To show you how much a few months can mean to a career, think about where Martin Kampmann was when 2012 began. At the time, he was coming off a unanimous decision win over Rick Story. While it was an important victory for him in that it snapped a two-fight losing streak, the fight itself was considered to be something in between uneventful and boring. Rest assured, at the time, no one was clamoring to include Kampmann in the welterweight championship picture.
Fast forward to today, when he is considered one of the division's top four and likely only one win away from a title shot, and it's clear that that no one in MMA has quite taken advantage of the intervening time the way he has.
His first big move came in March, in a fight with Thiago Alves. By all accounts, Alves was coasting on his way to a decision win after having won the first two rounds. With just one minute to go in the bout, Kampmann was cut over his nose, and Alves was hammering on him against the fence when he went for a takedown. It looked like the end for Kampmann, but instead, he caught Alves with a guillotine, rolled him to mount and closed the show with just 48 seconds remaining.
If that "Hail Mary" guillotine wasn't impressive enough, his next time out left most even more wowed. In that bout -- just two weeks ago -- he was matched with the surging Jake Ellenberger.
As Ellenberger tends to do, he swarmed early. As a result, the fight started even more disastrously for Kampmann than his Alves outing did, as Ellenberger dropped him with a left hook in the opening seconds and looked to finish. Kampmann though, stayed composed and though bloodied again, hung on. By the second, the fight's momentum had shifted, and he caught Ellenberger with a short right that staggered him. Moments later, he used a clinch against the fence to land a stunning knockout knee strike. In the process, he became the first man ever to KO Ellenberger, and launched himself into the title picture. Keep in mind, he did this while considered an underdog in both bouts.
As a result, he's likely to face Johny Hendricks later this year with the division's No. 1 contender spot on the line. All in a few month's time.
Despite the increased number of events in 2012, there are only a handful of major fighters that have won more than once so far this year. Of course, quantity of wins are not nearly as important as quality of wins, but it says something about how hard it is to win consistently and stay healthy when that is the case.
One of the few who's been able to pull off the feat is Kampmann, who has given fans their money's worthy by fashioning two of 2012's most impressive comebacks while participating in main events. Kampmann is a survivor, and he's also the fighter of the year thus far.
2. Erick Silva
It may seem strange to have a fighter with an official loss during 2012 on the list, especially as high as No. 2, but there's no denying that Silva has been among the most impressive fighters of the year thus far. His "loss" came via disqualification due to illegal strikes to the back of the head in a fight which he was about to win by knockout. The call, made by referee Mario Yamasaki, remains controversial as the finish didn't seem to be any different than dozens of others where a defensive fighter turned away from strikes, forcing the connection angle on the borderline of legality. Regardless, most came away thinking he was the real deal. He only solidified that belief at last week's UFC on FX 3 event by refusing to be undone by Charlie Brenneman's wrestling game and submitting him in the first round. With those two performances, Silva immediately became a player in the welterweight division.
3. Rick Hawn
If you're one of those MMA fans that only tunes into UFC, you don't know what you're missing with Bellator. The tournament format is a grueling test endurance, fitness, skill and luck, and one brilliantly passed by Hawn, who scored consecutive knockouts of Ricardo Tirloni and Lloyd Woodard before beating Brent Weedman in the final. A 2008 U.S. judo Olympian, Hawn seems to have embraced his move to lightweight and has reinvented himself as a legitimate threat to 155-pound champ Michael Chandler.
4. Stefan Struve
Still just 24 years old, Struve continues to learn on the job while working his way into contendership. One of the UFC's most active heavyweights, he's already captured two wins in 2012, first knocking out Dave Herman at UFC on FUEL 1, then showcasing his ground game with an arm bar victory over Lavar Johnson.
5. Charles Oliveira
Might this year see the rise of a potential featherweight championship contender? Perhaps, if Oliveira's early returns are indicative of where he's headed. Granted, he hasn't yet faced elite competition in the division, but he has been dominant, earning a pair of decisive wins with submissions over Eric Wisely, and more recently, former TUF champ Jonathan Brookins.
Honorable Mention: Demetrious Johnson
"Mighty Mouse" had to suffer through six hard rounds, trips to two continents and one heartbreak to beat Ian McCall and advance to the first-ever UFC flyweight championship match. That journey is certainly worthy of some recognition.
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