There they were, lurking in the shadows out in the lowlands of the Midwest. On a quiet Wednesday night. With the UFC busy hyping a championship bout three days away.
This was the humble stage Carlos Condit was sent out onto for having lost his last two fights. This was the dim spotlight beneath which Martin Kampmann, who always seems to fly under the radar, was asked to perform.
That did not prevent the pair of welterweights from putting on a first-rate show.
Condit (29-7) turned out to be the star of that show, overcoming a slow start to stalk and then stop a bloodied Kampmann 54 seconds into the fourth round of their main event on a UFC Fight Night card in Indianapolis. It was a measure of revenge, for this fight was a rematch of a 2009 meeting won via split decision by Kampmann (20-7).
After spending much of the first round on his back, unable to stop takedowns or threaten on the mat, Condit transformed into "The Natural Born Killer." He picked apart Kampmann for all of Rounds 2 and 3, and the fourth continued where he'd left off. Condit landed a numbing body shot early on, followed by a knee to the body, then another and another. He ended up on top of his wilting opponent, wailing away until referee Herb Dean pulled him away, a TKO winner.
And once again a player in the 170-pound weight class.
Not that Condit had gone anywhere. His two defeats over the last nine months had come against the crème de la crème: a unanimous decision loss to champion Georges St-Pierre last November, then the same result in March against Johny Hendricks, who'll challenge GSP for the belt in a couple of months. This is not the Bum of the Month Club, to be sure. But still, if you've recently lost to both the man with the strap and the one who might soon be wearing it, you've got your work cut out for you to get back in the picture.
Perhaps as promising for Condit as the victory itself was how he achieved it. Against St-Pierre and Hendricks, his undoing had been his defenselessness against takedowns. Those are perhaps the two best wrestlers in the division, though, so maybe you can give Condit a pass. But when Wednesday night's fight began with Kampmann, not known for his singlet skills, finding success on takedown after takedown, it was a concern for Condit both at the present moment and for the future. If you can't stop a takedown, Carlos, the UFC could bring in even a one-dimensional fighter like Bellator champ Ben Askren, who's expressed interest in joining the UFC now that his contract is up, and you're going to get smothered.
Well, it would be nice to know what words were spoken in Condit's corner between the first and second rounds. Did someone give the guy a serious one-minute lesson in takedown defense? Because he came off of his stool a different fighter. Whereas Kampmann had gone 4-of-5 in takedown attempts in Round 1, he was 2-of-10 the rest of the way. Condit wasn't fending off GSP-level double-legs, but it was a start. It kept him in the game. Made it his fight.
Indianapolis, with interstates and railways branching out from it in all directions, is sometimes referred to as "The Crossroads of America." On this night it was a mixed martial arts crossroads.
Condit maintained his position as a relevant contender at welterweight, while Kampmann is now the one with the two-fight losing streak. His 46-second KO at the hands of Hendricks last November might be explained away as a matter of getting caught with a big punch. But Wednesday night? That was a lost opportunity. "The Hitman" simply didn't do enough hitting, man. In Round 1 he had four takedowns but landed just five significant strikes. Condit nearly doubled his strike output (34-18) in the second round, according to FightMetric, and in the third it only got worse (44-8).
It's unclear where Kampmann goes from here. It's unclear where Condit is headed, too.
"There are a lot of intriguing matches out there in the division," said Condit, declining to name names. Except for two: "Of course I'd like to get that title shot back, possibly Jonny Hendricks or Georges St-Pierre, whichever one wins."
The undercard was sprinkled with crossroads fights, too. Rafael dos Anjos scored the biggest win of his career, and his fifth win in a row overall, by taking a decision over Donald Cerrone in the lightweight co-main event. Welterweight Kelvin Gastelum, last seen being overshadowed by flashy Uriah Hall on The Ultimate Fighter reality show before beating him in the finale, edged a little closer to the spotlight -- and remained unbeaten (7-0) -- with a relentless first-round submission win over Brian Melancon.
On the other side of fortune, Hatsu Hioki, who joined the UFC two years ago with the reputation of being one of the world's top featherweights, lost for the third straight time. Darren Elkins swarmed the former Shooto and Sengoku champ for three unremitting rounds. And Mexican bantamweight Erik Perez had an eight-fight winning streak snapped by a split-decision loss to Takeya Mizugaki.
Some fighters retreated deeper into the shadows on this night. Others, most notably Carlos Condit, took a step forward toward the bright lights.