Tuesday, June 8, 2010 | 6:50 p.m.
Martin Kampmann's return to the UFC octagon is a mere four days away, but don't be surprised if he's still crossing his fingers that he and his opponent, Paulo Thiago, get there healthy.
The way things have been going for Kampmann, the chances of one of the two tripping and spraining an ankle before this weekend seem downright likely.
In the last eight months Kampmann has been involved in three fights that fell through because of injuries to either him or his opponent — the most recent, a scheduled bout with Ben Saunders at UFC 111 in March. Kampmann was forced to pull out of that fight because of a cut that opened over his right eye while training.
But heading into Saturday's fight, the Las Vegas-based fighter says he's put the frustration of that lost opportunity, as well as the others, behind him.
"I've put that a long ways away," Kampmann said. "It happens all the time. In my last two fights I was supposed to fight different opponents and they changed at the last moment. It's just part of the game and you've got to learn how to live with it."
Kampmann (16-3) missed out on the biggest opportunity of his career in September, when an injury forced Mike Swick to pull out of a top contender fight against him at UFC 103.
British striker Paul Daley ended up taking Swick's place and defeated Kampmann in the first round.
This time around, however, the opponent change potentially is a great thing for Kampmann, as Thiago (13-1) represents a highly ranked opponent with a lot of hype behind him.
While taking nothing away from Saunders, Kampmann admitted that a win over Thiago is exactly the kind of performance that would catapult him back towards the top.
"I definitely think Thiago is higher ranked and more dangerous than Ben Saunders," Kampmann said. "The risk is up, but so is the reward. The guys you want to fight are the guys with all the hype behind them."
Although Kampmann says it was difficult to pull himself out of the Saunders fight, he's confident it was the right decision and happy with the way things have worked out.
The injury, which required stitches on the inside and outside of the cut, was mostly healed by UFC 111 — but Kampmann didn't want to take the risk of having it open on him during a fight.
"It might have healed up, but the doctors said it would be prone to opening if I didn't give it sufficient time," Kampmann said. "It would suck to be beating a guy, have him a stick a jab and lose the fight that way if it opened up. It was the right decision."
Kampmann will be looking to build off the success of his last fight — a first-round submission win over Jacob Volkmann at UFC 108.
The fight was a fairly dominant performance, as Kampmann dropped Volkmann with punches twice before following him to the ground and submitting him.
He didn't come out completely untouched, however, as Volkmann was able to land a few combinations before Kampmann settled in and turned the fight in his favor. Although he doesn't believe he fought the perfect fight, he was happy to get back to winning after the loss to Daley.
"I was happy with it overall," Kampmann said. "I still got caught with some stupid punches I shouldn't have gotten caught with. His standup was awkward and he came in and hit me. But I was happy to submit him, because he said before the fight there was no way I could submit him."
Kampmann is expected to face a much tougher overall fighter in Thiago, who already has stopped tough opponents such as Josh Koscheck and Swick.
It will be a difficult task for Kampmann, but one he's looking forward to. An opponent change ruined a shot at the welterweight title for him in September — another one could give him a big boost back toward one.
"I want to win fights and I want to come in and beat guys up," Kampmann said. "I want to keep getting tough guys, and I think Paulo Thiago is the first step. I want to beat him, of course, and I want to take that next step up.
"I don't like looking ahead, but guys like Jon Fitch and Thiago Alves are fighting. Dan Hardy is coming off a loss. There are a lot of different guys up there high in the welterweight division that could be good to fight, but first I have to focus on Thiago."
Brett Okamoto can be reached at 948-7817 or [email protected].