It’s no secret that this Thursday’s UFC Live main event is an important fight in the careers of both Diego Sanchez and Martin Kampmann.
Both guys have established respectable, if not great records in the Octagon and each has bounced between weight classes — Kampmann starting as a middleweight, Sanchez competing in three different divisions during the last six years – in search of his true identity as a fighter. At this stage, both guys are also pushing 30 and since both have fumbled previous opportunities to nab (or just fight for) UFC gold, a loss here could be seen as a major setback.
Sanchez has been the most vocal about his recent struggles leading up the fight. One of the winners of the original season of “The Ultimate Fighter,” he’s back home and training with Greg Jackson in Albuquerque these days after two-plus years trying to make his own way in California. During that time away he says he struggled to find training partners, partied and drank too much and ultimately lost back-to-back fights to BJ Penn (for the lightweight title) and John Hathaway (at welterweight) during 2009-10. He now admits it was a very dark period in his life.
"I went through a real rough situation in (California) and it got me into a lot of emotional depression," Sanchez said during the recent media conference call for UFC Live. "That weighed hard on me. The BJ Penn fight, it was really hard for me, the way I lost — getting cut up and getting hands put on me like that. That never happened to me (before) in my career … I hit rock bottom after the BJ Penn fight, I really did. I blew through all my money. I made some bad decisions … I just had to come back home. I needed my family’s love and I was just humbled, one hundred percent."
Sanchez now describes himself as “reinvented.” He’s dropped his old “The Nightmare” nickname in favor of the more positive-sounding “The Dream,” and professes he’s recommitted himself to the relentless and powerful ground and pound style that earned him so much success in the early part of his career.
It’s a style Kampmann already knows a thing or two about, as he rolls into this fight fresh on the heels of a split decision loss in a welterweight No.1 contender bout against wrestler Jake Shields at UFC 121. The win pushed Shields into an upcoming pay-per-view title match with Georges St. Pierre in April. The loss? Well, it remanded Kampmann into this fight with Sanchez, which will air live on the Versus Network.
Though he’s now focused on Sanchez, the defeat is still fresh in his mind.
"I knew his game was to get people down and just kind of lay on them and it was unfortunate that I just kind of made some bad (decisions) in that fight," Kampmann said. "Sometimes in the heat of the moment you make mistakes. I was a little bit too tentative in the standup (because) I was worried too much about the takedown … I should have just stuck to punching him some more in the face and I could have won the fight. I should have won the fight, I just gave it away (with) some stupid mistakes."
Just as a return to his roots could be important for Sanchez, avoiding those “stupid mistakes” will be vital for Kampmann.
Above all else, this fight is one of the more difficult main events to predict in recent memory, with media and fans seemingly split over who will emerge the winner. The stakes are also high, with rumors that the 170-pound title might soon be up for grabs if St. Pierre defeats Shields and vacates it to chase a superfight against middleweight champion Anderson Silva.
Both Kampmann and Sanchez need a win here to prove they can perform their best on the sport’s biggest stage. After all, there’s no telling how many more chances either guy is going to get.
Chad Dundas writes about MMA for Crave Online, Versus.com and CagePotato.com. He lives in Missoula, MT.