In the headliner of tonight's The Ultimate Fighter Live Finale, a pair of top-10 welterweights will collide as #3-ranked Jake Ellenberger meets #9-ranked Martin Kampmann. This season's TUF champ will be crowned in the Al Iaquinta vs. Mike Chiesa lightweight match and cast members Justin Lawrence and John Cofer also make the featured broadcast, which begins at 9:00 p.m. on the FX channel. Non-TUF bouts on the main card include featherweights Jonathan Brookins vs. Charles Oliveira and Max Holloway vs. Pat Schilling.
The Jake Ellenberger (27-5) buzz began when he clubbed Vale Tudo legend Jose Pele Landi-Jons in 9-seconds at a 2007 BodogFight event. The career of "The Juggernaut" can be broken down into 3 phases: he started off at 12-0, finishing every opponent (7 in the 1st-round; 9 via strikes and 3 submissions) including UFC vets Laverne Clark and Gil Castillo. His level of competition increased and a 5-4 sequence followed, though most of those losses were decisions to UFC-caliber opposition (Jay Hieron, Derrick Noble, Rick Story) but sub-specialist Delson Heleno became the only fighter to finish him (armbar). Ellenberger's closing run is a stellar 10-1 clip in which the razor-thin split decision to Carlos Condit in his Octagon debut was the only shortcoming.
Martin Kampmann (19-5) is a Danish kickboxer now training at Xtreme Couture who emerged in the UFC with a 9-1 record. Billed as a kickboxer, the middleweight started strong with a 4-0 pace, employing his submission prowess to defeat 3, but dropped to welterweight after Nate Marquardt gave him a 1st-round beatdown in just over a minute. "The Hitman" has since laid out a respectable 6-3 journey with wins over current welterweight interim champ Carlos Condit, Rick Story (both of whom hold wins over Ellenberger), Paulo Thiago and Thiago Alves; his only definitive loss was Paul Daley's TKO, as the decisions against Diego Sanchez and Jake Shields were hotly contested.
Kampmann is a highly technical offensive striker. He's a calculating sniper from the fringe with crisp, straight and accurate punches and an excellent sense of timing and in-and-out movement. The big knock on Kampmann is his tendency to eat punches when he's in close quarters or engaged in a brawl. Many have gotten this far and written the Dane off against the exceedingly hefty punching power of Ellenberger.
However, Ellenberger is not absent of faults either -- his pace and activity seems to gradually deteriorate as the fight progresses and, especially considering that this is a 5-round affair, Kampmann's unwavering resilience and gameness poses a legit threat. Additionally, despite Ellenberger's wrestling savvy, his submission grappling has been a tad suspect, as Condit was able to mount him quickly and BJJ whiz Carlos Eduardo Rocha gave him hell with slick sweeps and transitions on the mat.
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Let's keep with tradition and hear from wrestling analyst Mike Riordan on Ellenberger's unique background:
Jake does not have an elite wrestling pedigree; he only has about half a season's worth of Division 2 competition under his belt (his brother Joe was a D2 All-American). That being said, D2 powerhouse Nebraska Omaha brought him on as a coach, which suggests that he can wrestle well enough to compete with some of the best of the NCAA Division 2. Based on this I would make the prediction that he would compete respectably against lower-level Division 1 competition in pure wrestling.
Kampmann's wrestling has been tougher to assess. While lacking any stateside accolades to firmly accredit his skills, he's shown shades of brilliance with takedowns and top-side submission expertise, such as in his wins over Paulo Thiago, Jacob Volkmann and the hulking Drew McFedries. In fact, Kampmann has been a sheer terror on the mat and I can't recall any circumstances in which he struggled; he more than held his own against elite grapplers in Condit and Shields. He's also rounded out his game with phenomenal takedown defense and exceptional scrambling abilities.
At first glance, it would appear that the tall and lean Kampmann would have an edge in height and reach, yet the pair both clock in at 6'0" and the broad-shouldered Ellenberger actually has an inch advantage in reach (73" vs. 72"). Typically, Kampmann's stature accentuates his range-fighting strategy but that will not be the case tonight.
Standing, Kampmann keeps a high guard, bounces light on his toes and works a high-volume attack of sharp, straight punches. Ellenberger is more flat-footed (which is one reason he generates so much punching power) and inclined to hang back and await opportunities for massive counter punches. Though a little more polished and complete than Dan Henderson, Ellenberger has H-Bomb capacity with his thunderous right hand, which he unleashes in the form of overhands, uppercuts, right hooks and a nasty straight. His left hook is his secondary threat and he's typically unafraid to circle toward his opponent's power-hand or stay in the pocket to trade.
Ellenberger's chin has been nearly invincible thus far; Kampmann has 3 TKO losses, though each was delivered by a reputable striker (Nate Marquardt, Paul Daley, Red Devil fighter and former UFCer Andrei Semenov). Kampmann has also faced a more threatening assembly of dangerous strikers when compared to Ellenberger so, despite his propensity to take damage, I'm hesitant to deem his chin as weak or questionable. The same applies to the criticism that Ellenberger gasses out in later rounds -- the only substantial evidence was his last showing against Diego Sanchez.
Regardless, it's safe to assume that Ellenberger will be hell on wheels for the first 10 minutes and that's when his chances are the best to finish. Kampmann's methodical in-and-out strategy should be carefully attuned for Ellenberger's raucous power and virility to open the contest. With the more artful footwork, movement and boxing, Kampmann's jab will be a crucial tool to keep Ellenberger at bay and dictate the pace from outside. He's become adept at pumping a long and frenetic jab that pelts his opponent's head relentlessly but must be wary of engaging at close quarters for any length of time.
Ellenberger's wheelhouse is flat-out violent. For a guy with such brawn and one-shot power, his hands are deceivingly quick. He's afforded the luxury of holding his ground and unloading the cannons by his strong wrestling, good balance and bulletproof beard. For success in the striking department, Kampmann will have to employ his fast hands, precision striking and cage movement to win through a highly efficient volume, knowing that a single touch from Ellenberger can compensate for his efforts.
Implementing his sub-grappling, which seems to be his biggest advantage, will be trickier. Opportunistic preying is his best avenue -- since he's unlikely to ground him with a straight-on takedown attempts, his use of circling and angles could catch Ellenberger off-guard or off-balance and every shot will have to be set up with strikes. Kampmann has a broader arsenal and is really the more complete fighter from an overall skill standpoint, but the challenge is overcoming Ellenberger's simple but effective wrestle-boxing medley. If this match does hit the floor, I expect Kampmann to quickly turn the tide, but only if he's on top -- his guard is solid but Ellenberger's punching power will be focused directly on his face.
On paper, it's hard not to side with Ellenberger here, as the match-up mechanics favor him to enforce his strengths. Kampmann's tenacity and spirit should not be overlooked and his chances increase as the fight goes on. Even though picking a finish doesn't portray how evenly matched this fight is, I have a feeling that Ellenberger is going to stomp on the gas early and head-hunt for a stoppage.
My Prediction: Jake Ellenberger by TKO.