With mixed martial arts in an explosive growth phase, the spoils of success give rise to events like UFC Live 3: Sanchez vs. Kampmann on Thursday at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Ky. It pits a series of fighters against one another in some quality matches designed to establish fringe contenders and cut some excess fat from the roster.
It's a cruel world but an exciting one to watch unfold. Here is a breakdown of the matchups at UFC Live 3, which airs live on the Versus network.
Diego Sanchez versus Martin Kampmann
The matchup: Sanchez seemed past his better days after losing a one-sided unanimous decision to John Hathaway at UFC 114, but he showed he's still relevant at 170 pounds by dispatching tough Brazilian Paulo Thiago via decision at UFC 121. Kampmann, another middle-of-the-pack welterweight, has shown a solid mix of stand-up and submission savvy, dropping a split-decision loss to Jake Shields in the former Strikeforce champion's UFC debut in October.
Sanchez is one of the most intense and well-conditioned fighters in the game. If he can play the bully role, he is extremely difficult to beat. But that plays directly into the hands of Kampmann, who kickboxes and uses jiu-jitsu to counter his foes.
In a perfect world, there would be a 160-pound division in which Sanchez could compete. Like other 'tweeners (such as Rich Franklin, Dean Lister, Joe Riggs and James Irvin), Sanchez clearly lost a lot of his relative power in dropping to 155. Back at 170, his game will have to be based around a breakneck pace, stamina and playing the bully. Against bigger opponents, that becomes a problem, but Kampmann is not a wrestler by trade, so Sanchez has a positive style matchup here.
On the feet, Kampmann will clearly have the edge. Though Sanchez's stand-up from his days on "The Ultimate Fighter" has improved from nonexistent to modest, Kampmann has a lot more weapons. He can kick or punch with equal efficiency, and his takedown defense has improved with the drop from middleweight.
The guess here is that Kampmann gets the better of the stand-up action, at which point Sanchez's switch goes off and he tries to force a all-out grapple fest -- the kind he displayed in rousing decision wars over Nick Diaz and Karo Parisyan. Sanchez is exceptionally hard to catch in submissions and has the kind of dedicated ground-and-pound that folks like to see.
The pick: Look for Sanchez to eat some shots but secure half or more of his takedown attempts as he tries to run Kampmann out of gas. Sanchez remains undersized for a welterweight, but he should be strong and persistent enough to grind out a unanimous decision win, even as he runs into a few rough spots along the way.
C.B. Dollaway versus Mark Munoz
The matchup: An all-wrestler matchup is usually a treat, given the fact that both combatants are fully committed to putting the other guy on his back. The psychological battle in this kind of match is fascinating to watch unfold, as fighters can get sucked into trying to prove a point instead of using all the tools available, such as striking or submission attempts.
Dollaway-Munoz is a showdown between two middleweights who need a win to elevate themselves into the organization's top 10. Both lurk just outside that realm, and victory likely will go to the fighter who leaves just a little more in the cage after a grueling battle. A showdown between two standout wrestlers seems to invite the most obvious comparison -- their grappling pedigrees -- instead of comparing how both have translated their wrestling skills into MMA. So far, each has done it fairly well.
Munoz, an NCAA wrestling champion for Oklahoma State University at 197 pounds, has clawed his way back up the ranks after a disastrous Octagon debut against Matt Hamill at UFC 96 in 2009, when he was knocked out and exposed as too small for 205. Since then, he has adjusted nicely to 185, displaying potent ground-and-pound in doing so. Munoz's ability to unleash huge shots through slight openings while an opponent is on his back is a fearsome thing to watch. His stand-up game has progressed somewhat, though in his decision loss to Yushin Okami at UFC Live 2, it was clear he still has to improve on his feet if he wants to compete at the next level.
Dollaway has superior submissions and is a canny grappler himself. The former Arizona State University All-American submitted wily veteran Joe Doerksen in his most recent outing at UFC 119, and his stand-up is probably somewhere near Munoz's level, although he doesn't hit as hard.
This one comes down to setups for what will be the momentum-changing takedown. Munoz will have to close the range and would be best served using a body lock to get Dollaway down. Munoz has a tendency to rely on his leg takedowns too much; he yielded very little in endless takedown attempts on Okami.
Munoz is also extremely hard to keep down, and he is probably a bit stronger than Dollaway. They represent the perfect style complement for a tough, drawn-out bout, and this one probably will be a carbon copy of Munoz's gut-check decision win over Aaron Simpson, Dollaway's teammate and friend, at UFC 123.
The pick: Munoz by decision.
Brian Bowles versus Damacio Page
The matchup: This one is a rematch of the fighters' first bout, in 2008, which Bowles took via first-round guillotine choke. Since then, Bowles subsequently won the WEC title in a stunning upset knockout of Miguel Torres at WEC 42, only to be outboxed and stopped because of a broken hand against Dominick Cruz seven months later at WEC 47.
Page has been a midlevel contender at 135 pounds, going 3-2 in the WEC; he dropped his last bout in the promotion via guillotine to talented Demetrious Johnson at WEC 52 in November. With Urijah Faber and Cruz likely to collide in a title bout later this year, there is still some room in the bantamweight mix among Torres and Johnson.
Bowles' wrestling and stiff right hand are the key to this bout, as Page is outmatched standing and will have a tough time getting Bowles down. The former champion should be able to use his hands to dictate range prior to securing a takedown, from which he has proven strong from top position. Still, Page is a scrapper and has the ability to scramble and get out of bad spots.
The pick: Look for Bowles to press the pace and keep him defensive, uncorking a big shot or a well-timed submission attempt en route to a second-round stoppage.
Joe Stevenson versus Danny Castillo
The matchup: Once a red-hot contender with a string of impressive wins, Stevenson finds himself taking on UFC newcomer Danny Castillo in what should prove a compelling 155-pound match.
There are few mysteries surrounding either guy. Stevenson wants to use stand-up to get the fight to the ground, where he can unleash outstanding transitions and his crushing guillotine. Castillo is a hard-charging brawler with solid wrestling who couldn't make a fight boring if he tried.
Castillo's edge lies in his upside and how much of it he can tap in to during the bout. After consecutive losses to Shane Roller and Anthony Pettis, Castillo saw his career set back on a positive track and secured a place in the UFC with a decision win over Dustin Poirier and an 85-second blowout of Will Kerr.
Stevenson has the ability to hit impressive moves on the ground. Taking into account the nifty banana split he uncorked on Nate Diaz at "The Ultimate Fighter" Season 9 finale or his consistent guard-passing, and it becomes obvious the best way to beat Stevenson is by overpowering him, not letting him lead on the mat. George Sotiropoulos used that strategy to keep "Daddy" on the defensive, and Castillo will have to do the same. His hands are a little stronger than Stevenson's, and he throws a lot harder and with more consistency.
The pick: This one comes down to the elemental factor -- being able to put a hurt on the other guy before he can do it to you. Castillo has a good matchup here and will come up big, using aggression and greater physical strength en route to a second-round stoppage.
Jason Probst is a contributor to Sherdog.com.