Perhaps it says something about the UFC’s relentless schedule of events that a welterweight fight pitting two top 10s seems to be flying under the radar. Another possibility is that the logjam at the top of the division has turned it into a jumbled mess, muting interest in its happenings. It’s also plausible that a combination of the two have turned off fans to Friday’s TUF Live Finale main event pitting Jake Ellenberger against Martin Kampmann.
Ellenberger in particular has been on a roll, his six-fight winning streak steamrolling through a pair of top 10 fighters -- Diego Sanchez and Jake Shields -- in the process. He’s ranked No. 3 by most observers, behind current UFC champion Georges St-Pierre and interim champ Carlos Condit, and that’s where the head-scratching begins.
St-Pierre has been on the shelf since last April while recovering from knee surgery to fix a torn ACL and damaged meniscus. He’s not due back until around November. In his absence, Condit won the interim belt in February, only to decide he wasn’t going to defend it, instead electing to wait for a promised matchup with St-Pierre.
With two champs and two belts both sidelined, Ellenberger (27-5) might just be the top active welterweight in the world, but rather than beat his chest and demand to be included in any conversation about UFC gold, the soft-spoken Nebraska native has vowed to stay active and let the W’s pile up.
“I'm a big believer of actions speak louder than words,” he said.
A win over Kampmann (19-5) will just add more credibility to his case, and make no mistake, there are some who think he’s not quite done enough to fight for the belt. Among them is Kampmann himself, who while praising Ellenberger’s recent accomplishments, also voiced some doubt about just exactly who he’s defeated.
"He's done great in beating two good guys, but I don't know much about the guys he fought before that,” he said.
In measuring the pair, Ellenberger can fairly be described as a more powerful version of Kampmann. He has thunderous punching, a fierce takedown game, and hellacious ground and pound. While Kampmann is technically better in some areas, Ellenberger has fight-changing strength.
The one potential intangible that could swing the fight towards Kampmann is conditioning. Ellenberger has had some troubles in the third round of key fights, and this fight with Kampmann is scheduled for five.
Known for his aggressiveness in going for a finish, Ellenberger has said that he won’t back off for the sake of preserving himself for later rounds. He also said that his late-fight troubles have been overblown as analysis of his fight game has become more widespread.
“There's a difference between being tired and gassing,” he said. “If you're gassing, it's some sort of preparation thing you did wrong. If you're getting tired, you're doing work and you're trying to finish a fight. When you fight somebody like Diego who's tough and comes at you 15 mintues. you're going to get tired. There's a few things you can guarantee going into a fight: you're going to get hit, and you're going to get tired."
It’s ironic that stamina has been the one knock on Ellenberger. To get to the gold he’s going to have to have it, even if it’s as much mental as physical. If he gets past Kampmann, he’s going to have to stay active and add on to his resume to get an eventual championship match. With the Nos. 1 and 2 fighter in the world on the shelf, he might even have to beat some fighters ranked far below him. Those are the kind of trap fights that managers hate, but the division is a ship looking for harbor, and someone has to be its anchor.
“There's a lot of speculation and stuff, but at the end of the day, you've got to do your job and that's win,” he said. “Win in convincing fashion and prove that I'm a contender for this title."