Science fiction writers could probably spend entire careers offering alternate histories for Martin Kampmann.
Example: What if Kampmann hadn’t come out on the losing end of a razor thin decision against Jake Shields at UFC 121?
What if the judges had sided with the vocal majority who thought he should’ve gotten the nod over Diego Sanchez in March 2011 in their bloody, hard-fought cable TV main event?
What if Kampmann’s unanimous decision win over Rick Story three months back -- originally announced as a split verdict, like maybe the judges had considered taking that one from him, too -- had been the cherry on top of a five-fight win-streak instead of a two-bout slump buster?
No long meditation on the butterfly effect is needed to know that if any of the above had come to pass, well, Kampmann probably wouldn’t be taking on Thiago Alves on Friday in a fight that feels like a stretch as a main event, even for one of the UFC’s new live shows on FX. On a Friday night, no less.
If Stephen King can crank out 800-plus pages speculating about a couple of guys going back in time to try to stop the Kennedy assassination, we can take a couple of sentences to acknowledge what Kampmann has learned the hard way during the last year and a half: That the line between contender status and just being middle-of-the-pack in the UFC welterweight division is slim, and the margin for error essentially nonexistent.
If Kampmann had defeated Shields and/or Sanchez (some people believe he rightfully did both) maybe he would have been fighting Georges St. Pierre in late spring or early summer of last year. Or maybe he would have met up with Jake Ellenberger in a No. 1 contender bout in late 2011 or early 2012. Heck, given Kampmann’s 2009 win over Carlos Condit, maybe it would have been him in the cage against Nick Diaz fighting for the interim 170-pound title at UFC 143, instead of “The Natural Born Killer.”
Or maybe not. This is all speculative, of course. It's possible things could have gone off the rails for Kampmann in a thousand other ways. Perhaps his UFC 103 loss to Paul Daley -- arguably his only real misstep of the last few years -- would still have been enough to hold him back.
Whatever the case, instead of finding himself considering the intricacies of the welterweight title picture right now, Kampmann’s current reality is Friday's bout with Alves, where the stakes are, at best, uncertain.
Alves is just 2-3 during his last five appearances and his only two wins since October 2008 came as the middle leg of John Howard’s three-fight losing streak and over a debuting unknown in Papy Abedi. He’s already been to the mountain top, fighting St. Pierre at UFC 100, and came out on the wrong end of a terribly lopsided decision loss. A return trip is starting to feel more and more unlikely.
At this point, the book is out on Alves, who starts like a house of fire and then fades late when his opponents can impose their game plans on him. The only real juice in this fight is the stylistic matchup -- both guys like to bang and Kampmann doesn’t fit the blueprint of the wrestle-first fighters like Story, GSP and Jon Fitch who’ve given Alves all sorts of trouble.
What does it all mean when a 1-2 fighter takes on a 2-3 fighter on cable TV on a night the public isn’t used to seeing fights and just 24 hours before a far more hyped-up women’s bantamweight title bout hits the airwaves? Nobody knows. It’s just one both guys know they don’t want to lose, that’s all.
Losses, we all know, are bad. Even losses that maybe should have been wins. Just ask Martin Kampmann.
Because he’s a professional fighter, Kampmann would likely blame himself for his recent rough turns of fate. He’d probably tell you it was his fault for “leaving it in the hands of the judges.”
Really, though, he’s not to blame, and that makes it hard not to wonder "what if."
While we’re engaging in fantasy, perhaps we could also indulge one where the fighters in our sport in 2012 don’t have to fear “leaving it” in the purview of the judges. Maybe there’s an alternate universe out there somewhere where the rules are better and the judges can be counted on to do a decent job.