.
A few more similarities: while they prefer to handle their business standing, their ground skills are not just rock-solid, but perhaps even under-utilized assets that need more exercise. Alves is a longtime ATT product and BJJ black belt with vicious ground-and-pound and, since he's built like a silverback gorilla and known as a striker, could definitely benefit from another dimension. Kampmann has always been touted for his Dutch-flavored kickboxing, but his lack of fight-ending power has resulted in a handful of controversial decisions and his cunning sub-grappling accounts for three of his four UFC finishes. He's also noticeably improved his wrestling -- both offensive and defensive -- since dropping down from middleweight in 2008.
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The crucial likeness between Alves and Kampmann is that both are widely accepted as top-breed welterweights but have yet to clearly cement themselves as the elite of the elite. The resplendent seven-fight swathe that Alves cut through the division to earn a crack at Georges St. Pierre at UFC 100 has been overshadowed by a mediocre 50/50 run in his last four (decision losses to Jon Fitch and Rick Story, decision win over John Howard and TKO of Papy Abedi). Since becoming a welterweight, Kampmann's notched five of eight, yet Paul Daley is the only convincing loss (TKO) as his defeats to Diego Sanchez and Jake Shields were hotly debated decisions.
Alves is repping the old guard here. In an era when the 170-pound class was dominated by wrestling enforcers, he defined his top-shelf status by plowing through a stout list of grapplers by way of malicious violence. Now, after years of GSP and Jon Fitch being clearly atop the totem pole, the landscape is altered with no less than seven hungry new welterweights in the top ten. Martin Kampmann is one of them, and he's determined to snipe his way up the ladder and leapfrog those above him, and Alves is first on his list.
Gifs and analysis in the full entry.
There have been too many fighters in MMA touting themselves as "The Pitbull" to even bother remembering. Alves is the only one who truly embodies the primitive ferocity that the nickname portrays. I don't get involved in the "point fighting" debates but I'd bet the farm that Alves is never mentioned. The small percentage of strikes he hurls that are not designed for pure decapitation are merely a set up for the ones that are.
Notice how Alves quickly returns his left hand to his chin for protection while showering Abedi with leather.
Generally, the more aggressive a striker is, the more he's exposed defensively, but that's not the case with Alves. The finish above also justifies why his top-game should be implemented more.
The half-hearted punches he throws are intentional. Since he's not a jabber, Alves tosses out these mid-power strikes and then preys on his opponent's reaction to sight in his counters; if they pursue a takedown, he's not off-balance or over-committed, but has the ideal stance and hand position to defend with a sprawl and/or underhooks.
This is exactly the case with the casual one-two he throws before crushing Karo Parisyan (above) and also the reason he's able to repel Rick Story's advances to the right. Alves is unique in that he's a busy stalker, but his balance and composure keep him devoid of the weaknesses that normally accompany heavy aggression. This complements his counter-striking and his takedown defense perfectly.
Alves has a pleasingly innovative approach to takedown defense that's described in detail in the aforementioned Judo Chop on his footwork.
The blueprint for defending takedowns is avoiding contact entirely or neutralizing the shot in the clinch. Alves' takedown defense is not very "defensive" at all. In the spirit of Muay Thai, he holds his ground or launches forward to lock horns and meet the attacker head-on with offense. This assertive approach propelled him to wins over Matt Hughes, Josh Koscheck and Parisyan. It also led to his downfall against Story who, instead of springing from outside, steadily steered him against the cage to stifle his striking advantage.
The sequence to the right is nothing flashy, but that's Kampmann's style and this portrays his smooth and unflinching composure.
It also reflects a conglomeration of the areas he's recently improved in:
- Establishing his long jab on the fringe
- Head movement and countering (note the sweet jab, step back, jab at 1:55)
- Takedown defense
I purposely distinguished his strides in takedown defense and wrestling earlier because, though they're related defensively, the clip to the left shows a larger advancement by threatening with offensive wrestling.
This beautiful inside foot sweep from the over-under clinch not only scores points, but it keeps Kampmann out of the mold of a one-dimensional striker and gives the defender an entirely different set of elements to worry about. Story is also a powerful wrestler who you'll rarely find on his back, so this speaks volumes.
A popularly -- and correctly -- asserted knock on Kampmann is his tendency to float back on the fence and immerse himself in a close-quarters brawl.
Sanchez takes full advantage of this flaw to the right. He barges forward in a primitive bull rush, yet Kampmann can't punish Sanchez for it because he retreats in a straight line and ends up with his back on the fence, which is like being locked in a closet with an assailant blocking the only exit. The beating Paul Daley (who has a style like Alves) laid on him is the cardinal example of the perils of this tactic.
This is also why I initially had Alves pegged to finish Kampmann: the sketchy habit of allowing himself to be contained in the corner while absorbing punishment is precisely where Alves thrives. Alves is a killer in open space with his left hook-low kick combination, but he's at his best in phone-booth range, where Kampmann often finds himself trapped.
My original prediction was that Alves would eventually create this scenario and cruise to victory like another relaxing day of target practice at the shooting range.
Even though Alves is a force in the center of the Octagon, his best distance weapon is the low kick. However, he almost always sets up his Thai kicks with a tight left hook, which is more suited for close-range combat. In plain terms, Alves does all his damage right in your grill, his footwork and motion isn't very dynamic (he typically moves straight ahead or straight back) and, overall, his potency dwindles the farther away he is.
Conversely, Kampmann excels on the fringe and his footwork has been looking damn sharp. His length, timing and precision is a nightmare. His lack of knockout power was another reason I was leaning towards Alves, but something tells me that Kampmann is going to fight smarter than ever and unveil the entire package of the mixed martial artist he's become: finesse striking from outside, clever clinch-work with the threat of takedowns to quell Alves' fiery advances and dusting off his highly under-rated submission grappling game.
If they stand and trade, this is Alves all day. If Kampmann draws upon his diversity, stays unpredictable and throws the whole enchilada at Alves, I think he can pull this one out.
My Prediction: Martin Kampmann by decision.
All gifs via Zombie Prophet of IronForgesIron.com