The most appealing fight of the evening has to be the welterweight clash between special police forces' officer and Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt Paulo Thiago (13-1, 3-1 UFC) and Danish kickboxer and legitimate ground threat Martin Kampmann (16-3, 8-2 UFC). Not only is the match-up a solid test for both fighters in terms of styles, but the fight could determine who will move up in the ranks far enough to be matched in a contention bout next. Thiago has the most solid case as he's defeated Josh Koscheck, Mike Swick, and Jacob Volkmann in his UFC career with his lone loss coming against Jon Fitch at UFC 100. Kampmann's recent run was abruptly stopped at UFC 103 when he was knocked out by Paul Daley, but he did manage to defeat Jacob Volkmann at UFC 108 in quick fashion via guillotine choke.
While there is a possibility that the winner really puts himself into prime position for a run toward the top, my own attraction sits on how this fight will play out in what we could call an evenly-matched bout between well-rounded combatants. Thiago's boxing has improved immensely to the point in which I've found myself surprised in his learning ability and determination in correcting past problems that have plagued his form. Kampmann's ground tactics continue to get him out of tough situations, and it's improved to a point where he's positionally solid in his control and form.
Kampmann's striking is going to be the question, and while he hails from a region in the world that's notorious for kickboxers -- Kampmann hasn't shown the crisp kickboxing of a K-1 veteran. He doesn't loop his overhands horribly all of the time, but he tends to tire and fall into the mold. His defense is lacking, and that's probably one of the most consistent criticisms of his stand-up game.
Thiago, on the other hand, looked sloppy in his battle with Josh Koscheck, but a perfectly-placed uppercut downed the AKA veteran. Jon Fitch didn't give him the opportunity to punch, but Thiago did show some wizardry in his grappling skills. Jacob Volkmann and Mike Swick were victims of an ever-improving arsenal of strikes that Thiago has been molding. Crisp, straight punches that landed accurately, and Swick was the recipient of the follow-up of submission knowledge from Thiago's Brazilian jiu-jitsu background while Volkmann held off Thiago long enough to lose via judges' decision.
On the ground, I think Paulo is hands down a better fighter. We haven't seen a whole lot of Thiago off his back in recent memory, but the Jon Fitch fight is a good example of looking at the potential that is there. Thiago was able to work in some great reversals of position, but Fitch's wrestling was too much. Kampmann is a crafty ground fighter, but Paulo's black belt-level skill will trump anything Kampmann can muster.
I also think Thiago has that mental edge as a fight in the Octagon is probably a safer reality than his every day job of hunting drug lords in Brazil. I don't want to take anything away from Kampmann, but very few in this sport have a day job that is more dangerous or unnerving than Paulo Thiago. It surely must help him maintain composure in the heat of battle, and that's a plus.
In the end, I think some fans will be a bit surprised at the progression of Paulo Thiago. He's certainly rode the roller coaster in the UFC with an upset victory over Koscheck, a standard loss to a blanketing wrestler in Jon Fitch, and two subsequent wins that earned him some much deserved accolades. I think he's going to put on a good performance and make a claim as to being the next man to fight for contention.